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Finding a unifying strategy

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GIVEN the rate at which things are changing in the profession, it is heartening to see, from the results of a recent online survey undertaken as part of the Vet Futures project, that a majority of UK vets feel that their working life to date has matched or exceeded their expectations and they generally feel positive about the future. A report of the survey has just been published in the ‘Resources’ section of the Vet Futures website1 and indicates that, for 59 per cent of the respondents, the ‘glass was half full’ (that is, they felt fairly optimistic or very optimistic about the future), while 41 per cent were more pessimistic or unsure. At the same time, the survey report points out, younger vets were disproportionately represented among those feeling some disappointment about the way their career was progressing. As younger vets represent the future of the profession, this has to be of concern.

The Vet Futures project (www.vetfutures.org.uk) is being led jointly by the RCVS and the BVA to help the veterinary profession prepare for and shape its own future. The survey, undertaken in February and March this year, aimed to test some of the initial findings of the project and explore veterinary surgeons' attitudes. It was carried out using the BVA's ‘Voice of the Profession’ panel of over 1200 vets and veterinary students, with more than 600 responses being received. The survey report notes that the age profile of respondents was older than across the profession as a whole, which may have a bearing on the results.

Among other things, the survey asked vets to rank various goals that might be considered as priorities for 2030. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the goals prioritised by those taking part varied according to the type of work they were doing and their seniority. Nevertheless, a common theme from the findings was a desire for better recognition of the variety of roles that vets fulfil ‘across the board’, not just in clinical practice. Respondents' perceptions of the contribution that the veterinary profession makes in areas such as research, food security and public health were high, but they felt that this contribution was less well recognised and valued by the public.

Having a respected and valued role that was well recognised was identified as an important goal by many of the respondents. However, the survey report points out that another survey undertaken as part of the Vet Futures project has indicated that vets are already trusted by the public (VR, May 30, 2015, vol 176, p 563). It suggests that some other underlying issue might be affecting vets' perceptions here, perhaps relating to communication or confidence.

Other ambitions identified as priorities for 2030 related to veterinary leadership on animal welfare, the integrity of treatment decisions, and reducing stress. Reducing stress was identified as a priority by 45 per cent of respondents, with vets in small animal practice, younger vets and female vets being more likely to prioritise this.

The survey also asked vets to rank what they saw as opportunities and threats for profession. Opportunities were identified in relation to increasing expectations around customer service, developing undergraduate training, and public health. The biggest perceived threats related to changes in the marketplace, including increased corporatisation of practice, potential oversupply of vets and competition from the internet. Public concern about the costs of veterinary treatment was also seen as a threat, although the report points out that the earlier Vet Futures survey found that 70 per cent of people rated their vet positively in terms of value for money.

Another perhaps not altogether surprising finding of the survey was that vets see the profession as being ‘cautious of change’. This feeling was most prevalent among those in the middle of their careers.

The survey report suggests that there are ‘clear divisions in career satisfaction and aspirations for the future between vets working in small animal practice (nearly half of the respondents) and those working outside of clinical practice’, with vets in small animal practice being most likely to find their work stressful and to be concerned about levels of pay. Meanwhile, vets outside clinical practice tended to be more satisfied with their careers and more optimistic about the future, despite feeling that their roles lacked profile and were insufficiently recognised by the public.

Such divisions will not make it any easier for the Vet Futures project to develop a unifying strategy for the veterinary profession and, to some extent, might be considered inevitable as various branches of the profession become more specialised. This does not in any way reduce the need for such a strategy. If anything, the findings illustrate why a strategy is necessary and underline the relevance of the whole project.

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