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‘I wish I was someone else’: complexities in identity formation and professional wellbeing in veterinary surgeons
  1. Elizabeth Armitage-Chan, Reader in Veterinary Education
  1. LIVE, Royal Veterinary College, Hatfield, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Elizabeth Armitage-Chan, LIVE, Department of Clinical Sciences and Services, Royal Veterinary College, Hatfield, UK; echan{at}rvc.ac.uk

Abstract

Background There is widespread concern surrounding veterinarians’ mental health. Upon entering the profession, early career veterinary surgeons encounter colleagues with diverse and conflicting identities, manifesting in their differential prioritisation of definitive clinical treatment, interpersonal interactions or the commercial success of the practice. In other professions, poor wellbeing arises from confusion between these conflicting identity discourses, as new professionals attempt to identify role models aligned with their own identity beliefs. New veterinarians’ wellbeing may thus depend on their negotiation of different identities, as they construct their own sets of professional values and determine the type of veterinarian they wish to become.

Methods Identity formation was explored narratively using veterinarians’ social media stories.

Results Poor professional wellbeing appeared to arise from identity confusion: failure to consistently commit to either the dominant diagnosis-focused discourse valued by academic role models, or a relational discourse, emphasising working through contextual challenges such as varying client needs. Workplace stress appeared to magnify the dominance of academic priorities in self-identity understanding, worsening identity confusion. Also concerning was the positioning of the client ‘as enemy’, obstructive to veterinarians’ identity goals. Social dialogue, intended to provide support during veterinarian–client conflict, potentially reinforced rejection of the client from the veterinary professional identity, strengthening a context-inappropriate, non-relational identity. This worsened identity confusion between the prized ‘diagnostic identity’ and the locally valued relational identity and was detrimental to wellbeing.

Conclusions Interventions are required, within veterinary education and postgraduate continuing professional development, that encourage reflection on identity and reinforce the value of relational identity attributes.

  • professional identity
  • narrative inquiry
  • mental health
  • veterinary education
  • reflection
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Footnotes

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement No data are available.

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