Time for the profession to stand together... - Veterinary Practice
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Time for the profession to stand together…

IT is interesting to note that a selfproclaimed healer is facing prosecution by Trading Standards for suggesting that he can cure cancer. Mr Pengelly claims that he has become world-famous for treating people and many of his clients have risen to his defence online with claims that he has lessened their symptoms of cancer and, in some cases, cured them.

Believing, and claiming, that he can do things that most healers can only dream about, Mr Pengelly faces a fine or up to three months jail sentence.What makes it interesting is not that this individual has such massive self-belief or that he makes expansive and extravagant claims – after all, most entrants to the X Factor competition claim that they can sing and no one minds that – but that elements of the public are still willing to believe in healers.

On the one hand, we live in 21st century Britain where complex technological advances such as Facebook and the iPhone are hoovered up by millions and young children aged seven or eight are capable of entering one’s misbehaving laptop computer and, after a few deft manipulations of the mouse, can rectify a long-standing problem which may have left 50 something-year-old adults frustrated and perplexed.

Then, on the other hand, we have the continuum of alternative medicine extending from homoeopathy and healers to acupuncture and Chinese medicine. Who’s to say which is right?

Should we place our faith in technology and Western medicine with a panoply of pharmaceutical products, all of which have passed rigorous scrutiny at vast cost, or should we accept that hundreds of millions of Chinese people do pretty well on what seems to us to be little more than a stew of tree bark and the discarded body parts of unsuspecting animals?

For a myriad reasons, our society prefers to believe that healing is a rather special gift bestowed upon the figurehead of the Christian faith and that its magic and mystery should be reserved for deity rather than a self-publicist from Herefordshire.

If, however, we were to stand back for a moment, there would have been those, some 2,020 years ago, who saw what is now the predominant Western faith as being led by a self-publicist from Nazareth; the difference being that millions of us think they were wrong, so much so that countless thousands of believers have given their lives to defend that judgement.

It offends our concept of faith and our intellectual sensitivities to believe that Mr Pengelly can actually do something magic and mystical, just as we are unlikely to believe that a Romany lady with a tent and a crystal ball can tell which horse will win the Grand National.

Of course, for those for whom religious faith is also a mystery, science itself is akin to a religion with an intellectual platform rooted in a commonality of rules and relationships.

For scientists, the concept of healing hands is suggestive of a leap of faith which is the very antithesis to a disciplined scientific approach. So much for the Blue corner.

Divine insurance policy

Over in the Red corner, however, millions of people have espoused the Dave Allen concept of “May your god go with you” as a sort of divine insurance policy and hope above hope that their intermittent relationship with a greater force may forestall the unthinkable. The concept of a miracle is still the foundation of childhood belief and the sugary confection of Hollywood movies.

In a time where cinema is far more realistic than reality itself, who could blame a population disappointed by a galaxy of broken promises for believing in fairy tales, especially when the line dividing fairy tales from harsh reality is deliberately blurred in the name of

If we accept that the basic premise of reality TV is that ordinary people can survive and even prosper in the glare of the spotlights, it is hardly surprising that people get confused about the ground rules of reality in the Neverland of our obsession with celebrity.

If footballers earn more than presidents and if four newspapers can report the same event in wildly differing ways, surely things can be whatever you want them to be? After all, we tell our children that they can be whatever they want to be if they want it enough, so why would they disbelieve their parents? Isn’t that where trust starts?

One of the major problems of a society where the moral compass has lost much of its magnetic appeal is that people look for leaders at every turn. To avoid our making mistakes with buying a car, we look to Honest John, and to ensure against a disastrous holiday, we have “trip adviser” and so on.

In fact, why not invent an easily accessible encyclopaedia where anyone can write about anything that interests them – sorry, that’s been done already – and Wikipedia still appears to the public as a comparable reference alongside other far more rigorous tests of fact.

The very existence of the Internet blurs fact and fiction because there is no gold-standard test for accuracy, so why should we be surprised when people are confused?

The art and the science of veterinary medicine rely enormously on trust. We need the trust of the public, collectively and individually, if we are to maintain a sound and cogent reason for them to choose to come to our practices.

The authorities have chosen to open up a “level playing field” so that the innocent and confused can buy their elective purchases from other retail channels which may offer price and availability but, at best, limited expertise.

The temptation for this profession might be to seek to play these other channels at their own game but that would be a mistake. Indeed, in the mind of the consumer, our practices are also retail outlets and we are, however uncomfortably it may sit with us, retailers too.

However, we retail something special because this profession is special. It has the widest knowledge and understanding of animals and their relationship with their owners or managers.

Clients want solutions

Whether we are involved with companion or food animals, no one has more specialist and applied knowledge than the veterinary surgeon but, mostly, what our clients want is peace of mind, they want solutions and not science and, deep down, they’re really hoping for a tiny miracle.

We cannot deliver miracles but we can learn to deliver our messages in a more persuasive manner. Even if we suspect that Mr Pengelly may have rather less substance behind his claims, we should note that thousands of people want to believe him and those like him.

We have that substance and, for the moment at least, we still have the trust of the public. What we do need is to learn how to deliver that substantial fund of knowledge and skill more persuasively, as that’s what differentiates us from the healers and the ladies with a tent and a crystal ball.

The real point is that the public really doesn’t know who’s who or what’s what, so it is down to us and nobody else to make sure they do know. If other people can do this with rather less substance, isn’t it time that we stood together and did a proper, professional job in selling the profession for what it really is?

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