Different cultures across the EU - Veterinary Practice
Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now



Different cultures across the EU

Gareth Cross has been talking to the founder and MD of VetAbroad about the ways practices function in various countries and the different animal-owning cultures in them.

A FEW months ago I wrote about
the employment situation for
veterinary practices in the UK.
As part of that I touched on the
subject of EU and other foreign
vets coming to work in the UK.

This article led to a lot of feedback
from readers and colleagues, including
e-mails from European vets relating
their experiences of working in the
UK, and thanks to everyone who got
in touch.

It also led me to find a company
called “VetAbroad” which helps
foreign vets
settle in to work in the
UK. I had a
with its
owner and
director, Luis
The interview was on Skype and its
content forms the basis of this article.

Luis gained his veterinary degree in
1993 and worked as an employee in
the UK until 1998 when he bought a
practice in the Midlands. He took the
practice to BSAVA Standard – one of
the first 20 practices to do so – and
subsequently RCVS Tier 2 standard.

After selling the practice six years
later, he worked as a management
consultant and trainer before
establishing VetAbroad. Luis is an
international speaker, author and
member of the CPD committee of
Colegio de Veterinarios de Valladolid

He told me the inspiration to form
VetAbroad came after working on
an e-learning practice management
programme for a pharmaceutical
company in the UK. It was a successful
programme which the company
wanted to use in other countries and
set about translating it. It soon became
apparent that the content needed to be wholly adapted for the EU, not just

We discussed the way that countries
differ in the way veterinary practices
function, and the animal-owning
culture in which they function. It is clear to Luis that it is the UK that is
the odd one out, and is seen across
Europe as having the highest standards
of patient care and service of any EU
country, with Germany close behind,
but Southern and Eastern Europe
functioning in a very different way
from us.

To be clear: we are talking here
mainly about general vet:client culture
and customer service having the
biggest difference, although there is
variation in clinical ability too. One
example of this is that many EU vets will state they can happily do a bitch
spay, but what they probably mean is
that they can do the op with two vets
over an hour or so, not single-handed
in about half an hour like we are
expected to do here.

Another huge cultural difference
is the RCVS. In no other country in
Europe is the veterinary governing
body such a feared and respected
organisation by its members, and in no
other country are pets and clients so
well protected, both by the RCVS and
the civil court structure.

Although those of us working here
have, let’s say, mixed feelings about the
RCVS, Luis is sure that this level of
scrutiny and discipline for generations
of vets has made the UK stand out
as having such high standards in
veterinary care and service.

I commented that in the UK vets
have to maintain a certain standard
of behaviour in daily life or could risk
being struck off, rather like a vicar,
doctor or senior military officer. In
much of Europe, commented Luis,
behaviour outside of work is not of
any relevance to your working life or
governing body and used an example
of a local (to him in Spain) judge who
was caught drunk riding a motorbike.

The judge was caught
and ned by the police,
but at no point was his
career in jeopardy.

For someone
coming to work here
the scrutiny we live
under is a hard thing to
understand. In most EU
countries the veterinary
governing body
performs functions
more like the BVA and
VDS, with a theoretical
role in protecting the
public and animal welfare. We vets in
the UK pay one lot of vets (the VDS)
to protect us from another lot of vets
(the RCVS). This must take a bit of
getting used to.

I was trying to get to the core of
what is so different about working in
the rest of the EU to here, and these,
to my mind from talking to Luis, are
some of the key ones:

  • 75% of practices in the EU are one-
    person practices – team working is not
    the norm.
  • Standard of general “professional
    behaviour” in and out of work, as
    described above.
  • In many practices the vet works on a first-come first-served no-appointment
    basis with no nurse. So ops may be
    GAd with the help of the owner there
    and then whilst the next patient waits.
  • Customer complaints are very rare,
    the pet is generally not one of the
    family (but this is
    changing) and the
    vet generally does
    not feel the need to
    explain what he or
    she is doing or why,
    nor give estimates,
  • Whilst the cascade
    does exist in the
    EU it is mainly
    ignored as in many
    countries most drugs
    in human form are
    widely available from
    chemists and although a prescription is
    legally required this is often not used
    or needed in reality.
  • Pets are treated more as possessions,
    not members of the family, although
    Luis commented that this is changing
    now with European pet ownership
    becoming more like that in the UK.

The number of EU graduates has
gone up and down over the last few
years and is currently near the same
levels as in 2007. And as he is fairly
sure that there is no massive wave
of vet immigration on its way, Nigel
Farage will be relieved.

The main driver for them coming
is usually not money, but a desire to improve working
standards. Many
returning EU vets have
driven up standards
locally after a stint in
the UK.

He also had some
stories of vets working
in the UK doing long
hours, much on-call
and being employed
for minimum wage. He
wouldn’t divulge any
details but if anyone
out there knows of this going on, let me know on

When we advertised for a vet we had
applications from a few EU graduates
who were working as “nurses” in the

We interviewed one coming to the
end of an “internship” and she had
certainly been putting the hours in.
Her motivation for working in the UK
was that she did not like the way the
veterinary profession was run in her
country, nor the way the whole country
was run.

One thing that is the same across
the EU is the increasing feminisation
of the profession, which can make finding full-time employees willing to
do on-call with a few years’ experience
hard to find.

Also, he would view someone with
three years’ experience working in
the UK as the same as someone with 10 years on the
Continent, due to
the standard and
intensity we work
at here. And people
with 10 years’
experience still
working as a vet in
the EU will almost
certainly have their
own practice.

What you need,
he said, is an EU
graduate with good
English and the right attitude. Put them through a
good induction process. They generally
will be happy to do out-of-hours and
are frequently very loyal – many of
the vets who have been through his
programme are still in their first UK
job after three years.

And all the things he had taught
them about the standards expected of
them when here, well they could hardly
believe they were all true!

  • Thanks to Luis Sainz-Pardo of
    VetAbroad for the interview (and
    other vets who e-mailed in, especially
    Roger Serres, Frank Decaluwe, Susan
    McKay of Companion Consultancy
    and others).

Have you heard about our
IVP Membership?

A wide range of veterinary CPD and resources by leading veterinary professionals.

Stress-free CPD tracking and certification, you’ll wonder how you coped without it.

Discover more