Standards are useful things, but can also be difficult to live up to. A standard can mean that everything is the same, as in standardised. One of the most useful inventions in modern trade was the standardised shipping container; a container of goods can drive out of a factory in China and the fittings that secured it to the truck in China fit perfectly on a lorry in the UK. Vets have the Practice Standards Scheme (PSS) run by the RCVS, which should mean that the public can go into any vet practice in any part of the UK and find the premises and staff to be of a certain standard.
Whatever your criticism of the PSS, I think the public should be guaranteed a certain standard from vet practices. The fact that it is currently voluntary would, I think, surprise the public. They may not know what the PSS is if asked, but I bet they assume there is some sort of standard that vet practices must reach.
I assume my dentist has some sort of practice inspection, but I couldn’t name it. I inspect kennels and catteries for the council. Without their annual inspection, they would lose their licence and business. I always find it a bit ironic that I check their sneeze barriers, cleaning protocols, records, etc, but have no obligation to do the same as someone running a vet practice. (For the record, our practice has passed its PSS inspection.)
As individuals, we also have to live to, and practise our clinical work to, a certain standard. This is, as we all know, enforced by the RCVS. Failure to live and work to this standard can lead to us losing our veterinary livelihood, identity, life’s work… Although the RCVS is the ultimate arbiter of vets’ standards, I have been struck recently by how our own standards are set very high. This has been evident at work with colleagues and from being exposed to the daily chatter on a vets-only Facebook group.
Many vets have huge expectations for what they should be able to do in practice – both in terms of their abilities and at the practice level, in terms of what the practice they are in can provide. And far from vets moaning about difficult clients (although I’d be lying if I said that didn’t go on too), it often seems that that vets have unrealistically high expectations of themselves – both in what they think they should be able to do/provide, and what the RCVS expects of them.
It is the gap between these self-imposed highest of standards (often based on university experiences or human medicine comparisons) and the realistic level of care achievable in practice where stress and worry set in. The narrower the gap, the less worry. And I want to add in an important point here – the standard expected by the RCVS is actually pretty fair. They do not expect you to function as a one-vet university department or referral centre. To narrow the gap between what we expect from ourselves and what we can do is something that can be approached from both ends, raising standards in the practice and making sure that vets and nurses are realistic in their self-expectations.
As well as standards in the workplace, we are expected to maintain a certain standard of behaviour out of work, or again, could lose our MRCVS. This is something of a burden, but we are a profession, and although I hate any sort of monitoring or interference in my life, I think it is reasonable to expect the profession at large to behave to a certain standard. As a non-veterinary example – our eldest is at an age where she is starting to go to parties but is way too young to be drinking. Recently, she was begging us to let her go to a sleepover party. She clinched it by saying “Her mum is a teacher; if any drinking went on she could lose her job.” Professional standards outside the workplace in action.
My biggest failure in personal standards in public happened last year. I had just started to get into open water swimming and was out in the sea just before school pickup. As it turns out, I am a very slow swimmer compared to my running abilities and misjudged the return to shore. I ran up the beach, jumped in the car and drove up to school. All the decent car parking spots had gone so I abandoned the car and ran up the road about half a mile, barefoot in a wet T-shirt and trunks, dripping with an unpleasant mix of seawater and sweat. I made it to the playground about a minute before the bell went and tried to look inconspicuous – a mid-life crisis made real – sweating, puffing, beetroot red and barely dressed. A little preschool-aged girl looked at me and smiled, tugged her mum’s sleeve and pointed at me: “Mummy, mummy,” she said, “that’s our vet.”