Texas Tech University

Veterinary Mental Health and Well-Being Focus of Latest School of Veterinary Medicine Faculty Addition

George Watson

June 17, 2020

vet school

Kelly Cukrowicz has served on the psychological sciences faculty at Texas Tech University since 2006.

Texas Tech University has devised a plan to implement its School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo in a way to help keep costs and student debt at a minimum while enhancing the learning experience toward attaining a degree.

Just as in many other professional programs, the mental-health of veterinary students and practitioners has become paramount over the last decade. Recently, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined an increasing rate of suicide among veterinarians, citing such factors as long work hours, extensive work load, practice management responsibilities, client expectations and complaints, euthanasia procedures and poor work-life balance as the main reasons why almost 400 veterinarians died by suicide from 1979 to 2015.

Texas Tech has developed a curriculum structure to ensure that students are prepared with the skills and knowledge to succeed as a veterinarian and have the mental health resiliency to deal with the profession so they can thrive in their career. That's why the expertise of one of the university's top psychological sciences faculty has been added to the School of Veterinary Medicine faculty.

Kelly Cukrowicz, who has been on the faculty of the Department of Psychological Sciences in the College of Arts & Sciences since 2006, joined the faculty of the School of Veterinary Medicine on June 1 as a professor of psychological health. She also will serve an important role in designing the school's admissions process to admit those students who will help the school meet its mission.

Kelly Cukrowicz
Kelly Cukrowicz

"I am very excited about joining the School of Veterinary Medicine," Cukrowicz said. "There is growing awareness that many veterinarians struggle with anxiety and depression, and sadly, many die by suicide. I will be teaching veterinary students skills to foster psychological health and resilience. I have devoted my career to research on depression and suicide and have enjoyed working with West Texas rural communities on these issues. Throughout my career I have utilized evidence-based psychotherapy and look forward to helping foster the health and success of our graduates."

Cukrowicz will help students understand how their thoughts, emotions and behaviors can contribute to avoidance, anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide, and the school's curriculum will help teach students how to best manage these stressors.

Throughout her career, Cukrowicz has used evidence-based teaching and psychotherapy approaches, and she will continued to do so at the School of Veterinary Medicine. She will offer psychotherapy to help students adjust to veterinary school, addressing issues leading to impairment of functioning in school and issues related to balancing life needs and veterinary school demands.

As a member of the admissions committee, Cukrowicz will assist in evaluating applicants' skills, including collaboration, empathy, ethics, communication, resilience and self-awareness. Her goal is to ensure admitted students reflect the school's values and culture and also have the characteristics necessary to be a successful veterinarian, contribute to the veterinary community and meet the school's mission of serving rural and regional communities.

Cukrowicz brings experience and expertise related to factors that contribute to anxiety, depression and suicide rates in rural communities, including in farmers.

"I have been so lucky to work with Dr. Cukrowicz over the years as she has served as the chair of Texas Tech's Institutional Review Board," said Guy Loneragan, dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine. "As we build our program and think of how to build resilient and successful graduates, mental health resilience is a critical piece of that puzzle. In addition, we have a ready 'natural experiment' of implementing and assessing our program as we implement an innovative curriculum. Dr. Cukrowicz' expertise and experience with research is going to serve as a point of difference for our program."

Cukrowicz joined the psychological sciences faculty in 2006 after earning her doctorate in clinical psychology from Florida State University in 2005 and completing an internship and National Institute of Aging postdoctoral fellowship at the Duke University Medical Center.

At Texas Tech, she has served as chair of the Institutional Review Board, which reviews research proposals involving human subjects to ensure the ethical, safety and confidentiality standards of academic research are being met.

She has received the Edwin Shneidman early career research award from the American Association of Suicidology, the Barnie E. Rushing Jr. Faculty Distinguished Research Award, the Excellence in Research Award from the College of Arts & Sciences and the Nancy J. Bell Excellence in Mentoring Award from Texas Tech.

"Two decades ago, programs would not consider mental health an important topic in veterinary medicine. We have come to realize its importance and the pivotal role it plays in all our lives," said John Dascanio, senior associate dean for academic and student affairs. "Dr Cukrowicz will be the central pillar to our mental health program, providing guidance and services to our program. I cannot stress enough how important her role will be in helping our faculty, staff and students navigate the rigors of the professional program, from selection of candidates for admission to dealing with the intense curriculum and to life choices in a post-graduation career. I will certainly rely on her counsel on a daily basis."

Cukrowicz becomes the 15th faculty member for the School of Veterinary Medicine. She joins Loneragan, Dascanio, associate dean for clinical programs Britt Conklin, professor of surgery David Dutton, assistant professor of general veterinary practice Bethany Schilling, professor of medicine László Hunyadi, professor of surgery Nancy Zimmerman, visiting professor Jerry Black, associate professor of Library and Information Sciences Howard Rodriguez-Mori, assistant professor of curriculum and assessment Marcelo Schmidt, associate professor of microbiology Jason Fritzler, assistant professor for microbiology Alexandra Calle, associate professor of anatomy Joshua Rowe and associate professor of economics and public policy Ryan Williams on the faculty for the School of Veterinary Medicine. Additional faculty members will be added over the summer and fall.

About the School of Veterinary Medicine

Thanks to the generosity of Amarillo and communities across Texas, and the commitment of legislators from around the state, the Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo, established in 2018, is working to enroll its first class in the fall of 2021, pending approval by the AVMA Council on Education.

The School of Veterinary Medicine will recruit and select students with a passion to practice and succeed in rural and regional communities. Its curriculum is focused on the competencies and skills necessary for success in practices that support these communities. Texas Tech's innovative and cost-efficient model partners with the wider community of veterinary practices across the state to provide clinical, real-world experiential learning.

In June 2019, Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law the biennial state budget, which appropriated $17.35 million for the School of Veterinary Medicine in Amarillo that will go toward operational needs in order to get the school up and running. The appropriation included language directing Texas Tech to move forward in establishing the school.