A Revolution in Wellness

Movements are popping up all over the world. From “Black Lives Matter” to “Me Too,” individuals are banding together to make a difference.

The College of Veterinary Medicine has its own movement – one that hits close to home. “Revolution Wellness” was formed by veterinary medicine students, each of whom felt passionate about their profession, students and wellness.

“We started out as a group to address mental health but we soon found out it was more about the need to change our culture and the stigmas surrounding how we define and deal with failure, or the perception of failure, in veterinary medicine,” said Holly Salzbrenner, a third-year veterinary medicine student. “As students, we don’t prioritize our own health physically and mentally.”

Fellow third-year student Danielle Harrington is the driving force of “Revolution Wellness.” A brief conversation with Harrington will confirm the belief that she is passionate about this subject.

Harrington points out veterinary students are enveloped by school-related activities for more than 16 hours a day.

“Our heavy credit course load, unbalanced debt-to-income ratio, and historically high degree of disassociation has contributed to burnout before we even reach practice,” she said. “Veterinarians have four times the relative incidence of suicide compared to the general population and twice that of medical practitioners and dentists. One in six ideate suicide after leaving school.

“This cannot be the new norm.”

Studies show that vet students are significantly more likely than the public to not want people to know if they are suffering from mental health problems.

“We conceal these moments that expose us as traditionally ‘weak’ and naturally place a lot of pressure on ourselves to succeed academically,” Harrington said.

“Revolution Wellness” is a step for change at Iowa state.

“We need to learn to fail with grace and grow from the process,” Harrington said. “Imperfections are not failures or inadequacies – they are the birthplace of creativity, belonging and bravery.

Because the College of Veterinary Medicine is located away from the main Iowa State campus, many of the campus-based services are difficult and/or inconvenient for vet students to seek out.

That is going to change however. College administration officials are working closely with on-campus colleagues to bring a full-time counselor to the vet med building. A search is ongoing for this individual, who will be housed in space vacated when the Gentle Doctor Café moves out of its current location at the end of the spring semester.

“The support we received from the college administration has been quick and sincere,” Harrington said.

For Dr. Pat Halbur, the Stephen G. Juelsgaard Interim Dean of Veterinary Medicine, supporting “Revolution Wellness’” efforts was a no-brainer.

“Clearly mental health is a major challenge for our profession and for our students,” he said. “The students have done a great job of removing the stigma over seeking mental health services and as a college we are committed to investing resources to address the needs where we need to improve.”

Harrington says a full-time on-site counselor is a great initial step in this battle. She hopes that Revolution Wellness will create a shift in the vet med culture.

“Emotional intelligence is necessary to succeed in this profession, but it requires time and energy. We hope to inspire others to put the work in and embrace vulnerability, imperfection and self-awareness. We want our peers to know that they are supported and no one has to go through these four years alone.”