News & Press: NZVA news

Watch for rips

Tuesday, 2 October 2018  
Posted by: Erin Henderson
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VetScript Editor's Pick - October 2018

Bette Flagler talks with Vicki Lim, the student behind The Riptide Project, a veterinary mental health social media initiative.

For more information go to www.facebook.com/theriptideproj or www.theriptideproject.com, where you can sign up for a Cuppa.


Once Massey University fifth-year veterinary student Vicki Lim took a surfing lesson. “It was horrible; I got beat around so much. In my head I thought I was going to be this really sexy surfer chick, but it didn’t work out,” she laughs.

But the experience wasn’t for naught. Before Vicki and her fellow wannabes got into the water, they sat on the top of a cliff looking out to sea and their instructors warned them about riptides.

You know riptides – those strong tidal currents that can sweep you away from shore. When you’re caught in one, it’s easy to panic, and it’s natural to try to swim against it. But that just wears you out, and you risk drowning. Your best chance of survival is to not fight the rip at all. If you’re strong, the advice goes, swim parallel to the beach and once you’re out of the rip’s grip, angle back inland. Or, if you’re not feeling so strong, just go with the flow, ride the rip and when it disperses (usually where the waves are breaking), head either right or left and then angle your swim back to the beach. Either way, try to get the attention of someone onshore. Ask for help.

Vicki likes using the analogy of a riptide when it comes to mental health and wellbeing. “Ideally,” she says, “riptides should be spotted and avoided. But even with the best of intentions, we sometimes get caught off-guard and pulled under.”

She likes the analogy so much that she picked the word as the name of the veterinary mental health social media initiative she started last year.

There are two parts to The Riptide Project. The first is like ‘Humans of New York’, but for veterinarians and veterinary staff. Vicki, who flirted with the idea of being a photojournalist for a time and did a year of a psychology degree before starting veterinary school, interviews and photographs veterinary professionals and posts their stories on the Facebook page.

“It’s about the ebbs and flows,” she says. “It’s the stories of veterinary professionals.”

Riptide is a bit of a continuation of the veterinary mental health project Vet Confessionals (see VetScript, September 2016). In it, people were invited to share their thoughts and feelings anonymously through postcards and an online forum.

“I think because Vet Confessionals was based on anonymous postings, it had more dark and depressing things; people weren’t as inclined to share the good things about the profession,” says Vicki who received similar feedback from others. “It got quite depressing in itself.”

Vet Confessionals was founded in 2014, when veterinarians Corey Regnerus and Hilal Dogan were veterinary students at Massey. Vicki worked on the project from 2015 to 2017 and was sponsored by Hill’s and Boehringer Ingleheim to attend the 2017 World Small Animal Veterinary Association conference to talk about it. When Hilal shifted the Vet Confessionals project to be US-centric, the New Zealand team stepped down.

“I contacted the sponsors and explained what had happened, and asked them if they were still happy for me to talk about mental health in general. To their credit, they were amazing and said, ‘As long as it’s about mental health and it’s furthering the profession, we’re happy to support you’.”

She thought of topics she wanted to discuss, and examined the things that were important to her. And so Riptide was born, she says, inspired by the people she met in practice.

When you’re in a clinic, you get downtime and can talk to people and learn their stories. They have fascinating perspectives on what it means to be a veterinarian or a veterinary nurse or veterinary technician, and also on life and happiness itself. I’m so lucky to be able to hear these stories, and I gain so much from them, and I thought it would be really cool to share them with other people.”

‘Cuppa’ is the second part of The Riptide Project. The idea, she says, is for veterinary professionals to grab a cup of coffee with a colleague and talk through what’s on their minds. Or sit in companionable silence; “It’s up to them.”

“It’s quite cool. I don’t push it very hard, mainly because of my work schedule, but I put the idea out there that, if veterinary professionals are willing to give their time to a fellow professional, they can sign up. If people write in and are looking for a friend or mentor, I match them up based on their location, interest or field of work.”

By mid-May, 90 people from around the world had signed up to be mentors or buddies. By the end of August, more than 200 were on the list.

“These are people who are willing to give their time to hang out with others. If you talk about supply and demand, it’s harder to get people to take them up on their offers. I think people are still really shy about stuff like this; it’s hard for them to step out and ask for help.” Even so, by mid-August Vicki had coordinated about 20 Cuppa connections in New Zealand, the UK, France and Singapore.

Riptide is fairly low-key, and Vicki works on the project when she can. “If I’m super busy, I can slow down and take a break from it. In a way, I think it’s actually leading by example. If I’m too busy, then some things do have to pause, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t feel guilty about it. I just ride the wave.”