This year’s burst of mental health activism at Penn has not been limited to undergraduates — students at Penn’s graduate schools have been working to bring about change as well. At the School of Veterinary Medicine, plans to more seriously address mental health will soon be brought to fruition.
Starting in mid-October, a Counseling and Psychological Services clinician will be stationed in the Veterinary hospital on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings to perform initial triage assessments, accommodating the tight clinical schedules of veterinary students.
2016 Veterinary student Ashley Klein first led efforts to bring counseling services to the Vet School through a student survey and a proposal to administrators. She explained that veterinary students face a unique form of stress — they must cope with the task of euthanizing animals, which conflicts with the compassion that drew them to the profession in the first place.
“The reason I think it’s so important is not only because the schedule is really rigorous and the expectations are really high,” she said. “Veterinary medicine involves ending lives on purpose.”
2018 Veterinary student Molly Klores, who also worked to put the program into place, noted that specifically addressing mental health through CAPS services will help facilitate conversation about an issue that often goes without attention.
“I think that mental health and wellness is important for everyone,” she said. “The veterinary school and the veterinary profession could really, really benefit from opening the dialogue about mental health and wellness.”
However, efforts were not limited to students — faculty and staff at the Vet school have had mental health on their minds since a 2013 symposium at Ohio State’s College of Veterinary Medicine that focused on student mental wellness. Realizing the need to address the issue, administrators began looking at university resources to see what could be done.
“The students and the administrators were actually working parallel towards the same goal,” said Mary Bryant, executive director of the Office of Students at the Vet School. “This is becoming an an increasing concern about the wellness of our students on a national basis.”
Ultimately, the Vet School reached out to CAPS and arranged for a clinician to provide services for a few hours each week in the Veterinary Hospital. If the program is successful, CAPS hopes to expand services in the Vet School and enact similar programs in other graduate schools.
“If we notice that this is really popular and that students do take advantage of it, certainly, I’m hoping to expand it,” CAPS Director Bill Alexander said. “If it worked out ... this would be a precursor to a satellite office.”
Alexander explained that the greatest demand for these kinds of services come from schools whose students have busy clinical schedules, such as veterinary, dental and medical students in their later years of study. The counselor — located directly in the hospital — will make it easier for students to get the help that they need.
“We’ve already had other schools express interest,” Alexander said. “It’s kind of a great opening for a new model to bring professionals to the students.”
Once the program begins, Bryant hopes that CAPS will be able to better identify specific mental health issues among veterinary students and address them.
“The way I envision it is that perhaps [the clinician] will see patterns in some of the things that are troubling our veterinary students, and maybe we can even start having group sessions and really start having this person become an integrated part of our community here at Penn Vet,” Bryant said.
For now, the services are intended for veterinary students — though Alexander said that he can’t imagine a clinician turning a non-veterinary student away. However, in the future, students may be able to choose between many options when in search of help.
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