Stress at work and the difficulty of maintaining a healthy work/life balance are the major challenges cited by vets responding to a survey conducted by the Veterinary Benevolent Fund (VBF), a charity offering support to members of the profession. Around one fifth of those questioned said managing stress was the most significant problem they faced and a similar proportion cited balancing work and family life. Crucially, around half said they ‘never’ or ‘infrequently’ asked someone for advice their problems, and most of the remainder said they did this only occasionally.
The VBF carried out the survey to highlight the personal problems faced by the veterinary profession today in order to help it enhance the range of support services it offers to vets and vet nurses at all stages of their career. The questionnaire was completed online by 400 veterinary surgeons, the majority of whom were in companion animal practice.
Respondents were also asked which support services run by the VBF were the most beneficial. Of the services currently offered by the VBF, respondents considered that the telephone counselling service (Vet Helpline), ‘signposting service’ to other charities and sources of advice, and financial support would be the most important for the profession.
Perceptions of the VBF ‘brand’ were generally positive and those who had heard of it rated it most commonly as ‘trustworthy’ and ‘professional’. The information in this online survey totally justified the recent high profile efforts to boost the perception of the VBF.
Half of those that completed the questionnaire felt that their problems were not serious enough for them to approach the VBF for help. VBF hopes that the recently launched new Vetlife website and the use of social media and provision of a Vet Helpline email response service in 2012 will address these perceptions.
Very few of the respondents were members of the charity, mainly because they were not aware of the membership scheme, which is designed to provide essential support for the charity. Even so, individuals’ support for the charity was clear, with over half having donated to the VBF through the Veterinary Defence Society. The VBF is keen to encourage as many of the veterinary profession as possible to support the profession’s own charity.
Looking to the future, the development of stress management programmes; the initiation of research, promotion of open debate on issues facing the profession and the provision of fact sheets on common problems were the most frequently made suggestions. These highlight an opportunity for the charity to play a key role in supporting veterinary staff throughout their career.
Commenting on the results of the survey, VBF President Dr Lydia Brown said: “The findings of this survey are significant for all us of working in the veterinary profession today and many of us will recognise the emerging themes. I am very grateful that so many members of the profession responded to the survey.
“While we train hard for our chosen career and many go on to find fulfilment, it’s clear that in today’s challenging environment, the reality of life in practice can prove a strain. The effect on relationships both at home and at work can be traumatic and yet, as a profession we can be reluctant to seek help or advice.
“The VBF’s role is key. Our Vet Helpline, a 24 hour confidential listening service and the Veterinary Surgeon’s Health Support Programme, which provides confidential help with addiction and mental health issues, already provide a lifeline for many. But we’re not just here to help in a crisis. Prevention is, after all, much better than cure, and if a small problem can be resolved quickly, and a future crisis may be avoided.
“With this in mind, we are developing the range of services we offer and have, for instance, recently relaunched our Vetlife website. The site is an online forum for vets and provides a wealth of practical advice on many aspects of work and family life from financial planning, managing relationships through to tackling stress and depression.
“Ensuring the wellbeing of all those working in the profession is our goal and we will look to increase the support we can provide in 2012. We greatly appreciate involvement and support from the profession and from industry to sustain our vital work and would ask anyone interested in helping us or getting involved to contact us.”
Before considering the results of the survey, it’s perhaps useful to understand the demographics of the respondents:
* Well over half of those completing the survey (62%) were female
* A similar percentage (62%) worked in small animal practice
* Just under 30% of respondents worked in mixed practice; 14% described themselves as ‘other’ (working for government, academia, industry etc.,) while 3% were in equine or large animal practice
* Just under half (44%) were assistants; 18% were practice owners; 11% were in partnership and the remainder were in various miscellaneous categories.