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“Most people believe what they see online”

30 October 2019, at 9:00am

Today started with me staring into the abyss of the recruitment crisis. Just where are all the vets hiding? I thought we would try advertising abroad so had a look at the South African Vet Association (SAVA) website. I was immediately struck (but not surprised) by the adverts already there. Several from the UK, a few from Australia and several from New Zealand (NZ), plus a large advert promoting the impending visit of the NZ chief vet on a recruitment drive. This lack of vets is a global problem. Last time we recruited, I contacted an old colleague down under who owns a recruitment agency in NZ and was basically told not to bother, and even asked that if I found any spare vets to let her know! Twenty years ago, you couldn’t work in a city without tripping over a few jolly antipodean locums filling their pockets with crisp high value sterling and spending the weekends doing European city breaks.

We have sent our advert off to the other hemisphere, with the interesting proviso from them that they can censor it if we make any disparaging remarks about South Africa or conditions there. At least reading that made me put our current political chaos into perspective. The lack of vets may be the same the world over, but political turmoil is very different from place to place (to loosely paraphrase Tolstoy).

In the van on the way to the supermarket, I heard one little clue to a part of why people are giving it up. On a Radio 4 media programme, they quoted that 24 percent of people surveyed had never seen an opinion they disagreed with when looking on the internet.

Just mull that over. And when was the last time you were googling or scrolling through social media and saw something you strongly disagreed with?

The internet is an echo chamber. People seek out opinions they already hold about subjects and the algorithms of the social networks find more similar stuff to present to them. A client recently asked if what her dog had wrong with it was due to last week’s vaccination. “Probably not,” I replied. “But if you look online you will definitely find a link.” She took that and understood my drift, but most people do believe what they see online, and because of the way it works will never see other opinions or reasoned arguments against their belief that the L4 vaccine caused their dog to become diabetic, or get diarrhoea, or whatever the current malaise du jour is.

As I was in the supermarket mulling over the delights of serving the general public, one of its number was writing a four-letter word over the side of my van in what I discovered was an extremely effective permanent marker. After failing to get it off with cleaning products, I went to customer services to complain. Their advice was to google how to remove it. Mindful of the above notes on the wisdom of the internet I went to a car parts shop. There the counter staff was a) human and b) sympathetic but c) unable to help. He could direct me to a professional paint dealer to find some matching paint.

So, I found myself in a small business at reception. Some expensive versions of familiar products were on display (sounding familiar yet?). He was a) human, b) both sympathetic and knowledgeable and c) knew his stuff and could help. After a brief inspection of the block capital expletive, he prescribed a suitable cream to apply SID to the affected area. It cost a bit more than expected but within a few seconds of use in a lay-by the word had been removed and I was no longer facing the school run with a massive swear word on our van.

If I haven’t laboured the metaphor already, the parallels here to me as a vet were clear. I had gone in with a worry, an unexpected, unplanned-for problem, which I could not fix, despite trying. A real person had listened to me and resolved the problem. Despite all the googling and Facebooking our clients do, once they are in our consult room, we must also remember that we have a duty of care to them as well as to our patients. To fix that unfixable problem if possible, or counsel them if not. They come to us with a burden; it should be our privilege to relieve them of it, or at least help them bear it.