Helping to make overseas graduates feel more at home

01 January 2013, at 12:00am

BRITAIN is a cold and mysterious place for many of the foreign-trained veterinary surgeons who arrive to work here. So the profession’s governing bodies are doing what they can to make their welcome a little warmer.

Royal College president Jacqui Molyneaux offered advice on understanding how the veterinary profession operates in the UK to a group of overseas veterinarians attending the London Vet Show. In collaboration with the BVA, the RCVS had also organised a two-day symposium later in November for those vets wanting to work in the UK, she said.

The veterinary bodies are concerned about the numbers of members from outside the European Union who are subject of a complaint leading to a disciplinary investigation. They believe that many of these incidents could be avoided if foreign graduates were better prepared for the different professional environment that they will encounter in Britain.

The UK has traditionally been heavily dependent on foreign graduates to maintain its veterinary services. Overall, 27% of the members listed on the RCVS Register gained their qualifications at an overseas institution and 43% of those registered in 2011 trained abroad.

In recent years, around 700 complaints have been received by the RCVS about the conduct of its members. But the chances of a non- European veterinary surgeon becoming the subject of a disciplinary investigation is roughly 50% higher than that of a graduate from a school in Britain or elsewhere within the EU.

In about 80% of those cases, a breakdown in communication was a key element in the complaint. Foreign graduates were strongly advised to familiarise themselves with the Royal College guide to professional conduct and to be aware of other sources of information and advice through membership of organisations such as the BVA and Veterinary Defence Society.

Mrs Molyneaux also suggested the names of organisations like the British Council which runs English language courses for those whose command of the language was less than perfect.

The RCVS president noted that a client’s use of idiomatic English could often be the source of problems. So she urged colleagues to be wary of making assumptions about unfamiliar phrases. Clients often used euphemisms when requesting that their animal be neutered or euthanased and with such irrevocable decisions it was essential for the vet to make sure that he or she fully understood the request, she said.

The Royal College has asked its foreign-trained members what they found most difficult about adapting to their working conditions in the UK. Mrs Molyneaux gave examples of the sorts of problems encountered which often revolved around clients’ excessive devotion to their pet, the intricacies of social etiquette and the British profession’s apparent lack of flexibility in interpreting their legal obligations.