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Shouldn’t there be a single voice speaking on the profession’s behalf?

by
01 September 2016, at 1:00am

The Mercury Column, in which a guest columnist takes the temperature of the profession - and the world around.

IN OUR POST-BREXIT WORLD, the quiet before the storm of actually having to activate “Article 50” provides us with time to reflect on how we might actually want our country to be. 

In fact, if we don’t think about it now, there won’t be time when things get going and, whether we wanted that result or not, we’ll have missed a golden chance to shape our children’s future with some deliberation.

There are those who would say that our generation(s) have already left our offspring with an uncertain future and there’s certainly little that we might call uplifting in the evening news bulletins.

I wonder if, as around half of the UK electorate voted either to stay or to leave in the referendum, the same split might be found among veterinary surgeons or whether, as on the main stage, those with a more pronounced business interest may have voted to avoid the inevitable uncertainty and upheaval that leaving the EU will bring.

For many, deciding how to vote was incredibly difficult in an ocean of both misinformation and disinformation. In reality, none of us knew then what a post-Brexit Britain would look like and it was impossible to make an informed decision because no one had the much- needed information on which to base such a momentous choice.

What we needed, in my view, was for a leader to appear out of the swirling mist and to take charge of disseminating sound, reliable information to allow the electorate to feel more comfortable with weighing up the evidence. Sadly, or maybe not, the Hollywood approach only works on the big screen!

As a profession, veterinary surgeons have embraced EBM wholeheartedly and it may be that the profession felt the need for reliable evidence more keenly than friends and neighbours whose daily lives require little or none of that disciplined approach.

In the absence of evidence, most of us would prefer to fall back on guidelines which act not as a rule but more of a tool in the process of making informed choices.

Guidelines are usually formulated by respected members of our various groups – people to whom we look for leadership in some respect or other – and it seems to me that because humans struggle to operate cohesively without leadership, we remain rather tribal in our approach and prefer to have choice among those whom we appoint as leaders.

Neuroscience

There has been a series of interesting articles in New Scientist over the last three or four years looking at human neuroscience and it appears that several genes are thought to control human dispositions, raising further question in my mind about nature and nurture.

We realise that new fields of science don’t simply appear in the blink of an eye and that evolution has played a huge part in shaping us as humans but it does appear that we are hard- wired to raise children, to believe in some form of deity, and act in an altruistic fashion, among other attributes.

It would seem natural to conclude that we are also hard- wired to need to find a leader as one of these laid-down thinking parameters and that would apply just as much in our professional lives as it would if we were in a party stranded on a desert island or cut off from civilisation in some other way.

This profession is being challenged on all fronts. Looking forward we have massive uncertainty over food production standards and expectations, we have far greater competition for products and services both inside and outside the profession, we have a static pool of pets and a rapidly rising number of veterinary businesses with which to engage them and we have a huge administrative burden whether as employers or employees.

For those who forge a living out of veterinary practice, the inevitable focus will be on the microcosm that represents our own business and it would be perfectly understandable if other people saw us as having a restrictive eld of vision in this sense.

The world, however, is changing with alarming speed and immersing ourselves in our own small backwater is no longer an acceptable way to do business, even though such an approach would have seemed perfectly normal up until maybe 20 years ago.

Whether we like it or not, our businesses – whether in small animal, large or equine practice, in corporate life or in some form of politics – revolve around their acceptability to the public and that involves dealing with consumers whose focus is constantly shifting.

We have to take some responsibility for our own position as, on the one hand, we might like to restrict the reach and authority of Dr Google yet, on the other, we offer little or no cohesive position statements on a range of issues that concern or affect our current or potential client base.

Ask any random selection of the public what UK vets think about a number of issues such as bovine TB, badgers, vaccination, zoonoses, fox hunting, the spread of Babesia or any number of other issues, and I’d be comfortable wagering a bottle of 25-year-old Macallan that you wouldn’t get an answer.

Is that because the public doesn’t have concerns like these or because our profession doesn’t have a view on any of them?

In both cases there is real substance to discuss and while those working with animals will have broader access to meaningful information, pet owners still turn first to the internet and social media to obtain information and, by failing to step into the breach with readily available, easily accessible information from the profession’s leaders, we are collectively encouraging them to continue to do so.

So, who are the profession’s leaders? Is it the KOLs who turn up at meetings and on webinars to keep their colleagues clinically updated or the BVA which, as a membership organisation, could be seen to have more specific challenges to meet?

As scientists, we all know that nature abhors a vacuum and I would be horrified to see the recent, brave steps taken by the BVA falter or peter out. How the BVA and its associated organisations sort out the pecking order is an internal matter, but we all know that the BVA is doing a sterling job behind the curtain.

Isn’t it time that it stepped back into the spotlight and provided a single voice to speak on the profession’s behalf? Let’s seize the moment before the audience gets up and leaves.