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Let boldness be your friend

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‘SOME of today’s younger vets can seem reluctant to attempt surgeries or therapies that should be within their ability to perform, but are outside their comfort zone.’ This recent comment in Vet Record got me thinking about the changes in attitude I’d seen over the course of my long career in mixed practice.

I was fortunate perhaps to have entered the profession in more forgiving times and for having spent most of my ‘seeing practice’ with the local vet who lived nearby, in the village where I grew up. He, as a solo-vet working 24/7, 365 days a year in a frantically busy mixed practice, had to deal with everything that was thrown at him as there wasn’t anyone else. His maxim in this regard was ‘Let boldness be your friend.’

As a new graduate and indeed throughout my entire career, when apprehension (or total fear) stalked close by I frequently repeated this mantra. And, it pretty much worked every time.

Just how this sits alongside the RCVS’s exhortation that you must always ‘work within your sphere of competence’ I’m not exactly sure. But I’m certain they’re not mutually exclusive, provided proper preparations are made for each challenge. ‘Competence’ doesn’t necessarily equate to ‘comfort’.

Attitude to risk in general, and medical risk in particular, has changed beyond measure. At the age of eight, my now wife, and all of her classmates at their primary school in rural Australia, were each issued with a snake bite kit comprising a tourniquet, scalpel and sachet of potassium permanganate. They were instructed that if they or a friend were bitten they must apply the tourniquet, incise between the fang marks, suck out the poison (unless they had a filling), spit it out, and sprinkle the permanganate into the wound.

Now this showed some serious ambition for that proud nation’s children! Today, I imagine, even some GPs might, understandably, be reluctant to carry out such a risky procedure. But back then, out in the bush, surgical risk was never mentioned to Crocodile Dundee’s daughter and her young mates.

Of course in the absence of anyone else to turn to, ‘necessity’ is usually a valid ‘get out of jail card’. But when there is, this doesn’t mean the more challenging cases need always be handed over or referred to someone with more experience.

However, the following case probably should have been, even ‘back in the day’. A couple of years out of vet school I picked up the phone and was delighted to hear the friendly voice of an old class mate. ‘I’m castrating a horse tomorrow,’ he said, ‘and there’s something I need to know.’ ‘What’s that?’ I replied. ‘How do you do it?’ came the answer.

The next day, armed with my instructions (and no doubt with boldness as his friend) he duly anaesthetised and castrated the horse, which, as they say, made an uneventful recovery.

Older and (perhaps) wiser now, I would have to advise, ‘Let caution be your friend’. But never forget your other friend, ‘boldness’.

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