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Not Exactly Herriot


“James Herriot has a lot to answer for”, a colleague of mine recently declared. She was referring to the vast numbers of veterinarians around the world who have been persuaded by the Herriot series of books to pursue a career in veterinary science, only to find that it is not exactly the one portrayed in those entertaining stories. In his books, Herriot describes a career in which he treats “all creatures great and small”, recounting heartwarming tales of clinical success and giving humorous accounts of case failures. By contrast, many vets these days find themselves either by choice or by circumstance, treating only one or two species with any regularity or degree of confidence. Vets are also typically overworked, underpaid, and constantly reminded of the potential for litigation in a profession where expertise in multiple species and all medical disciplines is a requirement, even if learning opportunities are limited by time or expense. In some cases, these stressors are compounded by isolation in rural communities, and the result can be significant levels of attrition, or worse.

Despite this frequent disillusionment, many veterinarians remain extremely dedicated to their profession. They are driven by a love of animals, an inherent desire to nurture and heal, and the hope that with time and effort, their career will become all that they hoped it would be. For some, specialising is the pathway to improving confidence, clinical results and career prospects. However, while specialists and specialist facilities are essential in the management of complex, rare or critical cases, and vital to the advancement of veterinary science, the profession also desperately needs dedicated, knowledgeable and skilled general practitioners. Because what is often called “first opinion” practice, is also frequently the last opinion, where distance, finances, or urgency preclude referral.

Besides, the career that many are still dreaming of is the one that can be found in the Herriot stories. The one where you never know what case will be next, but are overwhelmingly excited by that prospect. The one where you possess both essential skills and knowledge, and the confidence to apply them to novel situations, in the name of helping and healing. And the way to achieve this type of career is to become more versatile – to learn more about more. To learn how to perform key skills in all species and all disciplines better. To become more agile in decision making by revising first principles and understanding the species variations that affect them. This is the aim of Versatile Vet – to enhance traditional veterinary education and promote resourceful, confident, and multi-talented veterinary practitioners, by providing expert demonstrations of fundamental clinical skills and techniques in all species. To encourage lateral thinking, and facilitate the cross-pollination of ideas between species and specialities. And by doing so, to help improve patient care, reduce stress in clinical practice… and just maybe, put a bit more ‘Herriot’ back in to one of the world’s oldest and most wonderful professions.

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