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Improving student wellness by promoting social fitness

In recent years, wellness issues have become a major discussion topic in veterinary medicine. In most instances, however, discussions of wellness have been limited to mental and emotional health (eg, depression and suicidal ideation). In contrast, in 2016, the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine launched a comprehensive wellness model that involves 5 wellness outcomes: intellectual, mental and emotional, social, cultural, and physical.1

I would like to draw particular attention to the social aspect of wellness, as previous research has found that approximately 50% of veterinary students are introverts2 and a recent investigation at North Carolina State University found that approximately 85% of students self-identified as shy.

Experts in psychology have long noted that people who tend to exhibit avoidance behaviors, which typically include introverts and shy people, often experience social anxieties and phobias.3 Psychologists argue one should confront social anxieties and phobias, albeit gently, to reduce or eradicate them,4 and Lynne Henderson, a psychologist who specializes in the study of shyness and social disorders, recommends that affected individuals practice social fitness. According to Henderson, “Social fitness, like physical fitness, is a state of physiological, behavioral, emotional, and mental conditioning that implies adaptive functioning and a sense of well-being.”5 Much like physical exercise is needed to improve one's physical fitness, social exercise is needed to improve one's social fitness. Social exercises consist of activities such as meeting new people, getting involved in one's community, developing new relationships, and maintaining existing friendships.

With the exception of issues typically addressed in the hidden curriculum (eg, civic knowledge and engagement), veterinary schools seem to place little emphasis on the social development of students. One might argue that when they graduate, most students likely possess or will possess the requisite skills to function well in social situations. However, we have no assurance that students will be able to function comfortably in social situations unless we provide them opportunities to do so. The veterinary community is encouraged to include social fitness as part of its efforts to promote comprehensive student wellness.

Kenneth D. Royal, phd, msed

Assistant Professor of Educational Assessment & Outcomes

Department of Clinical Sciences College of Veterinary Medicine North Carolina State University Raleigh, NC

  • 1. Royal KD, Flammer K, Borst LB, et al. A comprehensive wellness program for veterinary medical education: design and implementation at North Carolina State University. Int J Higher Educ 2017; 6: 7483.

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  • 2. Brown CC, Harvey SB, Stiles D. Using a natural abilities battery for academic and career guidance: a ten-year study. J Vet Med Educ 2011; 38: 270277.

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  • 3. Henderson L, Zimbardo PG. Helping your shy and socially anxious client: a social fitness training protocol using CBT. Oakland, Calif: New Harbinger Publications, 2014.

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  • 4. American Psychological Association. Painful shyness in children and adults. Available at: www.apa.org/helpcenter/shyness.aspx. Accessed Sep 7, 2017.

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  • 5. Henderson L. Compassionate social fitness: adding a compassionate focus to social fitness training for shyness and social anxiety, in Proceedings. 32nd Annu Conf Anxiety Depression Assoc Am 2012.

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