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‘Tis the season to be social in Wales

Sarah Carr, President of BVA Welsh Branch, reflects on the past year and shares her 2018 highlights of Welsh Branch activities.

‘Tis the season of festivities, when we tend to reflect on the past year, think about the one ahead, and make the extra effort to catch up with old friends. It got me thinking about why we do this – in a digital age when social media keeps us up to date with old acquaintances’ lives, where everyone is time-short, with 24-hour connection to the world at the flick of a switch, is it really necessary to catch up?

Nevertheless, I love these December get-togethers. Maybe it’s just a nostalgia thing but I think it’s more to do with having common ground and feeling like a part of something familiar and comfortable within a world where we are bombarded with unlimited choice.

A new (branch council) year resolution

Re-wind to summer, and we’re sat in a lively BVA Welsh Branch AGM in Cardiff City Hall. The discussion turns to how best to reach out to more of our members and get them involved with BVA, and whether the face-to-face meeting is really a thing of the past. Opinion is split: some think that we are the webinar generation, who want all our CPD served on the sofa when it suits us, and we are far too busy to go and socialise with people we don’t really know. Others say that past events have been well supported and we don’t really know what works unless we try. I make a suggestion - let’s try it again for 12 months, a programme of events in Wales. If members like it, we’ll keep it going, if they don’t turn up, we won’t.

The Royal Welsh Show

Fast forward to July and the Royal Welsh Show. I’m joined by Megan (BVA team member) and John (then BVA president) for our first attempt at a BVA Royal Welsh event. The crowds are buzzing with anticipation of a day at the show, as I tell my guests that it’s one of the largest agricultural gatherings in Europe, with over 240,000 people visiting each year - proof, if you needed it, that the Welsh really do love a good get together.

We were really grateful to be able to hold our event on Neil Paton and his team’s Gwaredu BVD stand, and I’m sure Neil’s motivation for hosting had nothing at all to do with where all of the left-over local cheeses and wine went! The stand was soon bustling and it was great to see so many vets there.

John and I filled everyone in on all the recent activity that BVA had been carrying out on behalf of animal welfare and of the profession; from Brachycephalic welfare, to workforce issues, to bovine TB. Many attendees had been unaware of all the work BVA does and I was pleased with the general consensus that we’d spoken about the topics that mattered most to vets in practice.

I chatted to several Welsh vets, hearing about their staff recruitment struggles and stories from experienced vets who feared more recent grads might be missing out on experiences they found invaluable. Plenty wanted to stay on and talk, and there was a tangible atmosphere of camaraderie, as a problem shared is a problem you are not alone in experiencing. There was a prevailing sense of optimism at the fact that organisations like BVA were recognising the issues faced in practice and trying to help.

Onto the next one…

With the first event ticked off successfully, an idea had also been seeded for to focus of the next one. We keep hearing two sides to the same story in the veterinary media: the frustrations of a younger generation of vets trying to put their health and well-being first, many of whom are drawn to the flexibility and control offered by locumming; and those of the employers who never intended to be working weekends on duty at the latter stages of their careers, struggle to get responses to their job adverts, and often see no future for the practices they’ve built other than to sell to a corporate firm. So, we decided to get people together in the same room, with some great speakers, and open the debate. I hoped that we might all learn something from the different perspectives of each group.

In November, Megan and I find ourselves in a smart hotel in Swansea. Les (Welsh regional representative) and I had emailed every practice in South Wales with the invite, but you never quite know who will turn up on the night. We needn’t have worried; with nearly 50 vets turning out on a damp November evening, it seemed we’d hit on the right topic. We’d secured two fantastic speakers, Gudrun Ravetz, our past BVA president and Chief Vet for Simply health, and Caroline Pearson from Progressive Vet Consulting.

Gudrun spoke about the “Why”- do we really have a shortage of vets, why, and what effect is EU exit going to have on this? Caroline focused on the “How”- what can employers do to find that elusive vet, and how can you find the right team to fit in to? The sessions were followed by a lively debate with a diverse range of views, reflecting the broad range of vets in the room.

Once again, you could see the value of discussing these things in person, not to necessarily find solutions but just to hear first-hand about others’ experiences. Several of the recently qualified vets attending now want to set up Young Vet Network groups, so it seems the human drive that brings us together is not in any danger of being replaced by technology just yet.

Where next?

We will be running a similar format event in North Wales in 2019. I hope lots of you can make it to that one – keep an eye on the BVA Wales webpage for more information.

So, thinking back to that AGM and the question of meeting up: Yes it takes effort to juggle family commitments and turn out after a long shift, and it might be easier to stay at home and plug in to the world via our mobile devices. But then we would miss out on that feeling of being a part of something bigger, that sense of a combined purpose and achievement can help us to stop focusing only on the day to day stresses of practice, enjoy being a part of the profession as a whole, or perhaps even give some of us another reason to stay in the job.


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