What VLE Means to Me

What VLE Means to Me

I was introduced to Veterinary Leadership Experience (VLE) when I attended my first set of national meetings as Cummings School SAVMA Delegate at the 2015 SAVMA Symposium in Minneapolis, MN. Ryan Smith and Dr. Jennifer Quammen presented the importance of balancing relationships, and mental and physical health with the demands of veterinary school. For me, they presented their message like a supportive coach speaking to his athletes. As a first year vet student dealing with personal challenges, who was once a dedicated collegiate athlete, their words profoundly connected with me.

That same day, I reached out to Dr. Quammen (a VLE facilitator) and she introduced me to a group of VLE student alumni who were attending Symposium. From my conversations with these students I developed a passionate drive for ensuring mental health awareness and support for students at Cummings School. When I returned to Cummings School the following week, I reached out to the administration and Dr. Lois Wetmore about the opportunity to attend. I was fortunately selected to attend the 2015 VLE.

The VLE program

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Benjie Ding, V18, Anika Farina V18, and Dr. Andrea Lam at VLE

VLE is a week-long summer program designed by the directors, veterinarians, and trained facilitators of the Veterinary Leadership Institute (VLI). The program is set up like a camp, and is made up of veterinary students, faculty, and staff from each veterinary school in the United States. Each day students participate in small and large group discussions, fun activities, and have unscheduled time to socialize and experience Ross Point in Idaho.

VLE is a place that allows students to identify their strengths and weaknesses and be reintroduced to their goal of becoming veterinary professionals. The experience reminds veterinarians and students alike about the traits that make them unique, as a way to teach each individual how to become comfortable in their vulnerability, and to remain honest with themselves about their own physical and mental health. This is so important because comfort in vulnerability translates into the workplace and ultimately our ability to remain successful both inside and outside of the clinic.

Lessons learned

For me, VLE highlighted the importance of focusing on my own physical and emotional health and wellbeing. The camp activities uncovered my own internal conflicts that I was not previously aware of. The activities allowed me to see how my mindset had negatively impacted my outlook when I studied for each exam during my first year. I learned that my critical attitude had greatly affected how I was dealing with the stress of veterinary school both inside and outside of the classroom. The VLE activities reminded me to remain patient with myself and others in my life so that I did not become overwhelmed and burdened by self-inflicted stress.

At VLE, I was surrounded by people of different levels of education and different personality types. I learned how my specific intonations, mannerisms, and postures, that I was oblivious to, set an impression on others. By recognizing and becoming more cognizant as to how my speech and nonverbal actions portrayed an impression on others, I now present myself in a different way. Each activity also allowed me to practice acts of selflessness, and listening, teamwork, and leadership skills.

Through my own discussions with the other veterinary students and facilitator Dr. Jennifer Quammen, during VLE I developed a passion for ensuring mental health awareness and support on Cummings School campus and in my future professional life.

Furthermore, my participation at VLE has enhanced my experience at SAVMA Symposiums and AVMA Conventions, where I am reunited with the same facilitators and students who attended VLE. I have gained lifelong friends who have been a huge support system for me throughout the school years.

Takeaways for the community

I aim to bring back the VLE practices and teachings of self-awareness, conflict resolution, communication, and resilience by bringing similar activities back to Tufts. I feel this will enhance the attitudes of the student body, provide them with skills that are so important when transitioning into the professional world, and keep an open discussion about mental and emotional health amongst the faculty and student population at Tufts. My intent is that these activities will help each student feel supported by upperclassmen and administration, and will encourage them to continue their professional development over the years.

In 2015, VLE solidified my passion to work with SAVMA (the umbrella organization of all student clubs at Tufts) to create Cummings School’s first Wellness Week and to ensure a Student Wellness Committee was established. Many of the activities I learned while at VLE were incorporated into the first annual 2016 Cummings School SAVMA Wellness Week. For instance, the Gratitude Board we had up in the Elm’s Cafe came from an activity I did at VLE where I had to write down 10 things every day that I was thankful for.

In 2015 and 2016, I was also able to assist with First Year Orientation where Cummings School incorporated similar versions of the VLE activities. Now, in 2017, I am working with the officers of Cummings School SAVMA, Dr. Lois Wetmore, Dr. Jennifer Graham, multiple other faculty, and another VLE student, Makoto Sakamoto (V’19), to set up a certificate program for Tufts students. In this program, students will meet each month to complete leadership and self-awareness activities. Through this program, students will be able to practice different approaches to speaking and interacting with classmates, clients, colleagues, and future supervisors.

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