AAEP Wellness Coverage: Incorporating 9 Dimensions of Wellness into an Equine Internship to Avoid Burnout  

At the 2023 AAEP Convention, Dr. Jonathan Yardley shared the successful wellness program The Ohio State University has implemented for interns to improve equine veterinary retention rates.
Equine veterinary intern, feeling happy and not experiencing burnout due to wellness efforts.
The Ohio State’s wellness program has resulted in 100% of their interns staying in veterinary practice, and 82% remaining in equine practice. | Getty Images

At the 2023 AAEP Convention, Jonathan Yardley, DVM, assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at The Ohio State University, shared statistics for 2023 equine veterinary school graduates. He said 22% accept an offer of an associate position in private practice, and 78% continue their education with an equine internship. Unfortunately, 50% of graduates leave the profession within five years, he said.  

Burnout in Equine Veterinary Internships

Some of this attrition is due to burnout new graduates experience during their internships, he opined. Burnout is a workplace issue, but it affects individuals. Study results show common causes of physician burnout include excessive workload, work inefficiency, lack of perceived support, lack of work-life balance, and loss of control and autonomy, he continued. In veterinary medicine, burnout is common, and younger female practitioners are known to have higher levels of psychological distress than older, more experienced practitioners. In human medicine, burnout increases medical errors, depression, and suicide ideation. 

The 9 Dimensions of Wellness

Yardley explained the goal of The Ohio State University’s equine internship program is to transition new graduates into competent, confident, clinical veterinarians. The university recognizes nine dimensions of wellness, including physical, emotional, financial, intellectual, career, social, creative, environmental, and spiritual, he said.  

Physical Wellness

Physical wellness is a holistic approach to maintaining optimal health through regular exercise, balanced nutrition, and preventive health care, Yardley explained. To support this part of the wellness pie, The Ohio State University offers gym memberships, two weekends off per month, and healthy food choices for interns.

Emotional Wellness

Emotional wellness is the ability to handle stress, adapt to change, and endure difficult times. The university adapted the National Institutes of Health’s six strategies for improving emotional health, include building resilience, reducing stress, getting quality sleep, strengthening social connections, coping with loss, and being mindful. Students must participate in a mandatory cognitive behavior skills-building workshop to start them on a path of resilience and mindful practices, he shared. 

Financial Wellness

Continuing, Yardley said the university supports interns’ well-being by ensuring financial wellness. The vet school has steadily increased equine intern salaries to meet the area’s living wage using the MIT Living Wage calculator. The university also offers an online financial literacy program.

Intellectual Wellness

It supports intellectual wellness through different mentoring methods, from journal clubs to direct supervision on emergency and hospital cases until the interns have established confidence.  

Career Wellness

Yardley outlined how university professors provide feedback at regular intervals, or upon request, to support career wellness. The school also uses a trustworthy clinical skills document, he added.

Social Wellness

The university encourages social wellness by allowing adequate time off for outside activities with social groups, including clinic happy hours. “Being treated as a human makes such a difference,” he said.  

Creative Wellness

Creative wellness can be more difficult to achieve. Yardley provided an example of creative wellness by describing a medical error he had made for which an intern creatively developed a process to prevent in the future.

Environmental Wellness

The university supports environmental wellness with its commitment to recycling, acres of maintained green space, and respect for environmental concerns.  

Spiritual Wellness

Finally, Yardley described spiritual wellness as searching for purpose in life, which research shows leads to more success. The university supports spiritual wellness by giving interns time away from work for self-reflection and goal setting.  

Final Thoughts on Equine Internships

In closing, Yardley said 100% of The Ohio State’s equine interns stay in veterinary medicine, and 82% remain in equine practice, which speaks to the wellness program’s success. He lamented that changing cultural norms around equine internship is difficult and takes time. However, he believes that by focusing on the most vulnerable population, success will percolate up to all cohorts.  

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