Identity, environment and mental wellbeing in the veterinary profession

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Abstract

Mental health and career dissatisfaction are of increasing concern to the veterinary profession. The influence of identity on the psychological wellbeing of veterinarians has not been widely explored. Twelve recent veterinary graduates were enrolled in a private social media discussion group, and their identities investigated through narrative inquiry: a methodology which enables identity priorities to be extrapolated from stories of experience. Two distinct variants of the veterinary identity were identified: an academic, ‘diagnosis-focused’ identity, which prioritised definitive diagnosis and best-evidence treatment; and a broader ‘challenge-focused’ identity, where priorities additionally included engaging with the client, challenging environment or veterinary business. Contextual challenges (such as a client with limited finances or difficult interpersonal interactions) were seen as a source of frustration for those with a diagnosis-focused identity, as they obstructed the realisation of identity goals. Overcoming these challenges provided satisfaction to those with a challenge-focused identity. The employment environment of the graduates (general veterinary practice) provided more opportunities for those with a challenge-focused identity to realise identity goals, and more markers of emotional wellbeing were apparent in their stories. Markers of poor emotional health were evident in the stories of those with a diagnosis-focused identity.

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