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BEVA Congress: a (past) presidential perspective

Despite the advantages that remote CPD can bring, the benefits of in-person events are also important to consider

01 October 2020, at 8:20am

Like many of us, I found it odd not to be at the annual BEVA Congress in September. Having spoken at each one for the last 31 years, it certainly was a variation from normal! Of course, what is normal has been redefined this year and whether or not an equine veterinary congress goes ahead or not pales into absolute insignificance when compared with the issues we have all had to face this year. Nevertheless when events such as these do not occur, there are consequences collectively and individually for both the organisation and equine vets.

The presidency system at BEVA involves a three-year process of moving through the presidential “tree”. This year, Dave Rendle was appointed as junior vice president of BEVA meaning Dave will become BEVA president in 2022/23. Huw Griffiths will be president in 2021/22 and Lucy Grieve took over as president from Tim Mair in a virtual presidential handover in mid-September.

BEVA and the UK equine profession were fortunate to have Tim as president, along with an extremely competent, efficient and well-established team at BEVA HQ, during 2020. Tim calmly and effectively steered the organisation through its most turbulent time since inception back in 1961. I have no doubt that Lucy will continue with this work through her presidential year as we hopefully make progress in returning to how things used to be.

As BEVA president you have the opportunity to help shape the programme of the congress at the end of your term. For me it was congress 2018 and I picked the theme of “plenty to smile about”. Back then, as now, veterinary professionals faced many challenges, some of which can have a negative impact on our health and well-being, but I wanted to focus on the positives at congress.

My aim was to celebrate our incredible careers as equine veterinary professionals and to help colleagues learn how to achieve the right work–life balance. As part of the build up to congress we set out to obtain 100 personal video clips in the 100 days leading up to the event, giving personal insights into why it's great to be an equine vet. Some responses were funny, some innovative and some poignant, but all of them giving us tremendous cause for optimism. Conveying positive and encouraging messages to young colleagues in this way is supporting the very future of our profession.

My favourite aspect of these videos was the collegiality, friendship and laughter that the contributors provided. I have enjoyed looking back at many of them over the past few turbulent months!

Let’s remember that virtual meetings aren’t necessarily a negative thing; in fact, they hold many advantages. Virtual pub quizzes and weekly get togethers with family and relatives provide welcome interaction on a social level. Similarly, in a professional capacity we have learned to use virtual meetings as a way of keeping up to date professionally, especially with accessing CPD. Recently I was involved in a virtual CPD event with delegates from over 20 different countries attending. One colleague from Western Australia who runs a busy practice single-handedly said he would never have been able to get to the lectures as originally planned and had found the online sessions a fabulous resource.

Enthusiasts for virtual meetings point out that face-to-face meetings are expensive and take up valuable time that could be spent on more important things. Many conclude that such meetings are inefficient and frankly unnecessary these days. I disagree, believing that such proponents may be underestimating the benefits that actual gatherings such as BEVA Congress have. As a speaker for more years that I can remember, being able to see and interact with your audience is the best way of getting your point across. You can pick up body language much easier than when trying to look at a video screen where participants may not even be visible. And a remote hand being stuck up will never replace the in-depth questions you may be asked during a lecture where your audience is in the same room.

In the end it may be the less obvious or certainly less tangible benefits that a congress can bring that will be most missed. How many positions have been filled after meeting at BEVA Congress? How many ideas have been formed about new working practices or approaches to clinical cases as a result of group discussions over a coffee or a glass of wine?

So whilst we have to be guided by persons far wiser than me, let’s hope we can all get back to being able to meet up safely and support and encourage each other to get the most out of being an equine vet. I look forward to seeing you all live and in-person at Birmingham in September 2021.