Sunday, September 6, 2015

What does the future hold for the veterinary profession?

Is the veterinary profession changing faster than the rest of the universe? Probably not. But it is changing.
It seems silly to say that the veterinary profession is changing when the entire world is changing, but nonetheless I’ll go out on a limb: the veterinary profession is changing. I will boldly predict that this trend of change will continue.

This week will preparing a teaching resource I had the pleasure of interviewing a companion animal veterinarian who graduated in 1974. That is a couple of years before I was on the planet. I’ll give you a little hint: he has been a veterinarian four times as long as I have. Before computers were around. Before routine analgesia was available. He was taught by colleagues who graduated before the advent of antibiotics. When he graduated, the majority of his cohort were dudes. Not only, but in those days veterinarians all worked with production animals. The idea of going out and working as a companion animal vet was denounced by several lecturers.

Now companion animal veterinarians make up a huge sector of the profession, and the majority of graduates are female. (I wonder if in the future we will look back and think why were we so obsessed with all this gender stuff? Perhaps we will have moved on, all persons of all genders will be getting equal pay and gender-based discrimination will be one of those quirky historical artefacts).
(Another cool thing about interviewing this practitioner is that even though sometimes I can’t work out how to tackle next week, he’s always been in it for the long haul. He considers his job a bit of an endurance event, and even trains for it like one would train for an endurance event).

If you want to feel old, think about the changes you've seen since you graduated. For me, animal welfare science has become recognised as a legitimate discipline. There's an emphasis on the emotional wellbeing of companion animals that wasn't mainstream before. Advanced imaging is readily available in most major cities. Smartphones have definitely improved my life (now people take a photo or video of a stool instead of hauling it in for me to examine). In first year, we had to be taught what Google was (one of many search engines) and now its a verb and we have "Dr Google". The number of specialists has multiplied exponentially. Continuing professional development is mandatory. Work health and safety is taken seriously. We're better at acknowledging the mental health struggles of veterinarians. The terms antimicrobial resistance, food security, sustainability and climate change are mentioned in policy documents with an urgency that wasn't there before. Sole-charge practice is rapidly in decline.

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in the UK and the British Veterinary Association have teamed up in a project called “VetFutures” – an attempt to look at trends, predict changes that will impact the veterinary profession and plan for these (rather than simply reacting and being overcome).

The aim is to ensure the veterinary profession remains sustainable and relevant. The subtext here is that if we don’t think about these things now, our profession will be unsustainable and irrelevant. So it might be worth a look if you’re planning on a multi-decade-spanning career.

There’s also an opportunity to participate in the discussion forums. This month’s topic, posed by Professor David Main, asks whether veterinarians are really animal welfare advocates or profit seekers. It’s a provocative question but one we should all consider.

Most recently there is an article about a surveythat found that half of recent graduates felt that their veterinary careerfailed to meet expectations. That’s very disappointing. I wonder though, is this standard across different professions? When I went to the law conference the other day I heard stories about lawyers pressing the emergency stop button to cry in lifts, and hating their jobs. So one interesting question to ask would be is this degree of expectation vs reality mismatch unique to the veterinary profession? One would hope that work experience, extramural placements, being exposed to real practice would ensure realistic expectations.

The interesting thing, however, is that 37 per cent of recent graduates said their career DID meet their expectations – and 13 per cent said their veterinary career exceeded their expectations. I want to invite those thirteen per cent over for dinner and find out more: do these people have very low expectations, are they easily pleased, roll-with-the-punches types, or do they have truly amazing careers? If so, can we replicate those conditions?