Social Work grad makes her mark at Veterinary College

By Jeanette Stewart Posted: August 20, 2015 6:00 a.m.

Social Worker and U of R grad Erin Wasson loves spending time with animals. She’s part of the first of its kind ‘Veterinary Social Work Initiative'
Social Worker and U of R grad Erin Wasson loves spending time with animals. She’s part of the first of its kind ‘Veterinary Social Work Initiative' (Photo courtesy of Keane Plamondon).

On a recent veterinary call to a nearby farm, social worker Erin Wasson found herself pushing a sheep through a chute.

“Part of the job is to actually help,” says Wasson, the Western College of Veterinary Medicine’s (WCVM) first social worker and a graduate of the Faculty of Social Work at the U of R.

Wasson is part of the Veterinary Social Work Initiative — the first of its kind in Canada. It’s a groundbreaking program that provides social work support to a range of people at the regional veterinary college and its veterinary medical centre: animal owners, clinical faculty and staff, and veterinary students.

Wasson is there to ensure people get the support they need. Her days can be as varied as counselling an overworked clinician or helping a family deal with the death of a beloved pet. She’s been called in to help manage cases that include incidences of traumatic grief, sudden deaths, end-of-life decision-making and even domestic violence.

A registered social worker since 2009, this is the first time Wasson has applied her skills to help improve the welfare of animals and those who care for them.

As a University of Regina master of social work student embedded at the college, Wasson helped to build the program while completing her practicum requirements. She was hired as a clinical associate and the Veterinary College’s first social worker in June 2015.

The job is a dream for Wasson, who describes herself as an “animal lover” with two cats and two horses of her own.
 
“It’s the culmination of every single job I’ve had,” she says.

U OF R AND U OF S WORKING TOGETHER

The Veterinary Social Work Initiative began two years ago when leaders of both institutions — U of R Faculty of Social Work Dean Dr. Judy White and Western College of Veterinary Medicine’s Dean Dr. Doug Freeman discussed a partnership.  

This committee included faculty at the WCVM, the U of R Faculty of Social Work and the University of Saskatchewan’s Department of Sociology.

“After two years of work, the result is a hands-on training program that expands education opportunities for the U of R Faculty of Social Work and provides significant support to our WCVM clients, students, faculty and staff.  It has been an exciting and successful partnership with more to come,” says Dr. Freeman.

The program’s partners include the two universities and the Saskatoon Health Region’s Mental Health and Addictions Services, which provided clinical supervision and support.

Dr. Darlene Chalmers is an assistant professor with the Faculty of Social Work at the U of R. She supervised Wasson for the academic portion of her master’s degree and is the co-chair of the joint committee.
 
“As we’re learning, veterinarians work in a world that is high stress,” says Dr. Chalmers.

She says there is a need to help veterinarians deal with these stressors by supporting them in the work they do with clients as well in their own health and well-being through managing their occupational stress.

SUPPORT FOR VETERINARIANS

Wasson is even more frank about the need to support veterinarians, who take on a lot of stress in their jobs.
“Vets hold themselves to impossibly high standards,” says Wasson.
Part of her goal with the program is to provide self-care tools for veterinarians who may be dealing with undue levels of anxiety and stress through their work.

“Erin’s amazing,” says Dr. Trisha Dowling, professor of Veterinary Clinical Pharmacology at WCVM and co-chair of the joint committee alongside Dr. Chalmers.

”Erin knows resources and she knows how to direct people very, very efficiently. There have been many days this year where I’ve felt ‘I don’t know how we’d be doing this without Erin around.”

There are plans to grow the program, building-in learning opportunities for future social work students.  
 
For more information on the Veterinary Social Work program please visit here. 

Graduates of the U of R’s Faculty of Social Work find careers in a wide variety of areas including child welfare, healthcare, criminal justice and social policy research and analysis.