Time for the profession to get its act together - Veterinary Practice
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Time for the profession to get its act together

THE MERCURY COLUMN in which a guest columnist takes the temperature of the profession – and the world around

IN a tense world, where doublespeak and broken assurances appear to be the norm, one could be forgiven for wondering what has happened to the concept of honour and reputation.

Shakespeare’s Othello feared more for the loss of his reputation, if I recall, than he did for the loss of his beautiful wife whom he suspected of infidelity. Smothering one’s spouse tends to stir up gossip, of course, and one should expect some degree of dent in the reputation in these circumstances. Nevertheless, Shakespeare and his peers believed reputation to be priceless and the loss of it to be terminal.

In a much later age, I learned from my stepfather – an East End furrier with a razor sharp intellect – that the integrity of business done over a handshake was sacrosanct if one ever expected to repeat the experience. So, to parody Mr Wogan, “Is it me?”

The headlines continue to shriek about politicians’ cavalier elasticity with the truth and whether in terms of mainland security or support for our troops fighting abroad, the concepts of honour and accountability among the mandarins of Government seem to vary between different manifestations of elusiveness and absence.

In a late night chat with a longstanding friend recently, we reached the conclusion that, in our new 21st century world, people are more concerned with appropriateness in behaviour – a concept enshrouded by the heinous term “politically correct”.

Something of a tautology here as I suspect that correctness in politicians is noticeably absent in many cases but the term ably embraces the modern need to seize on something and beat it to death in terms of blind adherence.

Was it appropriate for an English schoolteacher to encourage her Sudanese class to name a teddy bear after a revered prophet, even though it was the same name given to one of her small charges? Was the authorities’ response and the public’s baying for blood appropriate?

Would it be appropriate for us, as a Christian state, to take no notice if a schoolteacher names the class hamster Mary? Is it appropriate for us to consider ourselves still to be a Christian state?

Being British, I know clearly what I think but, in keeping my views quiet, I’m in danger of adopting the behavioural norm of sacrificing what I know to be reasonable and decent in favour of complying with a code of behaviour apparently constructed by the lunatics running the asylum.

The difficulty here is that appropriate is a shifting term, conveniently accommodating a level of behaviour that suits the majority view, whereas concepts like “honour” and “reputation” have a sturdy framework of tradition and behavioural precedent to fall back on.

As a result, many of us bemoan the passing of a less complicated age where there were social rules to follow and where an awareness of what others expected allowed for a relatively painless navigation through life.

If there are fewer clear rules, social expectation hovers somewhere between permissiveness held in check only by the straining breakpoint of what is considered to be public decency and a form of social anarchy.

The Victorians swayed precariously between private depravity and public prudishness but the rules were clear for all to see. In later years, we’ve lost the checks and balances of what is acceptable and revere minor celebrity.

Many so-called celebrities have achieved their status by overtly flouting the rules and, by extension, their adulation sends a confusing message to the young and socially impressionable.

Common sense

One could be forgiven for thinking that that might encompass rather a large proportion of the population. What’s clearly missing is a sense of what is right and wrong – not in terms of the guardianship of public mores but, to use an old-fashioned term, common sense. Even in our professional lives, there seems to have been a suspension of common sense.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, so much professional marketing advice emanated from the US and was carried over in the vanguard of the marketing companies importing both goods and services from across the Atlantic.

So many practices embraced the concept of marketing and merchandising but, in the process, failed to examine whether or not the advice was appropriate for the British marketplace.

I clearly recall a nutrition company using, as an example, an American practitioner who, in the 1990s was charging $90 for a “senior exam” and we saw a number of practices trying to adopt the same programme without attenuating the message for their own audience. The concept was right and even appropriate for this market but was way off beam in how appropriate its execution might have been in unchanged form. Nothing too serious here but clearly a situation where a liberal application of common sense would have helped.

Joint activity

In the last few weeks I’ve met senior officers of almost all the leading veterinary associations and every one of them has agreed that there is a need for some joint activity to promote the veterinary profession in a unified form, speaking with one voice, to anyone and everyone who will listen but, to date, there appears to have been no initiative to make this happen.

Over the same period, I’ve heard countless practitioners call for the RCVS to get its act together and sort out various issues that are quite simply not in its remit or under its aegis.

If ever there were a time when a veterinary association should seize the nettle and initiate some open discussions of key issues and propose a unified marketing programme to achieve the agreed aims, it must be now with so many critical issues heaving in the air as far as the profession is concerned.

Quite clearly, for anyone who understands what the RCVS is and what its limited remit embraces, it would be highly inappropriate for the RCVS to take this initiative but there will be many out there who recall what happened when the BVA imploded a few brief years ago and when the RCVS stepped in to fill the void in the absence of an appropriate response from the BVA to a number of issues.

That was then and this is now. In 2008, the BVA has a far more robust stature and another keen and capable president. Now, surely, is the time for the BVA to stand up and take charge.

Willing to talk

There is a basic level of willingness to talk among all the other organizations that represent the profession’s interests but a stumbling block must be that many of the profession would appear to question the BVA’s appropriateness for the task.

To see the BVA take the initiative to open discussions with other associations with the predetermined aim of identifying key issues of success and threat, planning a suitable response and executing a well constructed and highly public series of press releases, press meetings and public statements – all carefully crafted to convey determined messages that show this profession as it should be seen – would send a shock wave through the ranks and would give doubters a real reason to get behind the association which exists to serve them.

More importantly, it would begin a process where key issues would be identified where the profession could consider itself under threat or where there are major success stories to broadcast and where these could be professionally and expertly conveyed to a waiting and expectant public.

These are battle tactics which every other profession understands and employs and which it would be wholly appropriate for the veterinary profession to adopt.

Moreover, such tactics are wholly appropriate for the profession to adopt in its own service in a marketplace where access to medicines and services is inexorably widening to a voracious public whose loyalties need to be won and retained by the measures they understand and expect.

While we’re on the topic, wouldn’t it be just common sense for the profession to start to act to promote its own interests rather than rely on a reputation which was, to a large degree, forged when things were a little different?

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