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Vets are now doctors (in a strictly veterinary sense, that is….)

Did you know that your vet is now a doctor? The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons  has just changed the rules. Vets are not obliged to call themselves "Doctor", but we now have the option to do so, if we wish. Traditionally, vets were called "Mr": the logic was that as "veterinary surgeons", we fell into the same (slightly superior) category of medical personnel as medical consultant surgeons, who were also "Mr". Dentists (dental surgeons) were also called "Mr" for the same reason. In the past thirty years, two factors have moved against this traditional nomenclature.

The veterinary profession has been feminised.

In the 1960's, over 80% of veterinary graduates were male. The gender ratio moved to 50:50 in the 1980's, and it's now changed so that a high majority of new graduates are female, 57% of the total profession in practice are female. Why is this relevant to the "doctor" issue? Well, "Mr" may be a handy title for male vets, but there's a dilemma for females: there's an awkward choice between Miss ("young and single?"), Mrs ("married") or Ms ("feminist?"). The term "Dr" is gender neutral, which suits our politically correct era.

Most vets around the world are "doctors"

The second, and probably more significant, reason for change in terminology is to keep the UK within international norms. In nearly every other country in the world, vets are known as "Dr". So when British vets travel overseas, it causes mild consternation if they try to stick to the "Mr" title from home. And when foreign vets visit the UK, they naturally expect to be called "Dr", leading to some confusion for members of the public ("Are they better qualified than British vets?")

Vets, vet nurses and the public voted for vets to be doctors

The decision to change to "Dr" was democratic: the RCVS carried out a consultation process, receiving the opinions of over 11000 people, 74% from vets, vet students and veterinary nurse, and 26% from the public. Overall, 81% were in favour of vets becoming "doctors", 13% were against, and 6% did not mind either way. The RCVS has placed some stipulations about how vets use the term "Dr", to avoid the risk of misleading people about our qualifications. The two possible misapprehensions are first, that we have earned a doctorate (PhD), and second, that we are medical doctors. To avoid the risk of this happening, vets have to do one of two things. First, add the word "Veterinary Surgeon" as a post-script to our names ("Dr Pete Wedderburn, Veterinary Surgeon") or second, add our post-nominal letters our names ("Dr Pete Wedderburn MRCVS"). This is a clear way of defining that we are "vet doctors" rather than "doctorate doctors" or "doctor doctors". I'm sure it seems like trivial stuff to most members of the public, but to those folk who are concerned about these details, it's very important to get it right. And it is important, that when people consult a professional, whether online or in person, that they have a correct understanding of that individual's qualifications. I never thought I'd be a doctor, but all of a sudden, I've become one without even trying. A doctor, veterinary surgeon, or a doctor, MRCVS, that is, of course.  

Choosing the Best Vet Practice for your Pet

Just what do you look for when you are choosing a vet practice for your pet?  For some people it is an easy decision as there is only one local vet practice in easy travelling distance, for others it can be a bewildering  choice. A good feeling about a vet practice counts for a lot but there are differences between clinics, understanding what these are can help you to make an informed decision.  The choice will not be black and white, local vet practices will be strong and weak in different areas, it is finding the vet practice that is right for you and right for your pet that matters. Word of mouth recommendation is a good place to start, pet owners in real life or on social networks are usually delighted to help. There is  a fairly comprehensive list of vet practices on the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons website, you can also look at the usual local directories and, of course there is the Vet Help Direct Vet Practice Directory. We are biased, obviously, but believe our directory is extra useful as we provide information, images and, in some cases, video of the vet clinics. You can also try googling the name of the vet practice as most have websites. Next you need to go and visit, don't be embarrassed to explain you are choosing  a vet practice, the staff should be happy to arrange a convenient time for you to look around. Its vitally important that you and your pet feel comfortable at your vets so make sure the staff seem friendly and approachable. Ask about the staff, do they have any special interests? Have they attended any courses recently? Are there any vets or nurses with extra qualifications? There are no right or wrong answers but it can help you to get a general feel for the vet practice. If you are the owner of an exotic animal you should check that there is a vet at the practice with experience of treating your species. Good facilities are certainly not the be all or end all of  a vet practice but they should have the basics and it should, of course all be clean and in good working order. If I was choosing a vet practice for my dog I would want one with an opreating theatre, x-ray, ultrasound, anaesthetic and dental machines, a microscope and in house bloods (or a same day arrangement with a local laboratory), separate kenneling for dogs and cats and an isolation area. Beyond that extra facilities are nice but they can always refer you somewhere else in the unlikely event that more complex treatments are required. The set up of the clinic is also important, are all the facilities there or do you have to travel further away if treatments are necessary? All veterinary surgeons are legally obliged to provide 24 hour cover for emergencies but it is worth asking how this is provided, is it the vets from the surgery or is the out of hours cover provided by a different practice? Whilst it may seem inconvenient to go further afield in the middle of the night don't forget there will be benefits in seeing vets and nurses that have not been working the day before, they will also be on site all night providing round the clock care for your pet. To save you having to look into the facilities and staff in too much detail the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons run a practice standards scheme . Inspectors regularly check they meet the standards for their level to give you peace of mind using the practice. If a practice is certified under the RCVS practice standards scheme you can feel confident using them, but a word of caution, some practices opt out so if they are not registered it doesn't mean that they have not passed, they may have chosen not to take part. Prices do vary from practice to practice, staff should be able to refer you to a list of the prices of the top selling products and provide you with the prices of consultations and vaccinations. Appointment times might also be important to you if you work long hours , many vet clinics now offer late night surgeries at least once a week. Once you have made your decision it is a good idea to register in advance to speed up care if your pet becomes ill. There should be no problem at all changing vets although its important to let both practices know what is happening so that notes can be transferred. Its perfectly acceptable and often sensible to change vets but its not usually a good idea to keep swapping around; its less stressful for the pet if they get to know the vet and premises and you can expect a better standard of care as the vet will get to know you and your pet personally.