Veterinary professionals’ wider roles in society

Simon is the owner and director of Blackwater Consultancy where his principal client is UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) for which Simon works as the animal science expert for the Agri-Tech Organisation of UKTI. Simon graduated from the University of Glasgow in 2000 and worked for a number of years in progressive farm animal practice in Scotland and Northern Ireland before setting up Veterinary Northern Ireland in 2005-07. Simon joined the Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute (AFBI) as a veterinary research officer in 2007 where he managed the Ruminant Virology, Animal Services & Fish Diseases Units, and played an important role in contingency planning for epizootic diseases. He was appointed as a consultant to UKTI in 2015.

Simon is a STEM Ambassador, advising young people interested in careers in veterinary medicine, and regularly mentors vet school applicants. He is an accredited CowSignals Trainer, an honorary lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast and a trustee of the livestock development charity, Send a Cow. Simon is currently President of BVA Northern Ireland and the North of Ireland Veterinary Association.

“That the veterinary professions are clear and assertive about their wider roles in society, including in public health and environmental sustainability, and the critical importance of our scientific expertise is recognised and valued both within our professions and by the public”

Ambition 2 of Vet Futures – Taking charge of our future, pertaining to veterinary professionals’ wider roles in society.

Simon Doherty, Vet Futures Action Group member

Simon Doherty

Last year, it was my privilege to serve as the President of the BVA Northern Ireland Branch, during which time I had the opportunity to become fully immersed in the early stages of the Vet Futures project. When the call went out for applications to join the Vet Futures Action Group, I had little hesitation in preparing my application.

I qualified from the University of Glasgow Veterinary School in 2000 and, since then, have enjoyed a roller-coaster of a career – taking in general practice in Scotland and at home in Northern Ireland, two years setting up Veterinary Northern Ireland (VetNI), seven years in the world of diagnostics, research, commercialisation and regulatory studies at the Agri- Food & Biosciences Institute (AFBI), and a spell as business development director of a biotech company, before taking up my current professional role as an animal health consultant for UK Trade & Investment (UKTI).

Alongside that, I have enjoyed many representative roles on the committees and councils of BVA and several other professional bodies, as well as being involved in training and education, careers mentoring and as a trustee of livestock development charity, Send a Cow. I can honestly say that I’ve enjoyed every step along the way… so you can perhaps understand a little bit of my frustration when people continue to say to me, “I’m sure you must miss being a vet”.

There is a widespread preconception – even from within our own profession – that, to be a ‘proper’ vet, you have to be in clinical practice. It has been really enlightening, through my appointment to the Vet Futures Action Group, to learn about the journeys many practising and non-practising vets have taken during their careers, and the roles they have played in society, using many of the skills and attributes that brought them to our profession in the first place. It has been great to receive such widespread support for the Vet Futures initiative from many of the stakeholders we’ve spoken to, and to have the endorsement of many of our allied associations; in particular, it has been a pleasure to share this journey with the veterinary nurses as they explore their VN Futures.

Of course, there are days when I miss driving around the countryside working directly with farmers and their livestock. But I am passionate about what the UK veterinary profession and, indeed, the wider animal health industry, has to offer – both within these islands and at a global level – such as expertise in areas including One Health and the control of pandemic diseases, and knowledge and experience in emerging sectors such as aquaculture… as well as all of the services being offered by the arm of the profession in clinical practice!

It would be my hope that veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses up and down the country will read the Vet Futures report and this Action Plan, and the VN Futures report, and reflect on how they can each contribute to the successful development of our professions in the months, years and decades ahead.

Animal Health and Welfare

James is the RSPCA’s Chief Veterinary Officer, an Honorary Fellow at the University of Bristol and University of Surrey, and an active member of the animal welfare research community. James qualified from the University of Bristol in 2004, where he also completed a bachelors degree in bioethics, certificate and diploma in animal welfare science, ethics and law, and a PhD in veterinary ethics. James worked in Gloucestershire in private practice, then at an RSPCA branch. He became head of the RSPCA’s companion animals department in 2011 and CVO in 2012.

James has previously undertaken roles as chair of the British Veterinary Association’s Ethics and Welfare Group, honorary secretary of the Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons, a member of the British Small Animal Veterinary Association Scientific Committee, and editor of the Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law Veterinary Association (AWSELVA) journal.

Vet Futures is a clear chance for us as a profession to take control of our future. We can sit back and complain about changes that face us; or we can decide what type of profession we want to work in, and drive those changes.

James Yeates

James Yeates

And that goes further than just our profession. We can decide what role we want in society: what sort of industries we want to support, what types of social change we want to drive.

Vet Futures – Taking charge of our future was an excellent piece of work. It is a series of aspirations to serve us well wherever our future takes us. What it needed was people within and supporting the profession to step up to realise those ambitions. Our work as an Action Group has been to convert ambitions to actions.

It has been great to work with such leading lights of the profession, knowing that they are only a small proportion of what makes us vibrant, optimistic and dynamic.

During this work, I have certainly realised that many of the key members of the profession are so keen to progress it – nobody seems to want to just sit back and reap the benefits of being part of such a trusted and respected profession. Those who are ambitious are not just ambitious for themselves, but for all vets.

As a vet, you cannot just wring your hands about an animal’s disease progression – you take control, work out what’s the best and then work to achieve it. And I’ve seen that many vets think like that about society and the profession, too.

The report also proved – what perhaps we already knew – that the profession really cares about animal welfare. It came through loudly in the report and was the first ambition – before concerns about business sustainability and our own welfare (which are both very important, too). Some of those involved in animal care need to develop new attitudes and behaviours, but with a welfare-focused veterinary profession at the helm, they should be a dying breed.

Vet Futures provides a solid foundation. The trick to maintaining its momentum will be ensuring that the Action Plan keeps on track and developing a mechanism to ensure that new ideas keep coming up. The Vet Futures work should coordinate these, and keep them on track, in order to avoid duplication and maximise what we can all achieve together.