Taking action to prepare for the future... - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Taking action to prepare for the future…

Veterinary Practice reports on the recent meeting which aimed at moving the VetFutures project along.

AN ONLINE CAREERS HUB providing information on the wide range of opportunities available for those with a veterinary qualification will be one of the main fruits of the VetFutures project, delegates at a meeting in London last month were told.

There, the RCVS and BVA, joint sponsors of the initiative aimed at encouraging the profession to shape its own destiny, launched  a plan for realising the goals listed in their report of November 2015.

The then Royal College president, Dr Bradley Viner, told the meeting at the RVC’s Camden campus: “This is where we translate into action each of the 34 different recommendations made in that report.”

Dr Clare Allen, a senior teaching associate in the department of veterinary medicine at Cambridge, was one of the 13 members from different branches of the profession recruited to draw up the plan.

She likened the online resource to an airport terminal from which users could be despatched to huge numbers of destinations within the UK and abroad. It would contain information provided by the veterinary schools, professional associations and others on the opportunities available in different branches of the profession and list sources of further training needed before embarking on the journey.

“The hub will be easily accessible and available for anybody to look at. It should be a particularly useful resource for schoolchildren wanting to learn about veterinary careers, for current veterinary students assessing their options and for experienced veterinarians who are looking to retrain or return to the profession after a career break.”

Dr Allen has been carrying out research on the background and motivations of veterinary students. She has found them to be a diverse group, which doesn’t necessarily t the standard picture of a teenager with a long-standing connection with animals and a desire to work in traditional mixed practice.

Many were more motivated by a fascination with the intellectual challenge of science while some were late in developing an interest in working with animals, having had no significant early contact with either livestock or pets, she noted.

She said the profession must attract a more diverse group of university entrants to fill the many different roles that veterinarians can take on, particularly outside of mainstream clinical practice.

“Even vet students themselves think that any diversion in their career from the Herriot-style archetype is something to be ashamed of, and we must work hard to address that.”

Those responsible for developing the careers hub would also be encouraged to identify areas where the career information is limited and the training opportunities are lacking. The responsibilities of the veterinary profession have evolved over the years and members must be alert to seize any new opportunities that come along, she said.

Nursing progress

A study plotting the future course of the veterinary nursing profession had originally been intended to form a chapter in the VetFutures action plan document. But it was then decided by the working group to produce a separate report, which was completed in only six months.

Liz Cox, who chairs the RCVS VN council, and Sam Morgan, the current BVNA president, outlined some of the main findings of their investigation. This showed that among the UK’s 14,000 qualified and 3,000 student nurses, there are significant numbers who are dissatisfied with their choice of career.

Submissions to the study revealed major frustrations about the salaries and career development opportunities currently available and these issues are undoubtedly contributing to a nationwide shortage of qualified VNs.

“We are very good at training VNs but not so good at retaining them,” Ms Cox said, pointing out that only about 5% of qualified nurses returned to full-time work after taking maternity leave.

The veterinary profession has also failed so far to persuade half of the country’s workforce that a VN/technician role is an appropriate job for them – there are still only about 310 males on the nursing register.

The profession could learn much from the human health sector, where the opportunities to undergo training in technical disciplines has encouraged a much greater proportion of young males to consider this career.

Developing a better career structure offering advanced practitioner, specialist nurse and consultant nurse roles – like those available in the NHS – might persuade more people of both genders to join and stay in the profession.

But extra training will not provide a panacea: “We do have lots of post-registration qualifications but that will not matter if we do not fundamentally change the VN role,” she said.

One important step proposed by Ms Cox was to get rid of the title “head nurse”. This was a demanding, multifaceted and often lonely job that young VNs are usually promoted into without adequate preparation or training, she said. It is time that practices acknowledged that the job consisted of many different roles – including that of a clinician, a financial manager and as a human resources officer – and to offer each of those tasks to someone with the time and appropriate training to do the job properly, she said.

Mental well-being

Providing training and mentorship in leadership skills is another preoccupation of the VetFutures report, along with developing a strategy for the profession on animal welfare issues, reviewing veterinary student selection and support, and providing further input into the RCVS’s Mind Matters mental well-being initiative.

Dr Elinor O’Connor, a psychologist at the University of Manchester business school, has been carrying out some original research to help inform the Mind Matters project. She noted that the many different work streams established as part of the VetFutures action plan were, in fact, very closely interconnected.

“Leadership and mental well-being do go together. Bad leadership is linked to many of the problems, like workplace bullying, that can be a source of stress in practice staff.

“But it is also clear that one of the benefits of having good leadership is that it serves as a buffer against all the other factors that can adversely affect the mental wellbeing of practice colleagues,” she said.

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