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MMI awards funding to research project to identify and address workplace stressors for autistic vets

21 June 2021

Our Mind Matters Initiative (MMI) has awarded £20,000 to a research project that will investigate the various workplace stressors that affect autistic veterinary professionals and present ideas for adjustments to address the identified stressors.

The funding comes from the Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grant, which was set up in memory of RCVS Council member Sarah Brown, who passed away in 2017. The grant is awarded once a year to a research project that explores an aspect of mental health and wellbeing within the veterinary profession.

Since it launched, the grant has been awarded to some exceptional research projects, including last year when two grants were given: one to a joint project from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and the British Veterinary Ethnicity & Diversity Society (BVEDS), which looked into the mental health impacts of racism within the veterinary profession; and one to a project from King’s College London, which looked at moral injury in veterinarians and the impact that this has on their mental health.

This year, the funding has been given to a project led by researchers from the University of Nottingham’s veterinary school. Veterinary surgeons are at a higher risk of workplace-related stress compared with other professions, and the lead researchers propose that autistic veterinary surgeons may be particularly vulnerable to mental health issues. The researchers felt if they identified workplace stressors that affect autistic veterinary professionals, they could make recommendations for workplace adjustments to help create healthier working environments.

The project will involve an in-depth study with 20 autistic veterinary surgeons to identify factors that contribute to either a ‘good’ or a ‘difficult’ day at work, and then develop ideas for reasonable adjustments that could improve their working day. The research will also involve a further survey of individuals with autism spectrum condition within the wider veterinary profession, where the researchers will find out how frequently the workplace characteristics that cause a ‘good’ or a ‘difficult’ day occur, what impact they have on someone’s mental health and to gauge responses to the suggested workplace adjustments.

"We’re thrilled to award this year’s research funding to the team at the University of Nottingham’s veterinary school. We were impressed with how well-researched their application was and this is clearly an area that the lead researchers are passionate about through their own lived experience," Lisa Quigley, Mind Matters Manager

The researchers will then develop guidelines for workplace adjustments that the sector can adopt to help improve workplace wellbeing for autistic veterinary professionals. The findings will also be presented as a report to the RCVS Mind Matters Initiative’s Mental Health Research Symposium, submitted to peer-reviewed journals and sent to the sector’s press to help raise awareness of the issues that autistic veterinary professionals face.

After hearing they had won the funding, Lead Researchers, Dr Kirstie Pickles and Dr Brad Hill said: “We are absolutely delighted to have been awarded this year’s Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Award. We are passionate about raising awareness of autism spectrum condition in the veterinary profession. Having both received a diagnosis of autism, we acknowledge that we bring many strengths to the veterinary workplace, but also experience specific challenges. We hope that this project will identify common challenges for autistic vets so that more focussed workplace guidance can be recommended.”

Lisa Quigley, Mind Matters Initiative Manager said: “We’re thrilled to award this year’s research funding to the team at the University of Nottingham’s veterinary school. We were impressed with how well-researched their application was and this is clearly an area that the lead researchers are passionate about through their own lived experience.

“This research project will also build on the work that RCVS have been doing to raise awareness of neurodiversity in the veterinary professions. We look forward to hearing how the research progresses and reviewing the recommendations for workplace adjustments that will help to support the mental health of autistic veterinary professionals.”

If any veterinary surgeons with lived experience of autism would like to be involved in this study, please contact kirstie.pickles@nottingham.ac.uk or brad.hill@nottingham.ac.uk for further details.

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