Veterinarian Wellbeing in New Zealand: Examining the Effectiveness of a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Programme in Improving Veterinarian Wellbeing Experiences, Affect and Self-Perception (a Mixed Methods Study)
Evidence shows that veterinarian wellbeing is compromised more often than any other profession, with a proportionate suicide rate four times greater than the average population. The current support mechanisms endorsed by the veterinary industry bodies and provided by employers are interventions that take a deficit perspective, aimed at addressing already experienced mental strain or illness. While such interventions can be important, aiming to address and minimise the presence of mental illness is not synonymous with supporting the presence of mental health. Evidence suggests there are benefits associated with the promotion of wellbeing as opposed to the prevention of illness. Mindfulness is an example of a practice which supports the promotion of a person’s wellbeing, with evidence of successfully supporting the wellbeing of human health professionals. Given the scarcity of research regarding mindfulness and practising veterinarians, this thesis aims to explore whether mindfulness practice is suitable for supporting veterinarians’ wellbeing.
Using a concurrent mixed-method design, the current state of wellbeing of veterinarians was explored and the wellbeing benefits associated with the cultivation of mindfulness were examined amongst a group of ten companion animal veterinarians over a five-month period. Participants partook in an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programme and were interviewed (1) prior to commencement of the programme (week 0), (2) upon completion of the programme (week eight) and (3) three-months following completion (week 20). The initial interview provided greater context around the circumstances influencing veterinarian wellbeing and the pressures being faced. In addition, the subsequent interviews provided context around the experience of the MBSR programme, the use of mindfulness techniques, and the impact of the MBSR programme on wellbeing.
In addition, participants were asked to complete self-report surveys measuring their level of affect and self-compassion over time. The surveys were completed (1) prior to the commencement of the programme (week 0), (2) halfway through the programme (week four), (3) upon completion of the programme (week eight) and (4) three-months following completion (week 20). The results of multiple paired comparisons over time found a significant decrease in levels of negative affect and a significant increase in levels of self-compassion.
Overall, the mixed-methods results suggest that wellbeing improved over time as a result of participation in the MBSR programme, although transferability of these findings to the wider veterinary population is questioned due to the small sample size (n = 10). Whilst this research is the first to examine the effects of the MBSR programme on companion animal veterinarian wellbeing, the results are consistent with previous research of MBSR in allied health professionals, such as human health physicians and nurses, indicating that the MBSR programme may be an effective tool for the promotion of veterinarian wellbeing.