March 9, 2017

Written by guest blogger, Briony Dawson.


Briony Dawson

For those of us that have pets, we all love them greatly. They bring us fun and joy, and make our days happier!

Unfortunately, from time to time they become unwell and they must see a vet. We could not be without these skilled individuals, as they are invaluable to both us and our pets. But what if I told you that we not only need to look out for our pet’s health, but our veterinarian’s well-being too; as they have one of the highest suicide rates amongst all professions.

I became aware of this some time ago and was surprised that this professional group should be at great risk. It led me to explore the reasons as to why this was. Naturally, as a trained psychologist, I wanted to assess what influence the individual has over their well-being, compared to the environment. Most research to date has focused on environmental factors that affect stress, burnout and depression in vets (which subsequently if not treated can result in suicide), therefore my research examined how personality and its different components influence the relationship with stress.

Over 300 UK accredited (the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons) veterinary surgeons took part in the research and found that personality is a better predictor of stress in vets than the environment. Specifically the personality components of depression and anger hostility, which reside within the construct of neuroticism, account for most of this relationship.

Additionally, it was revealed that vets who are newly qualified are at a greater risk of succumbing to extreme stress and burnout, than their more experienced counterparts. This is potentially due to the resilience that vets develop over the course of their careers.

So what does this mean? The findings of this research are highly valuable in understanding how we can overcome such issues in the profession. Now that we are aware that personality has a greater impact on a veterinarian’s well-being than the environment, selection professionals and veterinary HR can better understand the types of personalities that the profession attracts and develop interventions and support mechanisms that are best suited to these individuals.

Additionally, universities can identify susceptible candidates early on in their training and monitor them throughout. Practice managers and occupational psychologists should consider implementing mentoring schemes whereby vets can be monitored closely and any issues dealt with immediately before they develop further.

Although this research is powerful, it is what we do now with the knowledge and findings gained to have a real positive impact on the world that is important. After all, this is the true essence of research.

So to conclude, your veterinarian may look after the health of your animal, but you need to look out for the health of your vet!

To read the whole article and to find out more:
“The Effect of Personality on Occupational Stress in Veterinary Surgeons.”
Briony Dawson & Neill J. Thompson, JVME 44.1 (2017): 72-83

Briony Dawson MSc OccPsych BSc (Hons) Psych
Northumbria University, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education or the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges

Briony Dawson’s article, “The Effect of Personality on Occupational Stress in Veterinary Surgeons,” is featured in the latest issue of the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education (Volume 44, Issue 1), available to read here!

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