The bridge between medicine and business - Veterinary Practice
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The bridge between medicine and business

CHRIS WHIPP believes that success in the 21st century will depend more upon the ability to learn and change than anything else and explains how things have changed dramatically in his life

WHEN I sold my practice 11 years ago I became what Charles Handy describes as a portfolio worker.

I continued to do clinical work, developed a career as an executive coach and in 2006, with some exceptional colleagues, formed Vet Learning Ltd, a niche provider of CPD based on modern evidence-based approaches to adult and clinical education.

This transition was very different in that I went from mindlessly working 70 hours a week trying to keep innumerable balls in the air to having time to do what I “wanted” to do rather than what I “needed” to do.

Interestingly, whilst the sale had been planned well in advance, I would say it took me a good two years to really get my head around the change, what the implications were for the rest of my life and the opportunities that presented themselves.

What was then an interesting miniproject has since grown and developed to take up a significant amount of my time. It started with a very simple question: “Why is it so difficult to get anything done in practice?”

Most of us are bright, committed and intelligent people internally motivated to do the best we can both for the animals entrusted to our care and their owners, and yet practices often just don’t quite work. Why is that and what can we do about it?

Of course, there is not a single simple answer. The issues are complex and seem to relate to subjects we receive little or no information about in our training.

After a lot of research, this has led me to launch a very different kind of support service for the profession. I am offering a business, personal and professional service designed to address the issues we find most complex and frustrating. Thus was born Greycoats Collaborative Learning Solutions.

I won’t bore you with all the details but suffice to say I have come to the conclusion that we, as a profession, have a problem with change, that the role of the “expert” within the learning process has diminished and that many of the business solutions offered in the past are simply no longer fit for purpose.

Coming to these conclusions was a revelation for me in that my perfectionist nature had me believing I was the problem when I was in practice.

Having an “Aha!” moment was great but doing something with it was challenging and after a lot of thinking the answer for me has been to develop a flexible approach that can provide business, personal or professional solutions that can and do work within the situations of complexity and uncertainty found in most veterinary practices.

Here are some brief details about the four main areas of activity.

Thinking partnerships

Years ago success went to those who had the knowledge; in the post-1985 internet era knowledge is massively more readily available, reduced in value and longevity, and success goes to those who can access and use knowledge quickly and skilfully.

For many, the vast availability of knowledge is a hindrance that our brains struggle to cope with.

Our brains are simply not designed for the work we now demand of them and the need for brain-friendly approaches is paramount.

Following on from the old adage, “A problem shared is a problem halved”, developing a thinking partnership with someone you can trust implicitly reduces cognitive workload, increases available experience, provides perspective and facilitates the development of alternate strategies.

Key to the success of such a thinking partnership is the relationship of trust and critical appraisal which I address by providing a business service from within a medical framework of core beliefs, ethics and provision already familiar to the profession.

Habits of thinking and doing

Our habits of thinking and doing (expertise) both define us and limit us. In the past, we could slowly develop expertise over decades to develop a professional career of substance and importance.

We are now faced with immeasurable changes on an annual, monthly, weekly or even daily basis.

Success is for those who can develop, modify and discard their expertise as required by their immediate needs and not as to how they saw the world at some point in the past.

These are skills that can be developed but, for a variety of reasons, are not easy. They can be very difficult to address alone and collaborative approaches are much more powerful.

Many of the problems that exist within practices link directly to the complex and interacting habits of the participants.

Making things happen

There is no point in participating in a thinking partnership, developing a plan, building the expertise only to see it fall apart when you try to put it into action in your practice.

“Change management” is really an oxymoron; “making things happen” is more about removing barriers and providing an environment within which the change you wish to see can develop.

It is often not about “What do I need to do?” to make this happen and more about “How do I need to be?” to see the change that I want to happen. It is an important change in perspective that can make things much easier and it links closely to the habits section above.

Systems thinking

We are trained as scientists and our thinking tends to go down simple linear paths: progressive finer analysis of the parts of the problem will supposedly lead to a workable solution but this is often not the way the world works.

We allude to an understanding of this in that we describe the respiratory system, cardiovascular system, etc., and yet we frequently seek simple linear solutions to systemic problems.

We work with complex biological systems every day: what could we achieve if we looked at our practices and business challenges from a systemic point of view? The systemic view, whilst challenging, provides perspectives and opportunities to do things differently.

Success in the 21st century will depend more upon the ability to learn and change than anything else. For more information or to explore the most frustrating/difficult issues you have at the moment, e-mail

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