Secrets, by their nature, have power. They have a strange ability to both grant and consume emotional energy. What if veterinarians could share secrets about their professional struggles and find comfort in seeing that they were not alone? Early last year, as a senior veterinary student at Massey University in New Zealand, Hilal Dogan, BVSc, saw the benefits of introducing a PostSecret-style website to the veterinary community.
Dr. Dogan found inspiration in Frank Warren’s PostSecret project, which launched in January 2004. Warren’s idea was that anyone could anonymously mail his or her secret to him in the form of a postcard. The secret could be anything: betrayal, fear, regret, desire, confession or a childhood humiliation. The postcard concept has allowed people to creatively share their inner thoughts through various forms of art and writing. Eleven years later, Post Secret is still going strong (visit the site at postsecret.com), helping people through struggles with depression, abuse, eating disorders and even with contemplationof suicide.
Dr. Dogan looked at creating a similar site that could give veterinary professionals an opportunity to express their worries anonymously. “Especially with growing awareness of high burnout and suicide rates in the profession, it seemed important to try and implement more ways of helping the veterinary community,” she says. With the help of fellow veterinary student Corey Regnerus and the support of the Health and Counseling Services department at the university, Dr. Dogan successfully pitched the idea of “Vet Confessionals” to the dean of the Massey Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences (IVABS).
When the project launched at IVABS, students used one of the confessional cards and placed their anonymous submission in the Vet Confessionals box at the university. “It’s a good opportunity for people to get things off their chest without worrying who sees it,” Regnerus says.
Cards submitted to the Vet Confessionals box were scanned and uploaded onto the project website. Some were intensely personal, while others were humorous or supportive. On the website, other students were free to comment on the posts and give feedback or reassurance. This online forum provided the opportunity for discussion and community support.
As the project grew at her university, Dr. Dogan began communicating with the North American Veterinary Community (NAVC) about setting up an art exhibit featuring her fellow students’ postcard submissions at the NAVC Conference in January 2015. With the support of NAVC, Massey University and the New Zealand Veterinary Association, the exhibit became a reality in January, when Dr. Dogan and her team invited NAVC attendees to stop by the exhibit and share a secret of their own. Conference attendees submitted more than 150 postcards that week. Building on that success, Dr. Dogan and her team joined forces with dvm360.com and UBM Life Sciences.
As part of this partnership, veterinarians and team members can now post their “secrets” on dvm360.com (visit dvm360.com/vetconfessionals-submission). In addition, the Vet Confessionals team will be appearing at the CVC and other veterinary conferences, setting up art exhibits and inviting attendees to submit secrets of their own. Secrets will be posted anonymously on dvm360.com.
Dr. Dogan and the Vet Confessionals team are thrilled with the support they have received from dvm360.com and other organizations.
“I have no doubt this support will continue to grow,” Dr. Dogan says. “My dream is to get more of what’s behind closed doors out into the open and available for discussion. As veterinary professionals, we are held to high standards. Our profession is extremely rewarding but can at times be extremely stressful. The anonymity of this project allows people to freely express themselves, without being judged, and encourages creativity. In the end, my hope is to bring solidarity to the global veterinary community—and possibly even to the healthcare community as a whole.”