Challenges – this link takes you to more specific challenges associated with learning.
Veterinary Science and Students with ADHD
Inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity are the main characteristics of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). As a student’s academic success is often dependent on their ability to attend to tasks and tutor expectations with minimal distractions, a student with ADHD may struggle within the typical HE academic environment. Activities associated with acquiring necessary information for completing tasks, completing assignments and participating in discussions with their tutors and peers are all activities that can potentially be problematic for the student with ADHD.
Students with ADHD often have the ability to totally focus on something if it really interests them, they may not alter their focus until they are satisfied that they cannot improve. During this process, they may be totally oblivious to what is going on around them, which can be problematic during team-work situations. Asking for assistance is all part of the teamwork that is essential for anybody’s survival in a busy, fast-paced workplace. All students should be reassured that they have strengths and weaknesses to bring to the team, regardless of whether they have a disability or not and effectively managing their weaker areas, by asking colleagues to double-check things demonstrates effective team working.
Students with ADHD are starting to outnumber students with psychological disorders in US universities, although their numbers are still small in the UK. ADHD remains controversial, in that although it is recognised as a specific condition, there is often the feeling among staff that it is not so much on the increase as being massively over-diagnosed. Whatever the reality, students who have a condition that is, or is similar to, ADHD frequently do pose major problems for staff dealing with them because they often experience serious difficulties with their studies.
The current situation
Psychological difficulties are, in some ways, the hidden disabilities of the veterinary medical colleges and of universities in general. Students may often decide not to disclose their difficulties and this one must respect. At the same time, whether they disclose their difficulties or not, the effects of having a psychological difficulty can remain and may have an enormous even if hidden impact on others.
Official figures for students with psychological difficulties can sometimes be low or nonexistent. The result is that senior staff are sometimes led to assume that the problem does not exist within their institution. The reality is that many faculty staff are dealing with a problem which officially does not exist.
There is clearly a special bond between veterinary medical college staff and their students. This leads older veterinarians, either consciously or subconsciously, to view younger ones as ‘the next link in the chain.’ Members of a relay team are aware of the need to hand on the baton to the one who comes after them – and this is what I think happens sometimes when staff assist a student who has psychological difficulties. Apart from the parental-like concern often observed, there is also the sense that ‘this student in front of me is what I was like X number of years ago – this is another me and his/her difficulties are my responsibility.’
There is therefore a special solidarity within the profession which means that in certain situations, only a ‘brother or sister’ vet can really lend the necessary listening ear. This may sound idealistic but within the scope of dealing with students with psychological difficulties it is often a reality.
Links with Counselling and Psychological Services
It may well be that this area of work falls to departmental staff because of a gap in provision leaving staff to deal with the issues presented by students with psychological difficulties in the absence of other adequate support. Lori Kogan, a psychologist at Colorado State University, gave an overview of the current situation at the 2001 AAVMC meeting in Washington DC. As well as highlighting the need for further research to be carried out on the psychological needs of veterinary students, she also stressed the need for counselling staff to have an in-depth knowledge of the issues facing veterinary students. It is unusual for veterinary medical colleges to have on-site counselling services available – all of the US and Canadian colleges belong to main universities and access the student services’ provision of their parent university. This is also the case in the UK.
On-site or Off-site Counselling
The counselling services provision of Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine can be viewed at http://www.cvmbs.colostate.edu/cvmbs/student.counseling.htm
The counsellor, who has extensive experience of working with veterinary students, is available on-site for 10 hours per week. Such on-site provision has been fiercely opposed by a number of the people interviewed in both the US and the UK, including students. The main reason is that of confidentiality and privacy. Life at a veterinary medical college is far more intense and in some ways far more enclosed than life in other university colleges. Staff and students work together over a period of time in situations where they have close contact with one another. The high level of practical work, carried out in all weathers and in all conditions, also breeds a far higher level of intimacy than one would find in other university situations.
In such a situation, many students who experience serious psychological difficulties cannot sort them out unless they can get away from what can be a claustrophobic situation. There is a point at which on-site staff cannot provide assistance, even though in many situations they can provide the most effective form of help.
Disabled veterinary science graduates may face difficulties gaining employment, especially those with visible or obvious disabilities, because employers can find it difficult to look beyond the disability and focus on what the employee can contribute to the workplace. Historically the medical model of disability implies that a person needs to be healed and employers can think of the person as needing to be taken care of or requiring an intervention rather than as a healthy person, with a disability, who is a competent professional. The question often asked is whether a practitioner can provide safe and competent care. The other question often raised is how the employer can ensure safety in the workplace when working with a disabled colleague.
Students with ADHD may need to learn special studying skills that work most effectively for them and help them to block out their hyperattentiveness towards activities going on around them. Adjustments that may help students with ADHD are more likely to be associated with personal organisation rather than physical adjustments. Examples of adjustments might include the use of templates for charting notes and working closely with colleagues to share organisational tips and obtain assistance.
To conclude, a combination of both on- and off-site assistance is required if the needs of all students with psychological difficulties are to be adequately met. The training and other needs of staff dealing with such students must also be addressed.
Much of the information for this page was sourced from: Tynan, Anne. (2001) At the Portal of the Profession: The Veterinary Profession and People with Disabilities – A North American Perspective. University of London: Royal Veterinary College. http://www.rvc.ac.uk/RVC_Life/PDFs/AtThePortal.PDF