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InFocus

Ready to take the association’s top position

John Bonner catches up with Katie McConnell who will succeed Professor Michael Day as president of the BSAVA during the association’s AGM on the closing day of this year’s congress

STEERING a flagship organisation
through potentially stormy seas is a
job for someone who knows the
ropes.

So that is why the UK’s leading
small animal organisation has chosen
Katie McConnell to be its president for
2014-15. Katie is an old BSAVA hand
who has been actively involved with the
organisation since her student days in
Cambridge, where she graduated in
1988.

She has
pulled her weight in the
regional and
national
committee
network,
edited the
association’s
main journal, the Journal of Small Animal
Practice
, served as honorary treasurer and
even combined the roles of secretary
and treasurer when her predecessor
jumped ship for a job in Australia.

Indeed, her commitment to the
association was the one constant in an
unusually varied early career. After
qualifying she worked on organising
clinical trials for an animal health company, spent three years in small
animal practice, had a year as a farm
animal medicine intern back at
Cambridge, went on to be a resident in
small animal internal medicine and
flirted with the idea of a full-time career
in academe when she was offered the
chance to do a PhD in immunology.

But due to her family commitments
she opted to work for Vetstream, the
CPD company founded by Cambridge practitioner John Grieve.
“Working in a university referral centre is wonderful but the one
drawback is that you are never really off
duty,” she explains.

“I had always loved writing and so
working in communications seemed like
an ideal fit with the duties of a parent.
If I had to leave at 5pm to pick up
Lizzie, it didn’t matter because the work was a piece of paper
that would still be
there in the
morning. There was
no temptation to
keep going back to
check on the patient
or to call the
owner.”

She discovered
she had a flair for
the job and still
makes her living as
freelance editor and
writer, working for
Vetstream, JSAP
and helping other clients, particularly
those with English as a second
language, to knock their papers into
shape for the scientific press.

With her second husband, the
veterinary radiologist Fraser McConnell,
she is also a director of the
teleradiology company AVDIS. This
means that she has the benefits of
working from home, which for an Essex
lass born and raised in Harlow had
never been more than 30 miles from
Cambridge. That changed eight years
ago, when Fraser was offered a new job
at the Liverpool vet school.

Katie has taken to life up north with
the same enthusiasm that she has shown
in her various roles for the association.

No BSAVA president would ever
admit to having sought high office with
the association but Katie’s surprise at
being offered the job is clearly genuine,
as she never considered herself officer
material.

Sleepless night

“It was Richard Dixon who was
president when I was first asked to
become treasurer. As JSAP editor I
chaired the journal’s management
committee and he called me the night
before a meeting, asking if he could
have a word when it was over. I spent a
sleepless night because I thought
someone must have made a complaint
and I was going to get a ticking off!”

Spotting talent among the members
of the volunteer network is part of the
way the organisation operates.

Historically, unlike many other
organisations in the veterinary field and
elsewhere, high office in the BSAVA has
not necessarily been achieved by putting
yourself forward.

“It is a very bloke thing to say ‘I
reckon I could do that’ – whether they
can or not. Women are usually more
reticent. So that maybe explains why the
BSAVA is so different from most
organisations in having a majority of
women at the top.”

So she has no particular master plan
for her presidential year other than to be
a steady hand on the tiller and to try and ensure that there is
good
communications
between the
different members
of a large and still
growing family.

“In a small
organisation everybody knows
what the others are
doing and it is easy
to make sure you
are pulling in the
same direction.
There is always a danger with an expanding organisation
that you will lose that. So I want to
make sure that I know what is going on
and that the messages always get
through.”

During her year the association will
continue an exercise to discover what
the membership wants and expects
from the BSAVA, now and in the future.
This research will focus especially on
the views of the network of regional
volunteers, whose willingness to give
their time and energy for the association
is so fundamental to its past and future
success.

“They are vital because if they ever
become disenfranchised, then really
there would be no BSAVA,” says Katie.

Biggest challenge

But her biggest challenge will be to
oversee the second phase of the
digitisation project which began with the
redevelopment of the BSAVA website.

Next the association’s staff and
contractors have to create a fully
functional content management system
before the site can be loaded with the
vast archive of CPD materials in its
back catalogue of books and journals.

That is a considerable task but one
that Katie is prepared for, having been
in at the start of the digital revolution in
veterinary CPD two decades ago. At
Vetstream she helped organise the
change to a new format when the
content was moved from CD storage to
a web-based platform.

When the job is done and her
presidential year is over, Katie will
return gratefully to rural Cheshire to her
other main responsibilities: one
husband, three children, two horses, two
dogs, two cats and two rats. The
transition from BSAVA president to that
of unqualified nurse/animal care
assistant is one she will be happy to
make.

“It keeps your feet on the ground.
There may be a reception to attend at
the House of Commons one night, but
the next day you know you will be in
wellingtons in a rainy field picking up
horse poo.”

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