Written by guest blogger, Jenny Moffett.
“It was in my head as a really, really thick wall and
no matter how many times you ram something against it, you would chip away and chip away but it would always fill itself back up.”
This is the voice of a first year veterinary student describing her mental image of resilience, prior to training in the subject. She is not alone in her analogy of a wall. Some of us use words such as ‘strong’ and ‘resolute’ to explain resilience, whilst others create pictures of barriers or armour. We talk about ‘growing a thick skin’ or ‘just blocking it all out’.
However, this style of mental image risks confusing the concept of resilience with that of endurance.
The topic of resilience, i.e. the ability to ‘bounce back’ or even thrive in the face of adversity, has received much attention recently, both within the scientific and popular press. The most up-to-date model of psychological resilience states that it is not a personality trait, but rather a capability linked to numerous factors which relate to us either as individuals, or the environment in which we operate. So, although endurance – or its closely related cousin persistence – does play a role in demonstrating resilience, it is not the defining factor.
Clinical veterinary staff are well-versed in the art of endurance. Spend time in their company, and you will hear tales of days without food and nights without sleep. Long hours, emergency cases and client-facing work can push staff to their limits. And yes, endurance can help us to achieve many things and to pile the stakes high; but the problem is, it allows us to carry heavy loads until the very moment that we cannot. In the blink of an eye, we go from overachieving to overwhelmed.
A core aim for veterinary resilience training is to create awareness and understanding, including highlighting the difference between endurance and resilience. The veterinary student in the opening quote, along with her year cohort, took part in a study which evaluated the impact of a resilience training workshop in a UK veterinary school (Moffett and Bartram, 2017). It is thought that this group of students was the first in the UK to experience resilience training as part of their formal curriculum.
The workshop centred on the impact of occupational stress, and how disciplines such as positive psychology can help veterinary professionals to extend their range of effective coping skills. In addition, drawing on the positive psychology evidence base also allows a focus on the benefits of working in a veterinary role over the hardships.
When evaluating the workshop, students described how they moved from believing resilience was “just being able to take [the stress]” to understanding that there were many different, and practical, pathways open to them. The students appreciated the opportunity to experiment with strategies such as gratitude practice, mindfulness, and cognitive restructuring, in a safe environment.
Overall, the research suggested that the workshop helped the students to grow their resilience skills, and, on that basis, the workshop has since been rolled out to groups of qualified veterinarians. In running the sessions, it’s fascinating to hear the language of endurance emerge once again. Even long-qualified veterinarians report coping with work stress by “picking up my game” or “trying to let it all just not get in on me.”
The more that we perceive we are ‘enduring’ a veterinary career, the less likely it is that we have found a state of resilience. With resilience comes optimism, hope and a recognition that we can find ways to dance around hardship rather than struggle stubbornly through it.
This resilience training described in this post will be brought to yet a wider audience in May 2017. “The veterinary rollercoaster: Learn how to build resilience in 30 days” is a unique interactive online course which is open to veterinarians, veterinary technicians and support staff. For more information, go to http://skillstree.teachable.com/p/resilience or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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
Jenny E. Moffett, BVetMed, MSc, DipMC, PGCert, SFHEA, MRCVS, is Managing Director of SkillsTree Ltd. in Tullyallen, Co. Louth, Ireland. Her article, “Veterinary Students’ Perspectives on Resilience and Resilience-Building Strategies,” is featured in the latest issue of the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education (Volume 44, Issue 1), available to read here!
You can also follow Jenny on Twitter @SkillsTreeHQ!