The MSU Veterinary Social Work Services program (VSWS) is a collaboration between the School of Social Work and the College of Veterinary Medicine. VSWS provides emotional support and educational and referral services for clients, veterinarians, medical staff, and support staff of the MSU Small Animal Clinic, Oncology Center, and Large Animal Clinics specializing in equine, bovine, and exotic animal treatment. The Veterinary Teaching Hospital provides treatment in the same fields as human medicine, including internal medicine, ophthalmology, cardiology, orthopedics, oncology, general medicine, surgery, physical therapy, and rehabilitation.
According to Barbara Kitchell, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, Professor and Director of the College of Veterinary Medicine Center for Comparative Oncology, “Everyone thinks about veterinary medicine as being about animals, but animals don’t bring themselves to the hospital, people do. A large part of what we do is help people with therapeutic decision making.”
That being said, students in the four year veterinary medicine program receive only one hour of training in how to relate to people. Their education is intensely scientific with very little time to add the human element. VSWS is working with members of the CVM faculty to bring experiential role play into their education. Many students feel unprepared to deal with the human emotions stirred up when dealing with people’s injured, ill, or dying animals.
Key features of VSWS include:
VSWS also provides grief and loss support for clients who are making difficult decisions for their animal companions, advocacy for clients to facilitate communication, and grief counseling for clients overwhelmed with issues facing them concerning care and treatment of their companion animals. The Support Group for the Loss of a Companion Animal serves people from all over Michigan who have lost a pet and are experiencing intense feelings ranging through the stages of grief—what anyone might feel who has lost a close family member. Attendees do not have to be MSU clients.
VSWS also provides owners with on-going support and assistance with the process that begins with a terminal diagnosis. Veterinary Hospice Care provides in-home, veterinary-supported palliative care to pets so they can maintain a good quality of life and live comfortably until natural death or euthanasia occurs.
In addition to client contacts, VSWS consults with medical and support staff on issues of compassion fatigue, interpersonal concerns, workplace morale, and referrals to University and community resources for staff and their families.
VSWS is also committed to outreach by the extension of these services to the community at large. VSWS Coordinator Linda Lawrence, LMSW, has been invited by other Michigan veterinary clinics to provide support services for their doctors, technicians, assistants, and staff. For more information about the Veterinary Social Work Service in the VTH or about setting up a pet loss support group in your area, contact Linda Lawrence at (517) 432-5967
Since 2006, MSW students from the MSU School of Social Work have been able to gain experience providing VSWS. Students gain a broader experience of the human-animal bond, including grief and bereavement issues, through rotations in the oncology center and the emergency room. They work with issues from compassion fatigue (secondary post-traumatic stress) and end-of-life decisions. In addition, their work here translates directly to work in human medical settings as well as providing valuable experience working with the organizational and environmental issues experienced in any large organization.
In 2008, the MSU School of Social Work and the College of Veterinary Medicine designed a survey to explore the attitudes of veterinary professionals regarding the VSW specialization. The Veterinary Social Work Services Faculty Research Initiative was designed to provide evidence to support the development and recognition of veterinary social work services as a viable, appropriate field of practice, to evaluate interest in the need for access to professional social workers by community-based veterinarians and veterinary practices, and to evaluate the delivery of on-site social work services to clients served at the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine teaching hospitals.Return to Top