What support is available to employers? - Veterinary Practice
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What support is available to employers?

is pleased that there is now quite a lot of help and support for new graduates and other practice employees, but wonders if there is anything similar for the owners…

THERE is an old story of a
mediaeval king who was asked by
a courtier what it was really like to
be king. The king said he would
show him, but appeared to do

Some time later the king held a
banquet and invited the courtier to
attend. The seating plan was set and
the courtier
duly sat in his
allotted seat.
He looked
round to
admire the
in the
hall and as he looked up noticed, to
his horror, a sword dangling a few
feet above his head suspended by the
handle with just a horsehair tied to a
beam above.

The food was delicious, the
company A-list, but the poor courtier
sweated and panicked his way through
the evening due to the point of the
sword swaying gently directly above
his head, held up by the horsehair
that could break at any moment.

Protocol demanded that he didn’t
make a fuss, and he daren’t do
anything anyway as it had obviously
been set up on purpose, and he didn’t
know who he could safely ask to help.
The next day the king asked the
courtier if he enjoyed his meal; the
courtier politely said he did.

“Good,” replied the king, “and
now you also know what it really feels
like to be the king.”

A tale of isolation…

This is a tale of isolation and
vulnerability, which is sometimes what
running a practice can feel like, with
few places or people to turn to for
help when things go wrong. Practice
ownership can be a pretty difficult
job, one for which most veterinary
owners have very little training in before taking over or buying in or
setting up.

When problems occur, owners can
find themselves feeling pretty poorly
supported, and certainly so in the case
of single person owners. Take this
recent e-mail to the “Cross-words”
hot desk of woe (on

“Am up to my neck in litigation with
current employee … I have been accused of
discrimination on the grounds of … oh,
and not to mention victimisation! It has been
a great exercise in staff bonding for the rest
of the team, but all advice … greatly
appreciated. There are days when I wonder
who would do this job….”

“Maybe a subject for ‘cross-words’: as
an employer you can be guilty of causing
stress, but not of being subjected to it, and
your employee can cite breach of contract for
not getting on with you, but as an employer
you have no redress when allegations of
discrimination are found to be false! Stop me
somebody please, or I could go on.”

Several practice owners I know
have been through similar
experiences, and the law often seems
to be wholly on the employees’ side.
Although I remember talking to
ACAS about a relatively minor issue
and being patiently told, “Remember,
you are the boss” and I was allowed
to tell people what to do occasionally.

We often hear of the new
graduate networks run by BVA and its
local offices; there has recently been
formed a Veterinary Union to assist
employees defend their rights, and in
many ways employment law, rightly,
seems stacked in favour of the

What is there for the veterinary
practice owner?

Many veterinary practices are run
by small groups or individual vets.
One of the changes in the profession
over the last decade has been the
corporatisation of the industry, and
this has led to changes, dare I suggest
improvements, in the management of
staff across the sector. It has certainly
taken people management out of the
hands of clinicians and into the hands
of managers.

There are many disadvantages to
not having a practice owner on the
spot on a daily basis, and I can’t really
imagine either running a practice I am
not in, nor working in one where
there is no one with whom the buck
stops in the building on a regular

The flip side of that is there is
probably not a single practice-owning vet
who, just occasionally,
would wish they were
not involved in HR,
H&S, complaints from
staff and clients, etc.,

This set me to look
into what support is available for
veterinary employers. I spoke to
SPVS, and they seem to have quite a
bit on offer. Fee and salary surveys
are useful tools, members-only
discussion forums (for all members,
not just employers), a journal and a
lot of CPD aimed at management.

They were also quite keen on the
’phone to point out that SPVS is not
just for employers. (I also like the way
that their answerphone message spells
out their acronym instead of saying
“Thank you for calling spivs…”).

The BVA, amongst other things,
has a free legal helpline and offers
mediation and legal advice to all
members, employers or not. There are
also several online forums which are
useful (such as www.vetsurgeon.org)

These can be useful to “test the
water” for issues, as they are usually
veterinary-only and attract a variety of
comments from the new graduate to
old codgers, practice owners to those
looking for the first job.

I find it useful as posting
something on a forum like that brings
up a variety of responses from many
different points of view.

Maintaining responsibility

The RCVS, for all its faults, also
steadfastly maintains the responsibility
of individual veterinary surgeons
within a practice, so all employed or
employer vets are treated equally in
their professional and clinical

Employers are not directly
responsible for the clinical activities
of their veterinary staff, which is one less thing for the
employer to feel
responsible for.

One thing that
none of this addresses
is the support, or lack
of, within your own
practice. If you are the
only boss then you have no peer to turn to for advice or
support. If you are in a partnership
or have several other directors, it has
been known, just occasionally, in
veterinary practices, for not all the
owners to get on that well all of the

I would be interested to hear from
practice owners on this subject, or
associations which feel they have
something to offer them, on
garethcross@hotmail.com. There has
rightly been much effort over recent
years to support new graduates;
perhaps we should now start to look
at the other end of the profession.

And for everyone else, make a
new year’s resolution to be nice to
your boss: they’re human too – well,
most of the time.

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