Sally Everitt was appointed as the BSAVA's first scientific policy officer in 2011. She explains the ways in which she helps the association ensure that its advice is based on the current best evidence, as well as being useful and accessible to members
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I QUALIFIED from Bristol in 1981 and have spent the majority of my working life in companion animal practice, developing particular interests in small animal medicine and preventive healthcare. I became interested in evidence-based medicine and critical appraisal as a member of the local Community Health Council in Buckinghamshire, and this prompted me to join the group looking at clinical audit in the veterinary profession as part of my Masters with Middlesex university. I then went on to complete a PhD with the University of Nottingham, looking at the factors that influence clinical decision making in veterinary practice. My PhD was jointly supervised by the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science and the School of Sociology and Social Policy, and it was the reading and research that I undertook that stimulated my interest in how social context and policy affects everything that we do in veterinary practice. During my time at Nottingham I was also fortunate to be able to get involved with the Centre for Evidence-based Veterinary Medicine.
I had been a member of the BSAVA since shortly after graduation and attended my first BSAVA congress as a student in 1979. I had also spent a short time on the congress committee (1986 to 1989), so when the association advertised for a scientific policy officer I was intrigued.
My role is primarily one of providing support to the officers and volunteers in their work for the association; this can involve reviewing documents and preparing briefs for those attending external meetings. As an association, the BSAVA is committed to promoting science and an evidence-based approach; therefore, a great deal of my time is taken up with critically reviewing the evidence on a wide range of subjects about which the association is asked to comment.
Approximately a quarter of my time is spent in responding to consultations from external organisations, which broadly fall into two categories: those relating to the veterinary profession and those relating to animal law.
Since joining the association in September 2011, I have been involved in consultations on a wide range of subjects, including wildlife law, ethical review of practice-based research, and fraudulent prescriptions, as well as the myriad consultations on various aspects of dog control and microchipping in each of the devolved administrations.
Unfortunately, the short timescales and complex consultation documents can make it difficult to fully involve the members in these consultations. We are therefore starting to undertake our own internal consultations on subjects that we consider to be important to veterinary surgeons in small animal practice.
We have recently undertaken successful member consultations on the role of veterinary nurses in monitoring and maintaining anaesthesia and on the advantages and disadvantages of a new veterinary school. We are currently undertaking a consultation on the development of appropriate clinical standards for small animal practice and how they should be assessed.
I am also involved in reviewing and updating resources for members. I was involved in producing the PROTECT support materials to promote responsible antimicrobial prescribing and in developing a practice pack to help practices comply with the core standards of the RCVS Practice Standards Scheme. Along with the BSAVA scientific committee, I have been involved in reviewing all the association's position statements, including an evidence review on the benefits and risks of neutering.
I also have the privilege of working with the BSAVA's charitable activities in PetSavers and the Small Animal Veterinary Surveillance Network (SAVSNET). PetSavers funds clinical research designed to advance our knowledge of conditions affecting small animals through grants for clinical research projects as well as the new Masters degree by research.
It has been fascinating to be involved in reviewing grant applications and developing a grant application guide. SAVSNET is a partnership between the BSAVA and the University of Liverpool, which aims to develop disease surveillance of the pet animal population through data collected from veterinary consultations and laboratory submissions. While SAVSNET is still in the early stage of development, it is an exciting opportunity to provide epidemiological data on small animal disease to help veterinary surgeons in their clinical decision making and to improve general public awareness of small animal diseases and prevention.
Adapting skills learned in practice
While I cannot deny that I miss the daily contact with animals and their owners, my new role has brought new challenges and a different way of using my knowledge and skills.
My greatest challenge has been in getting to grips with the vagaries and complexities of the legislative process, especially now that we have to consider not only legislation in the four countries of the UK, but also the consequences of decisions taken in Europe. My diagnostic skills are now used to identify the crux of the issue and the implications for veterinary surgeons and nurses in small animal practice, while I have found that my critical appraisal skills have been used to evaluate a wide variety of evidence.
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