Dog in waiting room

BVA welcomes first ever protocol for animals in health care

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has issued a warm welcome to the launch of the first ever nationwide protocol for animals in health care.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has launched the protocol, ‘Working with dogs in health care settings’, in a bid to encourage more hospitals to explore animal therapy.

A recent RCN survey found that nine out of ten (90%) nurses believe animals can improve the health of patients with depression and other mental health problems, and 60% said the presence of animals could speed patient recovery.

Simon Doherty, BVA Junior Vice President, said: “This new protocol highlights the importance of the bond between humans and animals. It also serves as a welcome reminder at the start of Mental Health Awareness Week of how caring for and interacting with ‘man’s best friend’ can help to relieve stress and enhance wellbeing and a sense of companionship.

“It’s positive that the working group consulted with a wide range of organisations on welfare and safety considerations in developing this protocol, as ensuring the wellbeing of both humans and animals in these settings is paramount. As a fellow member of the UK One Health Coordination Group, BVA is very pleased to see a joined-up and forward-thinking approach to this important area of work.”

The ‘UK One Health Coordination Group’ (UKOHCG) was established following the launch of the BVA/RCVS Vet Futures Action plan. The UKOHCG exists to improve liaison and collaboration between the UK veterinary, medical and environmental professions towards One Health aims in order to foster and facilitate the approach whereby professionals “think globally and act locally”. The founding members of the UKOHCG are: the British Veterinary Association (BVA), the British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA), the Veterinary Public Health Association (VPHA), the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), the National Health Service (NHS), the British Medical Association (BMA), the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the National Trust, and the Wildlife Trusts.

Vet Futures: full steam ahead during first year of action phase

One year on from the Vet Futures Summit, and excellent progress has been made on key actions that are putting the veterinary profession in charge of its future, made possible through great engagement from the veterinary and veterinary nursing professions.

 Vet Futures, powered by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and the British Veterinary Association (BVA), created a blueprint for the future of the veterinary profession, and over the past twelve months activity has been taking place across the professions to put the plan into action.

The Vet Futures Summit took place on 4 July 2016 at the Royal Veterinary College in Camden, and saw the launch of the Vet Futures Action Plan and the VN Futures Report and Action Plan in front of an assembled audience of vets, nurses, students and stakeholders from the UK and overseas.

The Vet Futures Action Plan included a series of 24 work-streams to be completed over five years (2016-2020), building on the six core themes of: animal health and welfare; veterinary professionals’ wider roles in society; the health and wellbeing of veterinary professionals; diverse and rewarding veterinary careers; sustainable businesses and user-focused services; and leadership.

Over the last twelve months, key activities have included:

  • The setting up of a UK One Health Coordination Group, which will meet for the first time later this year, bringing together representatives from the veterinary, medical and environmental professions to provide a focus for One Health activity in the UK, and delivering the actions in the BVA animal welfare strategy (Actions A and F).
  • The establishment of the Veterinary Animal Welfare Coalition, which aims to coordinate public communications on key animal welfare issues to amplify messages about the five welfare needs. The Coalition has launched the five welfare needs logo and undertaken PR and social media activity throughout National Pet Month (Action D).
  • The launch, by the Veterinary Schools Council (VSC) Research Committee, of a UK summer studentship programme that aims to increase the number of vets engaged in research – 16 students will start the programme this summer (Action E).
  • The planning stages for an online careers hub as a one-stop-shop for anyone interested in studying for, or progressing, their veterinary career (Action G).
  • The launch of a Graduate Outcomes project to consider the skills and competences of future veterinary professionals, including the viability and desirability of limited licensure, the behaviours and skills required of veterinary graduates and how the undergraduate course might be structured in the future (Actions H, I and J).
  • A survey amongst non-UK EU graduates to better understand the support required by this group (as well as their intentions with regard to working in the UK post-Brexit), which received a 55% response rate (Action K).
  • A collaborative research project on workforce issues with psychologists at the University of Exeter, as part of which researchers are currently undertaking a literature review and analysing existing data in preparation for further research into some of the major workforce trends and challenges (Action L).
  • Research towards the development of a leadership massive open online course (MOOC) and also a hub to promote and develop leadership skills at all levels within the veterinary profession (Action Q).
  • The creation of an Innovation Symposium, to be held at the Warwick Business School campus in the Shard on 20 September 2017, which will bring together thought-leaders and those involved in innovative veterinary technologies and business models, to lead discussions on how these can be embraced by the profession. The event will also see the launch of an online innovation hub (Action R).
  • A consultation across the professions and the public to gather views around how new veterinary technologies should be regulated, with a view to establishing a framework to encompass future innovations; around 1,500 views were received and the findings are being considered by the RCVS Standards Committee (Action S).
  • Agreement on options for a framework for the regulation of allied professionals by RCVS Council at its June 2017 meeting, which are now being progressed into more detailed proposals (Action U).
  • Following discussion with the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE), the Vet Futures model is now being embraced across Europe, with the FVE adopting aspects of it into their own strategy plan, and France, Switzerland, Germany and Denmark developing similar projects. Some of the European associations, such as the Federation of European Companion Animal Veterinary Associations and the European Veterinarians in Education, Research and Industry, have now added Vet Futures Europe to their strategies (Action W).

VN Futures

The VN Futures project (Action X of Vet Futures) isolated six ambitions to achieve by 2020, with the shorter time-scale reflecting the faster rate of both turnover and training for veterinary nurses.

A number of development groups have been created, focusing on each of these ambitions and creating specific actions to ensure their completion. Of these:

  • The One Health Working Party has collaborated with the Royal College of Nursing on smoking cessation.
  • The Careers Progression Group has met twice and is planning four regional events, the first of which will take place at Hartpury College in Gloucester on 11 July, and will focus on veterinary nurses as managers.
  • The Schedule 3 Working Party has asked vets and nurses for their thoughts on, and experiences of, the role of the veterinary nurse. About 35% of veterinary nurses and 20% of veterinary surgeons responded, feeding into a wider analysis of whether Schedule 3 should be reformed.

“When we launched Vet Futures back in 2014, the scope of the project seemed daunting and some were sceptical of our ability to succeed. However, through a robust process of evidence-gathering, analysis, action planning and now taking action itself, we are starting to make an impact on some of those core areas that are so fundamental to the future of our profession, such as animal welfare, technology, veterinary skills and knowledge, and leadership,” says RCVS President, Chris Tufnell.

“Our Action Plan set out a five-year timeframe and we have made some really excellent progress in year one. This will form the foundation of work yet to come – although it remains important to ensure we scan the horizon for new issues that will have an impact on the profession, navigating our way through challenges as they arise.”

BVA President Gudrun Ravetz adds: “The excitement was palpable at the Vet Futures Summit last year and it spurred us on to roll up our sleeves immediately to start working on the Action Plan, and so a lot has been achieved already.

“Many of the actions are interlinked and so BVA, RCVS and the VSC are working closely together to oversee their delivery, but we have been particularly pleased at the high level of engagement and enthusiasm from others. The success of Vet Futures will be in the profession coming together to bring about the changes we need for a sustainable future.”

Sustainable businesses and user-focused services

Kimberley is a management consultant with global consultancy Accenture where she is a manager in the Healthcare Practice, advising on strategy and business change with a focus on digital healthcare innovation. At Accenture Kimberley works with a wide cross section of clients, from the NHS to medical software companies and private healthcare businesses.

Kimberley graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in 2010. During her studies she intercalated at the University of Edinburgh to complete a BSc in Microbiology and Infection, and undertook the ten-week Cornell University Leadership Programme through a Wellcome Trust Scholarship. Kimberley has experience of working overseas in a variety of roles including working with UNICEF, WHO and DFID.

Kimberley Schiller

Kimberley Schiller

We have always had to respond to change, both external and internal; it is not something that can be halted. So why address it now? The Vet Futures report highlighted, in no uncertain terms, that not only are we “cautious of change” as a profession, but the change that we are faced with has picked up momentum and is accelerating us toward a somewhat uncertain future.

We are faced with an ever-changing business landscape of veterinary practice. The continued consolidation of the veterinary market combined with innovation, both clinical and digital, is changing the face of medicine. Vet Futures supports us to become part of this change, allowing vets and vet nurses to shape the journey and help position the professions for continued success.

For me, this experience has been incredibly rewarding but not one that is entirely unfamiliar. As a vet working outside the profession in an ‘alternative career’ as a Management Consultant at Accenture, the majority of my day-to-day work is based around preparing my clients for the change that they face, either due to choice and innovation or because they simply have to ‘catch up’ with competitors or the outside world. What the Vet Futures report has captured is that we are somewhere between these two driving forces of change. While there are elements that are beyond our control (for example, new regulatory requirements, increasing demand for a higher level of customer service and continuing feminisation of the profession), we are also driving much of this change ourselves and contributing firsthand by innovating to drive the change we experience (for example adoption of new surgical techniques, new business models and use of new technologies).

The diversity in experience of the Vet Futures Action Group has been instrumental in how we, as a group, were able to approach this challenge. How change is perceived is often impacted by the ‘lens’ through which we examine it. Tackling the key themes of the report from multiple views has allowed us to draw parallels between our profession and others. For example, as we make our first foray into telemedicine, it is prudent to learn lessons from NHS colleagues who have been using it for the last decade.

Single organisations, like the NHS, are often able to cascade change using a top-down approach to the individuals within. Ultimately, we are not a single ‘business unit’ but a collection of unique businesses. To ensure we move forward as a cohesive collective profession it is important for us to personally own, as individual veterinary professionals, the day-to-day decisions that will successfully shape our future in 2030. Vet Futures sets out the foundations for that ownership.

There is great opportunity to look forward to. Many of the changes we experience offer solutions to problems that we encounter. Personally, what excites me the most is the recognition by Vet Futures of the need to drive veterinary innovation. Having worked in the digital (human) healthcare space for much of the last decade, I eagerly anticipate the wave of ‘digital’ that is going to disrupt the currently nascent veterinary innovation space. I look forward to implementing an innovation symposium to help highlight veterinary innovation. By beginning to showcase how to apply both disruptive technologies and new clinical practices to our profession, I hope we encourage ourselves to not only embrace this kind of change but to become the driving force of innovation amongst our One Health colleagues, which we are uniquely positioned to do.


Huw is the Director of Clinical Services at The Pets at Home Vet Group (PAHVG), a role he took up in 2015 having been Head of Clinical Services since 2013. Huw graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in 2000 and went into mixed first opinion practice in Devon and then small animal practice in Swindon. Whilst in practice Huw completed a postgraduate diploma in companion animal behaviour counselling at the University of Southampton.

In 2010 Huw moved into industry as a Technical Advisor with VetPlus, and joined Companion Care Services as Commercial Manager in 2011. At PAHVG Huw worked on the integration of Vets4Pets into the Pets at Home Vet Group alongside Companion Care, and led the team that developed The Vet Report, providing an annual overview of pet health and welfare issues. Huw is a founding member of the Major Employers Group, a member of BVA’s Veterinary Policy Group, and a Veterinary Advisor to the RCVS alternative dispute resolution trial.

Huw Stacey

Huw Stacey

As a keen supporter of the Vet Futures project, I was delighted to be selected to join the Action Group tasked with transforming the vision and ambitions of the report into ideas and initiatives that could be actioned in the real world. The report had identified gaps in the way our profession approaches the issue of leadership, so I knew that taking on this ambition would be a particular challenge.

The first question I needed to answer for myself was ‘What is leadership?’ This in itself is difficult to answer, since, while there is a wealth of material written on the subject, there is no clear definition. Some authors highlight the personal traits of successful leaders, while others look at positions, behaviours or social processes.

Leadership is like the abominable snowman whose footprints are everywhere but who is nowhere to be seen” – Bennis & Nanus (1985)

The model that has been widely adopted in human healthcare is that of distributed leadership. In this model, leadership is recognised as a dynamic situational behaviour that anybody can exhibit independent of job title, rank, prior experience or qualifications. In a given situation any individual can act as a leader, and there is no one individual who is suited to assuming the role in all situations.

Leadership may be considered as the process (act) of influencing the activities of an organised group in its efforts towards goal setting and goal achievement” – Stogdill (1950)

There are a few well-established veterinary leadership programmes, such as the Veterinary Leadership Institute in the United States, but we have also looked to the medical profession where extensive research and development has already taken place.

Vets have, as a sweeping generalisation, a pretty clear idea of what constitutes professional development and unsurprisingly it stems from the vocational nature of our work – CPD is about gaining more knowledge or more skills to enhance our ability to look after the animals entrusted to our care.

The idea of spending valuable development time and budget on something as vague and nebulous as ‘leadership’ would undoubtedly be alien to many, in the past myself included. This is a great shame, as effective leadership has been shown in human medicine to improve wellbeing, morale, engagement and clinical service provision.

The NHS Leadership Academy has developed a researchbased Healthcare Leadership Model, which the Action Group suggests is a good place to start when thinking about a veterinary leadership programme. This type of course could be delivered as a MOOC so that it is freely available to all in the profession whether they are business owners, assistants, students, vets or nurses.

If the profession is to fulfil its stated ambitions of being confident, resilient, healthy, valued, influential and in control of its own destiny, then it will be essential to instil in all of its members an awareness of the importance of effective leadership, and to provide them with the resources and opportunities to develop these skills.

The health and wellbeing of veterinary professionals

Mary is a veterinary surgeon working in Devon. She graduated from the University of Glasgow in 1998 and has eighteen years of experience, working in various roles in mixed practice, for an out-of-hours clinic, for a large group practice and as a government veterinary surgeon.

In 2014, Mary became a Postgraduate Dean for the RCVS, supporting recent graduates through their Professional Development Phase (PDP) and speaking to final year students and recent graduates. In 2015 Mary joined the board of Vetlife (previously the Veterinary Benevolent Fund), the charity that supports the veterinary community.

Mary Thomson

Mary Thomson

It was with some trepidation that I attended the first Vet Futures Action Group meeting earlier this year. A bit like the first day in a new job. Will the others like me? How will my background equip me for the work of the Action Group? But these worries were short lived. I’ve enjoyed every minute of our meetings and have met some fantastic people.

My primary area of work with Vet Futures is health and wellbeing. Fortunately, through my roles in general practice, as a director of Vetlife and as an RCVS Postgraduate Dean, I am in regular contact with people who are experts in this area. I hope that, with the help of these contacts, we have created an Action Plan that will be embraced by the profession and will truly make a difference over the next few years.

As a practitioner I was particularly concerned that health and wellbeing should not just become a tickbox on a practice standards list. Through Vet Futures I am committed to taking positive steps to improve the health and wellbeing of the whole veterinary team. As a profession we are responsible for setting and upholding standards of animal welfare. We can only do this if we look after our own wellbeing and look out for our colleagues. A change in culture resulting in a more confident, resilient, healthy and mutually-supportive veterinary team will not happen overnight, but is essential to ensure a bright future for our great profession.

So what have I been doing so far? At our first meeting we hit the ground running, considering each of the recommendations of Vet Futures – Taking charge of our future and looking at where there were areas of mutual interest. So, for example, some of my health and wellbeing objectives have common ground with careers and education. We also identified some of the organisations and individuals who are likely to be key to progressing the work of Vet Futures.

The second meeting was an engaging day of presentations from August Equity, Defra, VSC and VDS. Representatives from each organisation gave their thoughts on the Vet Futures recommendations and suggested areas where they could develop ideas further and implement actions. Our discussion lasted well into the evening and we agreed that, while we might not have all the answers by July, we will certainly have a framework for action which will develop the answers.

Between the meetings I have been talking to many individuals and organisations, and, as meeting number three drew near, I began to feel the pressure a little. With the Vet Futures Summit fast approaching a tough morning was spent trying to thrash out how best to structure the big event. This gave me much food for thought and to be honest I have met so many people who would make excellent speakers that I have had a difficult time with the decision-making process.

I hope the wellbeing section of the Action Plan reflects the fantastic input from many willing volunteers keen to improve the future of our profession. I would like to thank everyone who has helped so far. It is never too late make your contribution to the future of our great profession: many hands make light work and the more we all get involved, the bigger the difference we will make.

The next generation

Helena Diffey is the past President of the Association of Veterinary Students UK and Ireland (AVS). In this role she represented vet students on a range of professional forums and coordinates the central AVS committee.

Helena is in her fifth year of study at the Royal Veterinary College, having intercalated in Global Health at Imperial College, London. She enjoys the great variety within veterinary medicine, from lab work to surgery, and has a wider interest in epidemiology, neglected diseases, policy making and veterinary education.

Helena Diffey

Helena Diffey

“Only half of recent graduates say their career has matched expectations,” revealed a survey from the Vet Futures project in 2015. As a student on the verge of beginning my career in the veterinary profession, this was a pretty distressing statistic to find out. I think this is why Vet Futures was so timely and this Action Plan so essential; the profession cannot afford to fail the next
generation of vets. How people gain satisfaction in their careers is clearly different for each individual. However, I can’t help
thinking that underlying the frustrations of young vets is a profession not ready for the millennial generation to which I belong. A generation with very different expectations of life and work, we desire careers with diversity, flexibility and challenge. Many of the actions in the Plan relate to issues within the veterinary profession itself. These are extremely important to tackle as
they are very real problems to those at all stages in their careers. Young vets, in particular, will struggle to progress without adequate mentoring and support, or viable opportunities to take a career break or to change direction.

Us millennial vets are also more acutely aware of how globalised our world is, with a strong sense of moral duty to make a positive impact. In my opinion, the global issues we face today, such as antimicrobial resistance (AMR), and food and environmental security, present the most exciting opportunities for the veterinary profession now and in the future. As a profession we need to work with other sectors and disciplines to extend our influence into areas of animal health and welfare beyond the veterinary practice. Our profession should be capitalising on the strengths and capabilities of the fantastic next generation of vets, not apologising for a lack of career options and letting them go. During the process of developing the Vet Futures Action Plan I have been fascinated to learn about innovative technologies on the near horizon that will undoubtedly completely change the way vets practise. UK veterinary education is already on the cutting-edge of science, nevertheless our Action Plan includes the consideration of different ways of training the veterinary workforce, in the interests of creating a wider role in society for the profession and improving career satisfaction.

I strongly believe that providing more choice and freedom for students to explore areas of personal interest during their training will, further to having a positive impact on wellbeing, create a more diverse, dynamic and resilient profession. Students need to be encouraged and rewarded, not least be given the time, for innovative and creative thinking. This is what will see us well into the future.

Education, education, education

Liz is Associate Professor of Veterinary Education and Sub-Dean for Teaching, Learning and Assessment at the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, University of Nottingham. Liz graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 2000 and initially worked in a number of assistant roles in mixed, small animal and equine practice in the Midlands. In 2006 Liz joined the University of Nottingham as a teacher and lecturer, whilst continuing in equine practice, before becoming head of teaching in 2012.

Liz completed a Masters in Clinical Education in 2007 and a PhD in Veterinary Education in 2012 with a thesis focusing on the definition and teaching of professionalism to undergraduates. Liz is a member of the Veterinary Schools Council Education Committee, the RCVS VN Education Subcommittee, and a Trustee of the Wikivet Educational Foundation.

Liz Mossop

Liz Mossop

My motivation to become a member of the Vet Futures Action Group was the desire to be part of something with a real potential to have an impact on the profession I love. As a teacher at Nottingham Vet School (but very much a general practitioner at heart) I am very lucky to be involved with educating the vets of the future, and I strongly believe it is important that veterinary educators engage with the profession in all contexts and ensure the graduates we are producing are appropriately equipped for the wide range of roles and opportunities available.

Of course this is a real challenge – after all, the veterinary degree has been five years long for many years, but the amount of veterinary knowledge has exponentially increased in that time! Veterinary teaching has changed hugely in order to accommodate this and ensure graduates don’t just know enough information, but have appropriate practical and professional skills to be able to deal with what they don’t know. Having said that, I don’t think any of the schools would claim to have a perfect curriculum, and we are always changing and innovating to provide the best possible experience for our students, in the challenging environment that is higher education today.

The education theme runs through most of the Vet Futures recommendations and so I have had the task of advising and discussing a range of ideas with the other Action Group members. This has been stimulating and challenging at the same time, and part of my role has included collecting information from all the schools about curricular content on several of the key topics, including the teaching of ethics, teamworking, reflective practice, career planning and information on the wide range of peer support systems now in place across the schools.

It has been a great opportunity to demonstrate the different approaches used and also to identify where action points can help to consolidate and enhance areas of the curriculum. It has also been exciting to consider how we might predict the content of the future veterinary Day-one Competences, especially in the context of the One Health agenda. I am not sure we will manage to make the crystal ball function correctly, but I think we can have a very good try!

The action I am proudest of is the careers hub. Career planning and employability is something I am passionate about and it will be great to bring together expertise and ideas from across the profession, to try to really engage students and vets with the huge range of opportunities which are out there. There was a strong feeling of agreement on this action point right from the beginning of our meetings, and this was definitely not the case for all areas! Several of us within the Group have had slightly ‘alternative’ careers, and we felt it was very important that the veterinary degree is seen as a starting point for everything from general practice to specialisation to research, academia, business and a whole lot more.

I will watch with interest as the action points take shape and hope very much to be a continuing part of the Vet Futures initiative.


Veterinary students

Diverse and rewarding veterinary careers

Clare is a Senior Teaching Associate for curriculum and innovation in the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge, where she is currently chairing a taskforce to develop a curricular thread on professional skills throughout the professional veterinary course. Clare graduated from the University of Cambridge in 1996 and after completing an equine ambulatory internship at Millbrook Equine Practice in New York she started teaching on an equine studies programme and founded her own equine practice.

In 2005-06 Clare taught at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine and became interested in veterinary education and curriculum development. Clare completed her PhD in Higher Education and Student Affairs at the Ohio State University in 2013, with her doctoral research focusing on the career choice of veterinary students in the context of the feminisation of the profession.

Clare is currently President of Veterinary Educators Worldwide (ViEW), a not-for-profit organisation that aims to promote and support excellence and international cooperation in veterinary education.

Clare Allen

Clare Allen

I have wanted to be a vet all of my life… (well, apart from when I wanted to be a princess in my really early years!). But my identity as a vet has continued to evolve and change throughout my education and career. My veterinary career so far, then, has not been typical. But that is because, I would argue, there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ veterinary career. After almost 10 years in equine ambulatory practice, latterly as a solo practitioner, like many others in the profession, I found the work-life challenge of being on call 24/7 hard to manage with the needs of my growing family. Which is how I stumbled into teaching. However, instead of being a temporary career diversion while my kids were little, veterinary education has, rather unexpectedly, become my passion and my calling, which led me to a PhD in education.

My doctoral thesis, inspired by my own career path, looked at how vet students made their career choices, and how we could help to prepare them for more diverse future careers in veterinary medicine. Not too surprisingly, this made me realise that we needed to have some idea of what the future of the profession might look like, and maybe even guide that future through the challenges that we are facing. That is when I started to advocate for the veterinary profession to pay attention to where we were heading, and be proactive about shaping that pathway. So, when I heard about the Vet Futures project I was on board immediately, and was hugely encouraged and excited that British vets were leading the way on this. I attended one of the roadshows, read the report, and was excited to apply for and be accepted onto the Action Group. That excitement has continued as I have worked with a group of amazingly talented and motivated individuals, who also care passionately about steering our profession into the future mindfully.

The membership of the Vet Futures Action Group is a true demonstration of the diversity of career paths that veterinary medicine can offer: from key roles in clinical practice and animal welfare; to careers in One Health, education, business and innovation. This made my job of promoting diverse, sustainable career paths for future members of the profession relatively easy within the Group, since we had all lived some of those opportunities first-hand. But we want to be sure that our experience is passed on to others. So our discussion of actions and priorities have focused on practical solutions for supporting all members of our profession, from potential applicants, to students, and established members of the profession looking for the next opportunity or challenge to fit their changing life circumstances. The idea of a careers hub therefore,  emerged quickly, although we kept expanding it as we thought about all of the different people it could benefit. The key will be to make it accessible to all of those people, and to promote and maintain it adequately. I am also proud of our recommendations to conduct a workforce review of the profession, and to review the purpose of EMS, and outcomes for graduates. All of these will have important implications for creating sustainable, diverse career options for graduates in the future.

Now I look forward to seeing how others in veterinary medicine respond to these actions, and help to take them forward. After all, these actions and recommendations will only succeed with the engagement and enthusiasm of all of those within our great profession.

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.