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A practitioner ponders

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I was speaking at a farmers' club meeting the other day in my capacity of a farmer's son turned vet, turned small animal vet. I was trying to get my audience to remember what the farming and veterinary community had in common, and perhaps think about where our common interests lay. I began to think that historically our links were forged from the fact that many veterinary surgeons, like myself, sprang from the same community as the farmers. We had attended the same schools, young farmers' clubs and pubs, and shared many of the same values and motivations.

I was explaining how our destinies were interlinked. Diminishing returns on farms and pressure from other providers can lead to a change of attitude from farmers, who wrongly begin to see the vet as a drain on resources, rather than a partner. I suggested that the next time they considered only the cost saving when ordering mastitis tubes online, they also consider whether they would be able to get their next cow's prolapsed uterus replaced on the internet.

If the advent of massively increased tuition costs leaves new graduates with debts that dictate that they take the job with the highest rate of pay, it is unlikely that will be in the agricultural sector, and this change could well happen very suddenly indeed. The problem may not be limited to graduates being steered away from farm work; school leavers may avoid the profession altogether if they see no viable financial future in their area of interest.

I came, towards the end of my talk, to the two things I think we usually share with our farming colleagues: a healthy, if slightly dark, sense of humour, and a powerful work ethic. Both of these are in danger of declining in the single-minded pursuit of profit and a desire for a better (easier) work–life balance. I was reminded of two examples of both qualities, one from my farming background and one, more recently, from practice. When I was a boy on the farm, a neighbouring farmer suffered a severe head injury in an accident on the farm with several jaw and facial fractures. A few weeks after the accident, my brother and I encountered our neighbour on his scraping out tractor on a cold winter morning, his head swathed in scarves. After the usual greetings my brother asked if he was getting much pain, to which he replied, ‘It depends how long I am up.’

‘Does it get worse at night?’ my brother asked. ‘No,’ he replied, ‘It just bloody hurts from when I get up to when I go to bed.’

Recently, my partner at work was diagnosed with prostatic cancer after a routine test and promptly underwent a gruelling prostatec-tomy; however, within six weeks of surgery, he was back on farm calls. A couple of weeks after that he came into the practice in particularly high spirits. When asked why he was so chipper, he replied, ‘I’m only wearing one nappy today.'

There are few other fields of work where you might encounter dedication of that order.

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