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Old dog, new tricks?

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Ambition’s a funny old thing. We must all have been ambitious at some point or we wouldn’t be vets. You don’t just drift into vet school by accident. You need to strive for it. To select the right subjects and achieve the requisite raft of A grades. To fill your evenings and holidays with a mixture of extra-curricular activities and animal-related work experience, specifically designed to impress the interview panel.

Vets are, almost by definition, ambitious people. Or at least we must have started out that way. If you’d asked me when I was 18 what I would be doing in 20 years’ time, I’d have replied without hesitation ‘vet to the GB Olympic three-day event team’. So how did such a highly motivated and ambitious person morph into someone whose current ambitions are to make it from Monday morning to Friday evening without either throttling a client or falling asleep at my desk?

I have spent the last 20 years becoming what I hope is a good, all-round first opinion equine vet. I would like to think that I am confident and competent in my sphere, run my practice efficiently, am mostly liked and respected by my clients and am able to contribute to society. I am, in general, pretty content with all this. So why do I find myself questioning my achievement as a GP?

Perhaps because I have no more letters after my name than the day I graduated, and my tally of academic publications is precisely zero. I have not set the world alight. And recently, that has started to bother me slightly.

As I look around my university year group I see among them high ranking academic staff, specialist surgeons, a BVA president, respected referral clinicians and authors of multiple scientific papers. A friend of mine has more letters after his name than most of my colleagues combined, and I regularly refer the most complicated of cases to him. Another from my year is a specialist advisor to a whole group of practices. A student who recently visited me in practice is featuring at BEVA Congress – not merely as a speaker but chairing an entire session. And here I am, spending my days vaccinating, treating the coughs and the ‘not-quite-rights’ and castrating a few donkeys. Suddenly I feel rather inadequate.

So, what exactly have I achieved in the last 20 years?

While I fully appreciate that both horse and client need a good, all-round general practitioner and that, although they may go straight to the specialist hospital with the ‘is it/isn’t it’ lameness cases, I’ll be the one they ring when their best horse looks colicky at 7am or they need an objective conversation with someone they trust. I am standing at the crossroad, wondering whether I am ready to be that person for another 20 years, or whether it might be time to give a nod to ambition and move on to bigger and better things.

For, although I may have spent all this time being a run-of-the-mill GP, I have also been a bit of a CPD demon. If they’ve held a course in it, I’ve been on it. I’d like to hope that my knowledge is as up to date as anyone’s, despite the fact that I am probably never going to have the opportunity or equipment to perform all the fancy new techniques and space-age treatments I have learned about. I have watched the webinars, studied the online courses, turned up to the day-long seminars and the week-long congresses. I. Love. Learning.

And for this reason, over a glass of wine one night, it hit me. I can have the best of both worlds. I can remain the good general practitioner I already am, but also add some of those extra letters after my name that I crave so much. I can use my thirst for knowledge to earn myself another qualification – one that I have never had the time or money to pursue before. I am finally going to enrol in a certificate. It’s time to teach this old dog new tricks!

Do you ponder?

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