'No room for complacency' - Veterinary Practice
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‘No room for complacency’

John Bonner finds out what makes the incoming BSAVA president tick.

Richard Dixon harbours an ambition that, sadly, he seems unlikely to fulfil – he wants to reduce his golf handicap from 13 to seven before he reaches the age of 40.

He is already 38 years old now and he admits that he is going to have to make some pretty smart progress if he is going to achieve that goal. So it surely won’t help him that he will have very little spare time for practice over the next year as he serves his term as the new president of the BSAVA.

Getting a single figure golf handicap would have been a much easier task if he had taken up the sport earlier – he began playing seriously only five years ago.

Previously, he sought relaxation in rather more adrenaline-fuelled pursuits such as motor cycling, rock climbing and parachuting. This fascination with disturbed endocrine systems was also a feature of his early professional career.

A native of Edinburgh, Richard chose to study at the Glasgow veterinary school where he graduated in 1993. After a brief spell working in a PDSA clinic in Hull, he returned to Glasgow as a medicine intern and went on to complete a PhD in canine thyroid disease.

At home

After seven years as a staff member in Bearsden, he took a job as an endocrine diseases adviser for Bloxham Laboratories in Teignmouth. Living near the Devon coast clearly suited him and his wife Jan, who was in the same year at veterinary school. They felt instantly at home – “It’s as wet as Glasgow, only a wee bit warmer.”

They stayed for five years until the out-of-hours emergency service, Vets Now, which he had set up in December 2000 as a part-time interest, reached the stage where it had to become a full-time job. He and Jan returned to Scotland where they now live in the village of Saline – a place, he says, that their medical training caused them to mispronounce for several weeks after they had moved in.

Going back north of the border also gave him the opportunity to catch up with the friends he made earlier in the local BSAVA branch. At the suggestion of his PhD supervisor, Dr Carmel Mooney, he had got involved with organising Scottish CPD meetings.

He then went on to serve the association in a number of roles: as regional co-ordinator, chairman of the publications committee and more recently as its treasurer.

Richard’s interest in finance and business issues grew out of his childhood fascination with maths, and the evening classes in entrepreneurship which he took at Strathclyde University while a postgraduate student. He hopes the skills that he developed both then and later in building his business will be helpful in his new role with the association.

“Everybody brings something different to the work of an organisation like the BSAVA. The skills you need to run a business and a nonprofit organisation are not very different. If they are to succeed you need to have the right controls in place and it helps to know your way round a balance sheet and to understand management accounts. These are not the sort of things you are taught at veterinary school.”

He will be taking responsibility for the association’s corporate health when the general economy is facing its toughest test for many decades. Although the BSAVA is clearly in good shape, there can be no room for complacency, he warns.

“The profession is changing fast and there is a lot more competition in those areas where the association has made its reputation. There are a lot more commercial CPD providers now and the profession is becoming ever more specialised so there are lots of smaller associations operating in particular clinical disciplines.

“The BSAVA has been, and still is, very successful but we cannot take that for granted. If we sit back thinking that everything is going well and we don’t have to try too hard, then someone is going to come along and overtake us. So I will be using my year to try and get closer to our members, to find out exactly what they want from their association both now and in the future.”

Social networking

He will be trying to emphasise that the BSAVA belongs to its members and they also need to put something into the association if they are to get anything out.

He is an enthusiastic advocate of the BSAVA as a social networking facility as well as a provider of resources for continuing professional development. He points out how valuable this can be at a time when there is widespread concern about the social and professional isolation that many new graduates face after leaving the security of their second home at veterinary school.

“Life in practice can be a pretty lonely experience when you first start. You move from a place where you know everybody and you have a tight group of friends to one where you may not know anybody.

“BSAVA is a great way of staying in touch with professional colleagues who are not just your boss and the people that you work with every day.” Like a professional association, the golf club is also a great place for making new social contacts – although it is unlikely to be one of Richard’s regular haunts over the next few months.

As Veterinary Practice went to press, Jan was expecting the arrival of their third child, a new brother or sister for Max aged five and Ben aged two.

With so many other demands on his time, it is unlikely that Jan will release him from his parental obligations to get too many rounds in during the next year. Particularly as she neither shares his enthusiasm for golf nor his goal of achieving a much reduced handicap.

“No, she is not a golfer. She seems to think it is only about knocking a ball into a hole. So she reckons it is a complete waste of time.”

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