Veterinary Transition Study - investigating the transition from veterinary student to practising veterinary surgeon: prospective cohort study
Allister, Rosie Jane
This is a study of mental health and transition. Despite concern about professional mental health, and a suicide rate among veterinary surgeons three to four times that of the general population, studies of veterinary professional mental health have largely been cross-sectional and descriptive; characterising a problem, and raising concern, but not exploring how professional mental health and work interrelate. This study is different. Following individuals over time, and exploring experiences in detail, it seeks to understand experiences of work and mental health at a significant point in veterinary working lives: the transition from university to professional practice. There is a lack of evidence around the impacts of transition from study to professional practice. The Veterinary Transition Study starts to address this gap in understanding. It is a qualitative, prospective, cohort study: first meeting participants in their final year of veterinary study, it follows them through graduation, and into their second year of veterinary practice. Three interviews with each participant in total over the 3 years of the study facilitate an in depth understanding of the process of transition, and participants’ experiences of mental health as they transition from student life to that of a professional veterinary surgeon. Thirty six participants were recruited. All but one took part in at least one subsequent interview at 1-2 months or 19-27 months post-graduation. The study explores mental health, experiences of support, and the development of professional identity. New findings included the importance of informal support for veterinary students and new graduates, which was as important as formal support, and a reluctance to access formal support for fear of career detriment. Those vets who experienced the greatest difficulty at transition were not those who had reported mental health problems as students. Participants’ experiences of support at transition included being let down, and a mismatch between their experience and clinical responsibility given to them. Through the analysis and trying to distinguish veterinary and non-veterinary factors affecting mental health, the importance of veterinary identity became more prominent. Most participants had been determined to become vets from an early age. However, participants did not identify as vets at the point of graduation but rather self-identified as vets only once they could operate as independent practitioners and not perceive that they needed support. Separating personal and veterinary factors was in many cases not possible, so central was the identity of being a vet to participants’ lives during transition to professional work, and all aspects of their lives were affected by it. Mental health both affected identity, and was affected by it, with personal identity and shared culture acting both for and against participants’ mental health. This study examines this relationship, and goes on to make suggestions from the findings for individual vets moving from university to professional work, for employers of new graduate vets, and for universities.