I’ve just spent the last couple of days recovering from and reflecting on BSAVA Congress 2017. Like many others, I have an unbroken run of 15 years or more attendance, although until recently I’ve been on the exhibitor side of the fence. Even as a pure delegate, Congress continues to delight and frustrate in equal measure.

The delights are the quality of the event, the people and the opportunities that it presents, whether for networking, learning or business. Having a sunny couple of days also really helps charge the batteries after periods spent in lecture halls. However, it markedly impacts the exhibition’s performance and I know people who will have been hoping for rain to drive the crowds indoors at the BarclayCard Arena.

The frustrations from me this year fall in to two areas. Firstly, the distributed nature of ICC, Arena and linking walkways give all kinds of logistics issues. Yes, it gets the blood going round after two hours seated but it challenges my timeliness. Secondly, I find myself frustrated by us as vets. Let me explain because it’s a question of language.

At a rough count, of the 350 or so lectures at congress, about 10% were on non clinical subjects, with a nice proportion of those addressing personal development and leadership topics. That’s great to see and the improvement in the number and quality of non-clinical topics continues. However, having sat through a number of these sessions, despite excellent content, it doesn’t seem to be widely sinking in that leadership is a personal thing, delivered by the individual, on behalf of organisations.

There are three key behaviours that we, as a profession, need to work on.

  1. Use the language of leadership. There is no place for mickey taking, sarcastic witticisms, lack of respect and anything less than carefully chosen language. If you need help, let me know because I’ve spent the last 15 years of my life working on it and it’s not easy to get right.
  2. Behave as leaders. This is a choice. We choose the perspective that we take and we can choose to stop moaning, take a positive outlook or a broader view and accept that we are masters of our own destiny. Yes, some of the things that are happening right now are contentious, but they’re happening nonetheless and whilst it’s great to be passionate, we must channel our passion into a positive approach these issues. The next generation of vets and the pet owning public are watching.
  3. Move to a solution oriented position. The problems of the profession are well elucidated and there is a plethora of published materials on it. The Journal of Veterinary Medical Education, the Vet Futures Report, the Mind Matters Initiative, the VetLife statistics about the number of vets seeking help or the RCVS Strategic plan all demonstrate the problems. But we’re in a tailspin. We’re sitting with our heads bowed arguing about who has it worst. It might be because we use a “problem oriented learning” approach to clinical cases, but we’ve got to move on.

We need to look up and see that veterinary leaders are now starting to move forward and that a vision of the future profession is being painted. We’re being invited in to the future. We all need to talk like leaders, act like leaders and bring solutions, not problems to the table. Don’t you want to be part of the solution rather than one of the problems?

Let me give some of examples: –

  • I have chosen to use Doctor as a title. I have had friends, both PhD and not PhD question this. Its been done in private and also in front of an audience. One example is, “I’m a real Doctor because I earned my PhD”. I respect and understand this, however why don’t you respect and understand my right to use the title? If we can’t offer each other the mutual respect and courtesy, how can we expect to get along? It’s just not acceptable. My old American DVM boss always called me Dr Pratt out of respect, long before I was able to use the title. Imagine the sea change in public and professional perception we could drive with that level of respect.
  • The Vet Futures report has a list of 24 jobs that need doing. Each has a draft plan, but there’s no roadmap or sense of urgency. We need to prioritise the jobs, communicate the plans and hold people accountable. Not in a punitive way, but through leadership. I think at least 4 of the jobs represent mandates for action and are commercial opportunities for entrepreneurial vets. Facebook use the phrase, “Better done than perfect”. Our instinctive perfectionism holds us back, but perfection is an asymptote, meaning it’s unobtainable, so let’s just get going.
  • I heard the phrase “fear of the RCVS” used in several contexts, several times and it’s clear that a population of vets live in fear of the RCVS or of a mistake costing them their career. What’s driving this fear? It can’t help that the RCVS has a Disciplinary Committee rather than a Fitness to Practice Committee or that Communication in Practice seminars delivered by well meaning organsitions have jokey references to how not to get sued. We need to carefully choose our language, because we can’t know the impact on people were trying to reach. Read the RCVS strategic plan, because it might just change your perspective. You should have had an email from them yesterday.

We are a bunch of passionate, caring, professionals who do an incredibly skilled job, often under suboptimal conditions. We owe it to ourselves, the next generation and to the public and animals that we serve, to walk and talk like the leaders we aspire to be.

If you’re an entrepreneurial vet service provider that would like to sit down and explore Vet Futures with a view to writing a business plan, then get in touch, we’ve got lots of ideas.

If you’re a vet who finds themselves wanting help getting out of a tailspin, personally or on a clinic level, then the VBC can help. Get in touch via our contact page.

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