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Professional differences

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LIKE many vets, I used to tremble at the thought that I might one day receive a letter from the RCVS saying that I had been accused of a less than professional approach to a client. But I wonder whether the RCVS ever becomes involved in the relationship (or lack of it) between two of its members.

The first hint of discord I noticed was when, as a student, I spent two summer vacations seeing practice at a large animal practice in a small, country town. By the second year, another vet had ‘put up his plate’ in the same town and the staff of the two practices were quite literally not on speaking terms. And what did I make of it? Well, what was the point of seeing practice if not to learn how things were done in real life?

When I graduated, I became an assistant in another small, country town. There was no other practice in the village but there was a two-man practice in the next town over, only five miles away. I suddenly had to relearn my attitude rather rapidly. The older partner in that practice was regarded as ‘past his sell-by date’ and this also appeared to be the attitude of his clients, who started trickling into our practice. This was something of an embarrassment because the second vet at the neighbouring practice was a friendly chap and we actually had all the work we could handle.

I also quickly learned that the time eventually comes when you need a second opinion on a case and that the knack to it is always selecting someone relatively local, but who is just far enough away not to present any long-term competitive threat.

For a time, I worked in the pharmaceutical industry, where there were a whole range of new attitudes to be learned. Practitioners suddenly became customers and, while one never wins an argument with a customer, any idea that ‘the customer is always right’ was considered nonsense. There were also the occasions when after two years of doing nothing other than selling and advising on the use of foot-and-mouth vaccines, I would be given a ‘lesson’ on that subject by some senior Civil Service vet, who obviously had no real experience of vaccination.

And interacting with academics came with its own set of unique problems. For one, their job required them to have an aura of omniscience and one should never dent that aura if there was a student within earshot. On the other hand, zoo and laboratory animal vets were the opposite. They were expected to be omniscient when, to be honest, everyone knew that most of the information did not exist.

Perhaps the RCVS, in not taking an interest in the squabbles between us, has simply avoided making a rod for its own back, because with all our myriad roles and perspectives there might be no end to its disciplinary committee meetings if it did.

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