Vets: Stay, Go or Diversify LIVE – reflections on an inspirational weekend

Posted on May 08, 2018 by Simon Doherty

VSGD Live! Blog logoTimes are changing – as a relatively small profession there is a growing realisation that we simply cannot go on doing things the way we were before. Client expectations have changed. The expectations of young graduates heading out into the workplace have changed. What we can offer our patients and their owners by way of treatment choices has changed. Business models in general practice, government and research institutes have changed beyond measure. In the business world, “change management” is a thing – but as vets, we’re just supposed to suck it up and deal with it.

VetFutures – the joint initiative led by BVA and RCVS – sought to decipher many of the changes taking place in the profession and try to find ways to support vets through their own change management. The RCVS are leading on projects such as the ViVet innovation platform and the Edward Jenner Veterinary Leadership Programme. BVA have taken the lead on the Animal Welfare Strategy and the establishment of the UK One Health Coordination Group.

However, it was clear from the start that while BVA and RCVS were leading VetFutures, the actions inspired by VetFutures needed to be grasped by the whole veterinary profession, not just BVA and RCVS. Vets: Stay, Go or Diversify (V:SGD) is the brainchild of Ebony Escalona, a veterinary surgeon based at international equine charity, The Brooke. Initially established as a small closed Facebook group, it now boasts nearly 9,000 members across the globe – seeking to support colleagues to remain within the profession, maybe consider diversification in their veterinary career path but, if they decide to leave the profession altogether, to do so in a positive manner.

Having enjoyed an unconventional career path myself, I have been a member since the early days and have thoroughly enjoyed the thought-provoking threads on career diversity as well as the overwhelming messages of support for colleagues going through challenging periods and perhaps making difficult decisions… about staying, going or taking a leap of faith to diversify.

Staying

A live event was never really part of the plan for Ebony… but then she never really anticipated the group growing to have 9,000 members! Before long, she established a working committee to help her monitor the group and this committee, more recently, has provided the support behind the planning and organisation of the LIVE! event. This took place just over a week ago at CodeNode, a contemporary venue in central London – and saw around 250 delegates descend on the capital for a weekend of inspirational talks, workshops, networking and social downtime.

Many members of the online group and, indeed many delegates at the LIVE! event really want to stay within the profession, many within clinical practice… so the programme offered content around dealing with chronic medical conditions, seeking out alternative work patterns, and work:life balance including integrating hobbies as income streams.

BVA SVP, Gudrun Ravetz, and I joined Chris Tufnell and Danny Chambers representing RCVS in a panel session to highlight the roles of the two organisations in supporting vets – albeit within a defined regulatory environment – within all of the sub-sectors of the profession.

Going

Far from being an event offering multiple escape routes from the profession, V:SGD LIVE! was much, much more about encouraging people to look at ways of staying or diversifying, or perhaps even a bit of both. However, a couple of speakers spoke about their own experiences of analysing their transferable skills, successfully ‘selling’ those skills and leaving the animal sector altogether to take up employment in other sectors including management consultancy and innovation/design consultancy.

The important thing is that those who choose to leave the veterinary profession do so for the right reasons; it is much more desirable to make a positive move into a new career than to simply leave out of despair for what the veterinary profession might be providing in a particular situation and at a particular time. It may be that taking some time out for self-reflection before making a leap can make the eventual outcome – whether that be staying or going – more rewarding in the long run.

As a profession, we also have some way to go in accepting that those who do choose to leave have not failed in any way – they are simply taking the transferable skills we all share and are putting them to good use in a different way… as parents, artists, consultants, property managers or environmental campaigners - they were all in London last weekend!

Diversifying

There has been growing interest in career diversity within the veterinary profession over the last few years – I hasten to add that there is nothing wrong with a fulfilling career in general practice! But for those who find that they are looking for something different, there are plenty of great options out there.

During the V:SGD LIVE! event, there were workshops on roles for veterinary surgeons within government, research and charity sectors. One workshop looked at entrepreneurial activity and another looked at vets in the media. A very strong theme across the weekend was the possibility of increased career fulfilment by developing a portfolio – a strategy which definitely works for me and allows me to participate in a range of activities.

Everyone was hugely inspired by the presentation by veterinary surgeon, Cal Major, and the subsequent screening of her short film, “Skye’s The Limit”; describing her solo circumnavigation of the Isle of Skye on a paddle-board while highlighting the environmental impact of plastic pollution around the coastline and beaches – even on a remote Scottish island – as part of her Paddle Against Plastic campaign.

My VetFuture

It was really exciting for the BVA team to be involved with the V:SGD LIVE! event and it is a huge credit to the organising committee that they delivered such a comprehensive programme underpinned by a close attention to detail – from the catering and web-streaming to the entertainment and even bibs for the dozen or so ‘Diddy Delegates’ who were there for the weekend – they can now add “professional conference organisers” to their portfolio CVs!

It is fitting that within a couple of months of V:SGD LIVE!, BVA (as part of the collaborative VetFutures action plan) will be launching an online careers hub called ‘My VetFuture’ – a portal designed to provide content and signposting on veterinary careers for anyone on their veterinary career path; from school-leavers right through to those vets who are considering retirement – keep an eye out for further information on this exciting project over the next few weeks!

Simon Doherty

Written by Simon Doherty

BVA President

Simon Doherty is President of BVA. He is a past-president of the North of Ireland Veterinary Association and of the Northern Ireland Branch of BVA. Simon is a senior lecturer at the Institute of Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast and is a certified aquaculture vet. He is a trustee of livestock development charity, Send a Cow, and of the Animal Welfare Foundation. Simon Doherty became President of BVA in September 2018.