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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.  

So You Want To Be A Vet? – Getting into vet school and beyond

I did and I still do! Being a vet is a brilliant job; every day is different. I get to work with great people and use the skills I worked hard to gain to help animals and solve their problems. However, it is also involves long hours, regular challenges, with both pets and people, and it can be very stressful. The first hurdle to being a vet is actually getting into vet school and with an average of nine applicants for every place, it is one of the most competitive university courses there is. The standard of students is always extremely high and I know the selectors face a very difficult task in picking out those best suited for a career in veterinary medicine. First and foremost, you must get the right grades at both GCSE and A Level. Without these you won’t even be considered and rightly so; academically the vet course is tough. However, as well as being a geek (!), you also need to have excellent people skills, good practical skills and, I believe, bags of common sense. You can help to show you have these by ensuring your extracurricular activities are relevant and varied; music, sports, volunteering and Duke of Edinburgh all regularly appear on successful candidates applications. The other vital piece of the puzzle is completing a diverse range of work experience to demonstrate you really understand the veterinary industry. Trust me, it’s not all cuddling cute animals! The most obvious place to start is in a vet clinic but this can be difficult. Most practices receive a large number of requests but do persevere. You should also spend some time on farms getting your hands dirty. Helping out at milking time and lambing is not glamorous but will be rewarding & very useful. To stand out from the crowd you could also consider seeing other aspects of veterinary work such as zoos and exotic pets, abattoirs (all of which need a vet on the premises while they are operating) and scientific laboratories. Many vets are involved in research and during the course you will spend quite a bit of time in the lab! Wanting to be a vet for most people is a passion and very few probably give much thought to what working as a vet is actually like. It is a cliche to say it is more a way of life than a job but veterinary is certainly not 9-5! Many positions will include on call, meaning you will be working in the night and often the next day as well. A great deal of veterinary medicine, particularly for the farm and horse vets, is done alone, which can be stressful and even the small animal vets in a clinic will be expected to make their own decisions from day one and perform surgery single handedly. This is difficult when you first start and although it gets easier, it is always a challenge! It is also important to consider the salary you are likely to earn. This is often something students don’t consider important but it soon becomes so when you have a mortgage to pay and a family to support! As a vet you will always be paid a good wage but it is very much less than similarly qualified professionals. Trust me, you soon get tired of clients thinking you earn as much as a doctor when it is more likely to be a third of that! Being a vet is wonderful and I feel very fortunate to be in my dream job. However, I confess when I set my heart on it I gave very little thought to the practicalities of life with long hours, on-call, demanding owners and difficult cases. Although, to be honest, even if I had it wouldn’t have changed my mind! If you are sure you want to be a vet; have the drive, intelligence and I haven’t put you off (!), then my advice is work hard, go for it and maybe one day, I’ll see you in theatre! Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS - Read more of her blogs at
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The veterinary profession: who’s in charge?

Have you ever wondered what to do if you aren't happy with the actions of your vet? Most people realise that vets have codes of conduct and ethics that they need to adhere to, but how does this work in practice? What happens to a vet if they stray from the correct professional path? Vets are a "self regulating" profession, like many other professions such as doctors, lawyers and dentists. The phrase "self regulating" does not fit well with twenty first century concepts of fairness and objective justice. It sounds as if vets are allowed to just get on with their own thing, putting their own interests first. After all, how can someone be expected to regulate themselves as firmly as they would be if controlled by an independent third party? The historical basis behind self regulation is the concept that the professions operate in a market where the consumer can never have full and equal knowledge with the professional. Whereas anyone can see if a grocery product is adequate, if your doctor tells you that some complex test is needed, or your dentist tells you that you need a filling, or your vet tells you that your dog needs an MRI scan, how can you judge if the advice is correct? There's an inherent imbalance in information and knowledge between the professional and the customer which makes it difficult for consumers to shop around in the same way as they can in other free market situations. To address this imbalance in the market place, governments need to have a system that forces the professions to adhere to certain standards. And the only people who know enough about a specific profession, in order to be able to understand what's going on, are members of that profession. Hence the concept of "self regulation". The government has created legislation which delegates the legal authority for controlling a profession from the state civil service to the self-regulating professional body. This authority includes aspects such as setting standards for who may enter the profession, setting standards of practice, and creating rules for when and how members may be removed from the profession. Self regulation also includes a complaints and discipline system which allows members of the public to raise concerns about services that a professional provides to them, as well as providing a process to investigate and, if necessary, discipline any member of a profession who fails to meet professional standards of practice. This system is designed to protect the public from incompetent or unethical practitioners. In recent years, there have been concerns that there may be too much "self" in the self regulating professions. If a doctor/dentist/vet misbehaves, is it fair that they should be judged by a panel of doctors/dentists/vets? Surely there's a risk of people "looking after their own" - deciding in favour of the professional rather than the public interest? As a response to these concerns, there has been an increasing tendency to include lay people on the disciplinary councils of professional bodies. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) is the regulating professional body for vets and vet nurses in the UK, with the stated aim "to safeguard the health and welfare of animals under veterinary care, protect the interests of those dependent on animals and assure public health." Many people seem to mistakenly believe that the RCVS is there "to look after vets", and that its role is to promote the profession in some way. There's no doubt that its role is complex: yes, it does need to help to ensure that the veterinary profession is healthy and well-organised. But its job is not to look after vets: rather, its job is to look after animals and members of the public. Pet owners who have had complaints about their own vets may find this difficult to believe: when a grievance is not dealt with severely enough, it's easy to blame the RCVS rather than other complicating factors. However, a recent development at the RCVS may begin to convince more pet owners about the objectivity of the system: the new chief executive and secretary of the RCVS is a man with a track record of being a champion for the consumer. Nick Stace, who takes up his post on 3rd September, was formerly the Chief Executive Officer for CHOICE, Australia's equivalent of the consumer group Which. Nick's role has been described as "leading the College into a new phase of modernisation and development". If the general public has felt left out of veterinary regulatory activities in the past, it looks like this may be about to change.