University of Tennessee requires self-health classes for veterinary students


Success and wellness course will emphasize five areas of mental, physical and professional health.

The University of Tennessee's College of Veterinary Medicine has started an initiative to improve the comprehensive health of its students through the program's curriculum.

Students will be required to take the success and wellness course all four years, Elizabeth Strand, PhD, the founding director of UT's Veterinary Social Work program, tells dvm360. The course will focus on five areas: communication skills, leadership skills, ethics, business and overall wellness.

Sarel R. Van Amstel, BVSc, DAVBP, DACVIM, professor of farm animal medicine and surgery at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, leads veterinary students in strenuous workouts after class throughout the week to encourage better physical and mental wellness.The veterinary class of 2019 will be the first to receive all four years because the course is rolled out as the students advance through the program.

Dr. Elizabeth StrandThe focus on comprehensive health was spurred after Jim Thompson, DVM, PhD, dean of UT's veterinary program, read research that suggested veterinary students in general have worse mental health outcomes than medical students and practicing veterinarians have a higher risk of suicide than their peers in human medicine and the general population, Strand says. Thompson asked Strand to collect data from students in 2014, and she discovered opportunities to improve students' health.

“The whole profession is starting to take notice of wellness issues,” Strand says.

First-year students will start with learning about stress management, note-taking, study skills for a medical education, eating healthier, investing and managing student loans to get a proactive start on financial health. Second-years will focus on communication skills, leadership and preparing for clients with mental health issues. Third-year students will explore conflict management and practice management, and fourth-years will continue to study communication skills, receive feedback about their interactions with real clients and learn how to negotiate employment contracts.

Strand says other schools that may want to create similar programs courses should get buy-in from their leadership.

“The dean, associate dean and faculty stood behind the concept that this content should be core,” she says. “That this is non-negotiable information that you have to have to be a successful veterinarian.”


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