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A practitioner ponders

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A visit to the vet in the current economic climate must be coloured by a number of considerations. The recession heightens the impact of unexpected expenses like Sheba eating a pair of indigestible socks or Tiddles getting a blocked bladder on a Sunday night. The blossoming of specialised emergency veterinary clinics comes hand in hand with the greater cost of out-of-hours care. Even those clients fortunate and enlightened enough to take out insurance have, in many cases, experienced increases in premiums and a decrease in what that cover gives them. The media has damaged us with some unfortunate reporting implying that we can be money-grabbing and uncaring.

Continuity appears to be more difficult to achieve, too. Fewer assistants seek partnership status and so move on. Greater numbers of colleagues from overseas move more frequently from practice to practice and more staff now work on a part-time basis. It is more difficult for clients to achieve the oft-expressed preference to see the same face consistently behind the consulting table.

I have been pondering what we can do to refresh the image we present to our clients and to restore some faith and trust. One answer is for clients to learn more about the vets as people and the vets to know more about their clients. In James Herriot's day, this was achieved simply by being a consistent and active member of a stable community.

Nowadays, of course, much of our ‘community’ resides in the digital environment. The establishment and maintenance of a good website with links into social networks seems to be an essential move. I have recently learned how, with the aid of demographic profiling, we can understand more about our clients' lifestyles and how to tailor our services to suit them, such as offering evening opening in commuter areas.

But most of all we need to get back out into the real world and show that we are sensitive people being proactive about pet health promotion as well as treating illness. Local talks to schools, Women's Institutes and Rotary clubs can be great fun and really rewarding. I notice many young graduates are reluctant to get up and spout in public, but it was something expected of me as a new graduate thirty-odd years ago. Although initially terrified, I found I quite quickly came to enjoy talking about the emotional rewards and challenges of being a veterinary surgeon.

We have to spell out to people more clearly what a wide range of services and skills we can offer with care and compassion. Clients come with expectations and our challenge is to anticipate and exceed those expectations with support and understanding as well as clinical excellence. We need to become friends of the community again.

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