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The weekly rundown of veterinary news for the time-poor vet, presented by VetX International

University of Tennessee Addresses Socioeconomic Barriers to Veterinary Care

With two-thirds of American households having nonhuman family members, the need for affordable veterinary care is more important than ever. Second-generation veterinarian, Michael Blackwell, director of the Program for Pet Health Equity in the University of Tennessee, saw firsthand a surge of families during the 2008 recession struggling to pay for services, specifically veterinary care, and he recognized the need to improve access to this care. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly increased the number of families needing support.

“We have tens of millions of individuals called pets embedded in communities across the country, and they don’t have adequate access to care,” Blackwell stated. “That threatens not only the family’s health but the community’s health and the nation’s well-being.”

In 2017, Blackwell began leading an interdisciplinary team at UT composed of members from the College of Social Work, the Haslam College of Business, the College of Veterinary Medicine, and the Department of Public Health in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences to establish the program, which works to connect underserved individuals with veterinary service providers. The programme has recently received $600,000 from the Dave & Cheryl Duffield Foundation to expand these services.

“My vision is one day, any family that needs to see a doctor, whether it’s the human or the nonhuman member, will be able to see a doctor and get needed care,” Blackwell said.

New Euthanasia Certfication in US Stregthens Vet-Client Relationship

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has added an end of life care accreditation option to its standards of care. The standards aim to elevate end of life care for pets whilst maintaining a strong client-veterinarian relationship.

“Today’s pet owners view their pets as family members,” says AAHA’s deputy chief executive officer, Janice L. Trumpeter, DVM. “A poor euthanasia experience can irreparably damage the bond that a pet owner shares with their veterinary practice and the entire health-care team. End-of-Life Care accreditation will help veterinary teams provide appropriate supportive and emotional care during these difficult periods, further enhancing and strengthening the human-animal bond.”

Calls for Veterinary School to be Established in Northern Ireland

Amid the current shortfall of vets in the UK, there have been calls to establish a veterinary school in Northern Ireland. Currently, those from Northern Ireland wishing to pursue a veterinary degree are limited to places in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.

Agriculture, Environment & Rural Development spokesperson Rosemary Barton said: “There is a great opportunity to develop this sector within Northern Ireland, obviously there is a greater chance of such students remaining to practice in Northern Ireland when they have completed their studies.”

Susan Cunningham, president of the North of Ireland Veterinary Association, said: “In Northern Ireland all the students go away to study and then they stay away, so that local brain drain is an issue.”

“Our local universities and colleges already have a very strong reputation nationally and internationally for medicine and agriculture, there’s a wealth of expertise there that means running a veterinary course should be something that we consider.

“We would like to be training our own students and keeping them here, but obviously the business case will have to be made. The veterinary course is one of the most expensive university courses to run.”

Stress Weighs Heavy on Vancouver Veterinarians 

Stress levels have increased significantly during the Covid-19 pandemic, and Michelle Savery, a registered veterinary technician-emergency at West Coast Animal Veterinary Emergency Specialty Hospital (Vancouver Island), has completed extensive research on the issue.

One factor is that family vets are so busy that people wind up taking their pets to an emergency hospital, she noted. That alone can result in people having to wait from two to five hours. The severity of the condition the pet is dealing with and health protocols arising from COVID-19 can contribute to wait times as well.

“We are doing our absolute best to keep up, but we’re running on empty. We rarely get to stop and eat or even use the washroom. We often leave at the end of our shifts or long after our shifts were supposed to end in tears wishing we could have worked a little harder, stayed a little longer, but knowing we did the best we could and will again tomorrow.”

Ms Savery has called for kindness, compassion and understanding on the side of the clients, and reminds those working in the veterinary profession to look after their general wellbeing.

Australian Vets Highlight the Changing Face of Mentoring

The Federal Government confirmed that veterinarians are an essential service in March, but whilst clinics have remained open, new graduates are finding it difficult to integrate during a global pandemic. Practices have had to implement safety measures and precautions that have added to everyone’s stress load, and in turn put even more pressure on new vets hoping to prove themselves and make a good impression.

Long-time mentor Dr Michael Paton said: “At the initial stage of the pandemic when across Australia things were changing, often practices had to re-organise their workforces to ensure that if somebody got sick, they didn’t lose the whole team. So, they were often dividing into two teams. They were setting up biosecurity protocols around ‘will people come in, will we collect their animals in the carpark?’ So, as well as all those usual things with starting in a practice, mentees are also walking into a workforce which is already quite stressed because of trying to cope with all these new ways of doing things which tend to take a lot longer.”

Living with pandemic uncertainty makes it virtually impossible to plan for the future. For mentees, this means having to indefinitely shelve plans to get a specialist qualification, say, or work overseas which, says Dr Paton, “is a real dampener on that professional enthusiasm that many young people just coming into the profession have”. With so much unpredictability, he finds it’s far more helpful to keep mentees “focused on the here and now and what they can do in the very short term in terms of improving their professional and interpersonal skills”.

New BVA President, UK Pledges to ‘Keep Vets Healthy’

James Russell, a farm vet and director at a large veterinary practice in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, has begun his year as BVA President. He pledges to ‘keep vets healthy’ as a priority and states that “we must work together, and draw on our strength in unity to deliver strong animal health and welfare care, through a strong and healthy profession.”

He plans to champion the BVA’s Good Workplace activity, which aims to support the push for a more positive and inclusive working experience for all members of the veterinary team.

He said: “Reducing the leaks in the bucket of our profession and helping others to find fulfilment in their work are massively important to me, especially as we recognise the new and amplified mental health challenges facing the profession as we adapt to new ways of working.

“It is this that has reinforced my desire to make ‘keeping vets healthy’ the theme that I hope to apply to all my thinking and work this year.”

A Record Fire Season in the US Continues

As fire complexes in California, Oregon, and Washington state continue to blaze, veterinarians are working to shelter and treat animals. 

Dr. Lais Costa, coordinator for the Veterinary Emergency Response Team at UC-Davis, said her teams responded to the LNU Complex fire by working at emergency animal shelters that needed help, aiding animal control officers on search and rescue missions, and checking on animals remaining at homes and farms after their owners evacuated. “Most of the animals were evacuated before the fire really had gotten to them,” she said.

They have now moved beyond the around-the-clock response from the first 72 hours of the LNU Complex fire and into a recovery phase, helping animal owners get feed, husbandry supplies, and veterinary care.

Weekly ‘Awe Walks’ Lead to Positive, ‘Prosocial’ Emotions

Awe, commonly associated with the aesthetic category of sublimity, is the awareness of something much bigger than oneself. Scientists have recently discovered that going on an ‘awe walk’ – a walk in an inspiring part of the natural world – once a week can enhance feelings of generosity, wellbeing and humility.

“Negative emotions, particularly loneliness, have well-documented negative effects on the health of older adults, particularly those over age 75,” said Virginia Sturm, PhD, an associate professor in the departments of Neurology and of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “What we show here is that a very simple intervention – essentially a reminder to occasionally shift our energy and attention outward instead of inward – can lead to significant improvements in emotional well-being.”

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