A survey showing the number of veterinary students suffering from stress has fallen by almost a quarter in four years has been vigorously challenged.

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Veterinary students suffering from stress is still a significant problem, says Vetlife Helpline’s Rosie Allister.

The joint survey by the BVA and the Association of Veterinary Students (AVS) claimed a 23% reduction in the number of students suffering stress compared with a similar survey in 2012.

However, the figures are at odds with data from veterinary support organisation Vetlife, released in October, showing a huge increase in annual contacts to its anonymous helpline, mainly from young vets, which resulted in the BVA donating a further £10,000 to help the charity with its work.

Now, one of the UK’s leading researchers into mental well-being in the veterinary profession has said she doesn’t believe evidence exists showing a drop in the number of veterinary students suffering stress, and larger studies suggest it is still a significant problem.

Different question

Rosie Allister, a researcher in mental health at The University of Edinburgh and chairman of the Vetlife Helpline, said it was not possible to compare the 2012 and 2016 figures as they asked a different question – the 2012 question asked if students had ever suffered from stress and the 2016 question asked if they had suffered now or at university.

Dr Allister said the authors of the report had flagged the change in wording, but she maintained it resulted in no way of knowing whether a reduction had occurred.

She said: “It is good to see the AVS and the BVA continuing to highlight the issue of student stress and this year’s data could act as a benchmark for the next survey if the same question is used. What we cannot say from the report is stress has reduced – we don’t know from this data whether it has.”

‘Oversimplification’

In response to Dr Allister, BVA president Gudrun Ravetz said: “Although the full report makes clear the question had been changed, we accept the headline message in our communications may have been an oversimplification. We apologise for any confusion.

“The statistics were presented in a way that recognised the work by the universities and other organisations to better support students, but, above all, we agree we must not be complacent.

“The stress levels experienced by students remain unacceptable and the BVA is fully committed to working with others, through Vet Futures and the Mind Matters Initiative, to try to prevent stress and mental health problems, and provide support for everyone studying or working in the profession.”

  • Read the full story in the 14 November issue of Veterinary Times.
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