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AAVMC Veterinary Health and Wellness Summit Travel Grant Recipients

The AAVMC veterinary health and wellness summit is a conference focused on addressing the unique mental health concerns and needs facing the veterinary community. This year the newly formed SAVMA wellness committee awarded travel grants to four students with the aim of reducing the stress associated with the expense of attending this conference. Below are the reflection statements of the four awardees for 2016. Each statement offers a unique perspective into what each individual feels is essential to their own wellness and essential to the promotion of wellness at their individual universities.

Lindsey Knox- University of Minnesota

    Having the opportunity to attend the AAVMC Veterinary Health and Wellness Summit was an invaluable experience! I was able to connect with students from other schools as well as faculty and practitioners who all have the goal of promoting wellness in the veterinary community. By attending the 3 days of lecture and activities as well as the dinner events, I was able to learn a lot about what goals are being made and reached around the nation.

    The most valuable information I gained over the conference related to what actions have been successful at other campuses. I am the president of a health and wellness club called Just Breathe at UMN and we have been scheduling activities and speakers with little information about what will reach the biggest audience. It was incredibly helpful to speak with other students regarding what has worked and not worked at their respective schools in order to develop new approaches for our club. It was said multiple times over the weekend, but rang true when talking with other students that we are all working towards the same goal in different locations. Being able to get together in the same room as well as keeping in contact after the conference to discuss ideas has created a supportive network of like-minded colleagues.

    It was also encouraging to see how many faculty and practitioners are talking about veterinary health and wellness on a larger scale. I was able to connect with multiple people who were interested in hearing a current student’s perspective and gained insight into goals that are being set both in the classroom as well as in practice. I learned about programs that are being developed for recent graduates and made great contacts for times of support as well as advice. I feel incredibly lucky that I was able to attend such a progressive conference in the field that I love and hope to be involved in the years to come.


Kelsey Libbe- University of Wisconsin-Madison

I absolutely loved attending the AAVMC Health and Wellness Summit in Fort. Collins, Colorado.  It was a truly amazing experience and an opportunity to connect with old friends as well as meet other like-minded individuals interested in promoting health and wellness.  Seeing the number of people who were interested in the wellness of people involved in the veterinary profession gave me hope. There are so many things that we can do to help improve our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around us to help make us happier and healthier.

All of the lecturers and presenters were engaging and truly passionate about what they were discussing.  As a student involved in the wellness committee at our university, one of my favorite things about attending the Health and Wellness Summit was hearing about other wellness programs that have been successful.  One of my favorite presentations was entitled “Effective Mental Health and Wellness Initiatives that Reduce Stigma, Build a Stronger Sense of Community, and Increase Access to Mental Health Resources for Veterinary Medical Students.”  This presentation was presented by Zachary Ward, one of the mental health professionals at UC Davis, and a panel of students from UC Davis who are involved with their Student Wellness Club.  One thing I really loved about the presentation was how connected the students were with their faculty and staff.  Everyone was interested in making student wellness a prominent and visual part of student lives.  Student’s openly discussed some of their own personal struggles with mental health and mentioned how they would make it known when they went to appointments.  Instead of saying “I’m going to a doctor’s appointment,” students would say “I’m going to an appointment with Zach.” Students had a good and open relationship with their mental health professionals. This may sound small, but it has been making a world of difference. The atmosphere at UC Davis has been changing.  Students are fighting the stigma against mental health by being willing to be honest about where they are going and how they are feeling.  

Apart from having a close connection between students and faculty, the Student Wellness Club has become one of the largest student organizations associated with the veterinary school.  It is a student run organization that hosts many wellness events throughout the year to help promote wellness and mental health.  One event they hosted was an all day health and wellness symposium. Faculty panels, student panels, wellness activities such as yoga, and an anonymous message board were some of the individual events held during symposium.  I was great hearing about the enthusiasm that UC Davis students and staff have for mental health and wellness.

This presentation was really inspiring to me.  After the Summit, all the students and faculty members who attended from our university got together to discuss ways in which we can improve the wellness at our university.  We want to help create an environment that is friendlier and fosters a sense of community between students and faculty which is currently one of our biggest barriers. Faculty and students are all kind and willing to help each other, but we want to host more events which allow for student-faculty interaction.  We discussed ways in which faculty and students can become more connected to try and break down some of the barriers that cause tension.  We hope to open our wellness activities to faculty as well as students.  We have plans to host faculty panels in which faculty members can share their stories including funny stories from clinics as well as stories about their own personal struggles with mental health. We are currently doing a thank you card event which allows students to thank clinicians and faculty for all of their hard work.  I am truly excited to see where what we as students can do to continue to support mental health and wellness and how we can impact the veterinary medical profession.


Kaitlin Iulo-University of Georgia

    In keeping with the “gratitude is the best attitude” mantra (thanks, Dr. Holowaychuk!), I’d like to express how thankful I am for the opportunity to attend the 2016 AAVMC Wellness Summit. I am grateful for new friendships; for the courage of my colleagues and the personal stories they shared; and the passion that everyone brought to this conference. I have no doubt that we will make great strides for our profession after the experience I had at the summit.

On Friday morning, Dr. Michele Gaspar set the tone for what would be a life-changing three days for me with her gripping keynote speech. Her perspectives and conclusions about the state of mental health and well-being in our profession challenged all of us in important ways. I felt humbled by the gravity of the task set before us but inspired and hopeful for what could be done. And when I looked around the room and saw how many areas of the profession were represented at the summit-from students to university administrators/faculty to private practitioners- I felt confident that change is coming for veterinary medicine.

    My favorite session was the student panel from UCDavis and the ideas and events they shared from their wellness initiatives. That session was a highlight for me because it became an open discussion among the students and administrators from other colleges about what was being done in their programs. I took so many notes and came away with great ideas to share with UGA CVM! When I talked with other student attendees, we agreed that increasing student participation in wellness activities is a goal we would like to help each other achieve. We are all keeping in touch with a group email now to share success stories (and failures) at our respective schools.  It’s already been a great way to stay connected and share ideas.

    The 2016 AAVMC Wellness Summit was an incredible experience and I am so grateful that I was able to participate. Many thanks to the SAVMA Wellness Committee for funding travel grants that enabled students like me to attend. It was a wonderful experience and I am already looking forward to next year!


Ari Boltax- Cornell

"Euduaimonia - Living a Life of Meaning"

Rewind to one week before attending the Health and Wellness Summit at CSU. I'm performing at Cornell's annual Halloween Night of the Arts, a spooky and entertaining set of performances ranging from dance, to song, to my personal favorite mode of expression, slam poetry. For anyone curious, I've embedded the video here.

As you'll hear me disclaim before the poem, I had a hard time coming up with content that would make the mighty vet student squirm. I finally decided on a theme: failure. Paralleling paralyzing examinations from the depths of a truly daunting first year anatomy course with the anxiety of being thrust out on our own in "the real world," I was met with nervous laughter and stunned silence.

Fast forward to the final keynote of the conference on Sunday morning, a captivating combination of speech and performance art by Dr. Elizabeth Charles, where she poignantly underscored the perfectionist tendencies that motivate - and macerate - many vet students. "Cracking the Perfectionism Code," as she described, is the key to understanding how we can all become more emotionally intelligent, vulnerable individuals, who know that as caregiving professionals we have a moral obligation to help ourselves in addition to helping others. In summing up the themes of the conference, she reminded us to grow from adversity over stagnant complacency, to bend with the wind but not break in the storm, to recognize not name, embrace not blame, and to connect not judge. To FAIL is simply a First Attempt In Learning - a concept that I will continue to work hard to embrace throughout my career.

Sitting in the phenomenally inclusive, supportive, and inspirational ethos of the conference hall that Sunday morning and reflecting back on the genuine fear of failure that I knowingly wrote into my slam poem was a transformative moment for me. I was lucky enough to represent Cornell at the conference with two other vet students and three clinicians, and we eagerly chatted the days away with reflections and ideas that we can bring back to our veterinary community to foster an environment that truly embraces wellness. I left the conference feeling refreshed and motivated, having collaborated with vets, vet students, and mental health professionals from all over the world. I am profusely thankful to SAVMA for making my trip to Colorado possible, and to the Health and Wellness Summit speakers and organizers for arming me with the resources and spurring a drive for me to make positive change at my vet school and to carry those messages with me wherever I end up in the future.

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