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PROFESSIONS tend to be defined by what they do, but they are also defined by their members and the environment in which they operate. For the veterinary profession, all three are changing fast. Changing animal health and welfare requirements are creating new demands. At the same time the profession itself is changing, in terms of its composition and members’ expectations. Changes in the sectors served by the profession are also helping to shape its future. This year’s BVA Congress, to be held in London on September 29 and 30, will examine the nature of these changes and the opportunities they present.
Animal health has long been part of the political landscape, but animal welfare has been getting a higher profile recently, both in the UK and internationally. Last year, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) agreed new international guidelines on animal welfare and, more recently, the European Commission adopted an action plan for raising standards in Europe. In the UK, the Animal Welfare Bill is wending its way through Parliament, and has been described by the Government as ‘the biggest animal welfare reform for more than a century’. Although not always recognised, the veterinary contribution to welfare goes far beyond simply treating animals. The opening session on the Friday of the congress will consider the international dimension, and practical implications closer to home.
As far as animal health is concerned, diseases, both new and old, continue to present new challenges and, at a time when other, more traditional, disease control methods are being questioned, vaccination is often seen as the answer. Vaccination has much to offer, but there are difficulties both in developing vaccines and in employing them appropriately. A further session will consider the challenges with reference to three examples – avian influenza, bovine tuberculosis and diseases being introduced into the UK following the introduction of the Pet Travel Scheme – and assess what is needed if solutions are to be found.
If the environment in which the profession is operating is changing, then so, too, is the profession itself. The gender balance has changed dramatically in recent years, to the extent that women veterinary surgeons now outnumber men in all age groups under 40. Judging from applications to the veterinary schools, the proportion of women seems set to rise further. Is this something to be worried about, and how will it affect how the profession develops and is perceived? The plenary Wooldridge memorial lecture at the congress will be given by Dame Carol Black, president of the Royal College of Physicians. In a talk entitled ‘We’re all professionals, so does sex matter?’, she will consider the implications of the gender shift, drawing on experiences in the human medical field, where a similar trend has been observed.
Continuing the theme of the Wooldridge lecture, a related session will consider how men and women differ in terms of their educational development and career progression. Providing an international perspective, it will also consider the impact of a higher number of women veterinarians on veterinary practice in the USA. In Britain, meanwhile, the overall number of students graduating from veterinary school is rising. Results from the latest RCVS employment survey will be presented, with discussion of the implications for future employment. A further session will discuss current challenges in veterinary education, and the steps being taken to address them. It will also consider initiatives aimed at encouraging a broader socioeconomic mix of students.
Changes in the Government’s animal health and welfare policies present new opportunities for veterinary surgeons, as do new approaches to food safety. Some of these will be discussed in the first session on the Saturday of the congress, when the Chief Veterinary Officer, and the veterinary director of the Food Standards Agency, will discuss what is being done at government level and the scope for practitioner involvement. Another session will look at contingency planning for infectious disease outbreaks. Veterinary surgeons will have a vital role to play in dealing with future outbreaks, but what will this mean in practical terms and will there be enough of them to fulfil it? This session will consider the practitioner’s role, with perspectives from practice and government.
Other sessions at the congress will look at the changing market for veterinary services in both the farm and companion animal sectors. One will consider ways of making farming more competitive, comparing the approach being adopted in Britain with approaches being taken elsewhere. It will examine how farmers can make best use of the resources available in Britain, and what vets can do to help. Another will look at different business models for small animal practice and assess the extent to which corporate practice may represent the future.
With its emphasis on future requirements and demographic changes in the profession, this year’s BVA Congress will be relevant to vets of all ages, whether already established or about to embark on their careers. As at previous congresses, there will be plenty of opportunity for debate, and for delegates to contribute to discussions both in and around the main sessions. The aim will not just be to identify the challenges facing the profession, but to find appropriate solutions.
More information and registration details are available at www.bva.co.uk/congress