A White Paper on attitudes to online usage in veterinary business

Survey findings and recommendations for development of Internet strategies for the veterinary profession from vetmart & Companion Consultancy

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Online Use in the Veterinary Industry White Paper

New Year and the dreaded New Year’s resolutions!

It’s the start of 2014 and another year has gone by. January is often the time when many people decide to draw up a set of New Year’s resolutions, even though 83% of us break them!

Newspaper articles saying that we typically eat 7,000 calories on Christmas Day are also fresh in the mind. As a result, many people decide January is the time to try and get healthier by giving something up, or starting something new. But does it work?

It’s arguable that alcohol is the best thing to give up for New Year’s. The liver, responsible for detoxifying alcohol, is about the only organ capable of regenerating itself in weeks. The liver has tremendous regenerative capacity but for a heavy drinker, a month won’t see the liver go back to normal because of the level of tissue damage and scarring.

Chocolate and caffeine are also commonly given up around this time of year. However, like the old saying goes, ‘everything in moderation’, there is no real benefit to giving up one thing unless you make a conscious decision to eat healthy and exercise regularly, to see long term benefits.

Now in general I’m not one for making New Year’s resolutions, partly because I can’t stick to them for longer than a few weeks. But this year, my sister asked me to join her in running for Sports Relief in March to raise money for charity, and I decided to give it a go.

Unfortunately, I haven’t run in a long time and 6 miles may not sound like a very long distance but it is tougher than you think. A few years ago I ran a 10 km (6.1 mile) race and ended up with a terrible side stitch halfway through, which made the last few miles extremely painful. However, after completing the course I did feel a great sense of satisfaction and achievement which made all the pain worthwhile.

Seeing as the Sports Relief race is in March, I still feel I have plenty of time for training as the panic has yet to set in. This time, I have decided to be sensible and take it slow and steady, working my way up to the 6 miles rather than ‘winging it’.

Having come back to the gym after Christmas, I was shocked to see how busy it was, with everyone jumping on the January fitness frenzy band wagon. I also noticed a big difference in the amount and type of classes that are now available compared to a month ago. Gyms must know that once the Christmas period is over there is an influx of people trying to get fitter for the New Year. How long this resolution lasts remains to be seen!

So despite how busy the gym is and how miserable the weather is outside, I am still determined to stick to my New Year’s resolution of running 6 miles. After all, it’s for charity!

What ‘type’ are you?

Emily shares her experience of some recent self-reflection, courtesy of a personality profiling tool…

We have been having some ‘cosmo moments’ at CC HQ recently, courtesy of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It’s described as a “personality inventory that helps make the theory of psychological types described by C. G. Jung understandable and useful in people’s lives.” Apparently, “the essence of the theory is that much seemingly random variation in behaviour is actually quite orderly and consistent, being due to basic differences in the ways individuals prefer to use their perception and judgment.”

All sounds a ‘psychobabble’ and I’ll admit, I was sceptical until I indulged my boss and had a go with a pared down version of the tool. Turns out that the conclusions are pretty perceptive! I am apparently an INFJ (but only just) and should apparently fit the following description:

“Seek meaning and connection in ideas, relationships, and material possessions. Want to understand what motivates people and are insightful about others. Conscientious and committed to their firm values. Develop a clear vision about how best to serve the common good. Organised and decisive in implementing their vision.”

Now I am not sure just how insightful I am always, but individual motivators is one area that I have always been interested in. Anyone that has experienced my obsession with spreadsheets and whiteboards – essential for me to survive any given working day – will know my reliance on being organised too! As for ‘firm values’… well, I can be pretty stubborn, does that count?

So what is the point? Well as this article explains, tools such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator can be used to track how the typical personalities of  of a group (in this case vets) change over time. Perhaps it can allow employers to select individuals that will be better suited to particular roles? At the very least, it gets people questioning themselves and how they truly react to the world around them. Actually no, at the very least, it gives a bunch of women something to natter about in their pink offices.

Give it a go – maybe you’ll realise a facet of your personality that you hadn’t even known was there? Or maybe, like one of our team members, you’ll be completely torn as to which option to pick, mull it over for ages, get frustrated and give up. An INFJ she ain’t – nothing ‘organised and decisive’ about that!

New vs. Existing Clients

Emily takes a breather from a busy start to the new year to reflect on the differences between relationships with new and exisiting clients…

We seem to have been putting together a lot of planning documents recently – ongoing year plans for existing clients and proposals for potential new clients. It has got me thinking about which I get more of a kick from – the excitement at the prospect of a brand new client or the satisfaction of working with someone who has already experienced the Companion way and come back for more?

The thrill of a new project always gives a fantastic buzz. Having a completely novel message to communicate, working with new people and coming up with ideas afresh is exhilarating. That said, building on previous work, re-inventing aspects of a communications plan and the ultimate accolade – repeat business, induces a wonderfully warm and fuzzy feeling too.

I suppose it’s analogous to a relationship – you have all that passion and discovery at the start, which eventually settles into deep understanding and care. Just like a teenage couple who throw themselves at each other with enthusiasm at the exclusion of the rest of the world, we and our new clients enter into the relationship brimming with exuberance and creativity. Bitten off more than we can chew? Not a chance! Compare that then to the pair who have been together for years; she intuitively always knows what his preference will be and he can always recognise any seed of doubt in her, despite her words and actions saying otherwise… Both are equally functional models, in a beautifully dysfunctional way and at Companion, we enjoy generating successes for both of these clients.

In either of these scenarios though, there is the potential for trouble. Novelty can breed misunderstanding – those early stages in the relationship can be stormy as both parties’ foibles are revealed. On the other side of the coin, comfort can lead to stagnancy and disillusion on both sides. Both need work – a great degree of understanding and careful communication in the early days as everyone finds their feet, an injection of passion and remembering not to take each other for granted as time wears on.

So, returning to the original question, which is best? I think it is safe to say that as long as a client offers us a challenge and works together with us, understanding our vision as we strive to understand theirs, then whether they are new or old, they are precious to us. So allow us to wish everyone a happy 2013 and may everyone’s relationships, as dysfunctionally functional as they are, continue to bring joy and prosperity in the new year.

Baby; the parrot who couldn’t grow up

As part of her veterinary training, Emily undertook an elective with Dr. Larry Nemetz at his specialist avian clinic in California. This was one of his cases that required a little bit of innovation…

Baby’s beak was malformed so that the bottom part (gnathotheca) was too long compared to the top part (rhinotheca) – a condition called mandibular prognathism.

At 5 months old, Baby – a bare eyed cockatoo (Cacatua sanguinea), was still being hand fed by staff at the pet store in California where he was living. He should have been weaned by this age, but due to malocclusion of his beak, was unable to eat solid food for himself. The staff at the pet store had been repeatedly trimming what should have been the occlusal surface of the lower portion of his beak (gnathotheca) as it grew overlong, but were at a loss as to what to do long term.

The pet store staff consulted Dr. Nemetz, founder and specialist avian vet at The BIRD Clinic, Orange County, CA, to see what could be done for Baby.  He explained that the usual cause of mandibular prognathism in hand reared birds like Baby is repeated abnormal pressures on the developing beak during feeding. Dr Nemetz was confident that he could permanently make Baby’s beak normal enough that he could be weaned. He planned to do this by changing the way the rhinotheca interacted with the gnathotheca using a prosthesis made from human dental composite. The idea was that the prosthesis would provide wear for the gnathotheca and by doing so, gently apply new forces to both sections of the beak, gradually changing their shape and restoring normal beak occlusion.

Immediately post-procedure, with the prosthesis in place.

Once anaesthetised, the dysfunctional tip of Baby’s rhinotheca was removed with a high speed diamond cutting wheel. Careful to avoid the neuro-vascular supply to the beak, two titanium dental posts were inserted into the horny portion of Baby’s rhinotheca. The surface of Baby’s rhinotheca was etched to improve grip and the adhesive for the prosthesis applied and cured with a UV light. The prosthetic rhinotheca was then moulded out of human denture resin sheets and carefully applied to ensure that the forces it exerted would be efficacious. Coming from a family background of human dental medicine, Dr Nemetz was confident that the composite was resilient, malleable, non-toxic and non-heat generating – perfect for the job.

The prosthesis sloughed as intended to reveal an anatomically normal and functional beak.

Baby was re-examined every 3 weeks to make sure that the prosthesis was not causing any adverse effects.  As expected, on-going wear meant that regular top-ups of composite were required to maintain the occlusal forces on the gnathotheca. Baby was able to eat solid food with the prosthesis on, but the results of the procedure could not be truly determined until the prosthesis came off. 11 weeks post-procedure, the prosthesis sloughed off naturally, as intended.  The procedure was deemed a huge success when it was evident that the beak malocclusion had reversed and Baby heartily displayed his ability to eat solid food without the aid of the prosthesis! One final visit to Dr. Nemetz saw minor re-shaping and smoothing of the beak before Baby was ‘signed off’.

6 months post-procedure, Baby is doing well and is fully weaned. He continues to sport an anatomically normal beak, maintained by typical occlusal forces. An intimate knowledge of the biomechanics of a normal psittacine beak combined with a unique application of dental composite allowed one vet to help this little bird finally grow up.

 

Thanks to Dr Nemetz and The BIRD Clinic for providing Baby’s story and photos.

Veterinary Bloggers…

It seems to have been a bit of a blogging whirlwind this last couple of months. We have been masquerading as a plucky, scruffy little dog called Merlin for Dorwest Herbs in a blog for their fireworks campaign. For the large animal audience, we have just launched an expert panel blog to share information about and discuss sub-clinical disease, including ketosis. There is also a fluke alert blog in the pipeline for Elanco and Susan has been merrily blogging away in her capacity as editor of new veterinary magazine VetPerspective – soon to be seen on a screen near you. Add managing our own blog here on the new Companion website to that little lot and we are becoming totes amazeballs bloggers.

Blogs are a fabulous way of using social media to share content. Great content is the only way to build and maintain a loyal audience, but allowing that to occur organically takes time. Many prolific and successful bloggers took over a year to really start gaining momentum with their followers. When we are blogging on behalf of companies or as part of a campaign though, that sort of time period is just not acceptable for results to be seen.

There are ways to accelerate a rise within the blogosphere though and we have a fair few tips and tricks up our sleeves. It takes a lot of hard work and some lateral thinking sometimes, but that is what we are all about here at Companion! It’s working well, with the Merlin blog receiving over 1400 views after two months, from all across the globe, with quite a surprise following in Slovenia, of all places!

We envisage more and more companies turning to online content as the way of spreading their messages and blogging is a fantastic way to achieve that. It’s incredible the information already out there on sites like Blogspot and WordPress. Hours can easily be lost reading about all the fascinating things that people get up to and have to say. Have a look around – you never know what you might find!

A New Breed of Veterinary Education?

A new vet school, due to be opened in 2014 by the University of Surrey, plans to apply a ‘One Health – One Medicine’ principle to its course structure. They say this means that the links between veterinary and human medicine will be embraced by the school in the development of their course. Initially accepting 25 candidates onto the undergraduate course in their first year, Surrey projects that from 2015 onwards, there will be 100 student places available per annum.

Based at the University of Surrey’s Manor Park site in Guildford, this new vet school will be the eighth in the UK, hot on the heels of the latest addition to the battery in 2006. Before Nottingham, there hadn’t been a new vet school opened in the UK for 50 years. Nottingham University’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science promises to offer a different kind of veterinary course, with practical, hands on, clinical experience from day one. With the inclusion of more diverse subject matters, such as their business stream, Nottingham hopes to produce well-rounded veterinary surgeons that are more adaptable to the modern world that the profession now exists in. By all accounts, the school is going from strength to strength.

Already offering a BSc in Veterinary Biosciences, an MSc in Veterinary Microbiology and with an MSc in veterinary pathology in development, Surrey University has existing strong links with some leading organisations, including the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA). Surrey has been in consultation with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) and is planning to deliver the veterinary course through collaborations with key partners, including the AHVLA, the BBSRC Pirbright Institute and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), as well as various local large practices. Students will also be exposed to global issues concerning animal health through the University Global Partnership Network (UGPN), an agreement between Surrey, North Carolina State and São Paulo Universities, offering teaching collaborations, summer scholarships and research exchanges.

Professor Andy Durham of the Liphook Equine Hospital, one of the proposed partner practices to the new school, thinks that Surrey will offer its students “an alternative to the traditional veterinary education”, allowing them to “respond to the demands of a changing profession with fresh plans, ideas and enthusiasm”.

With competition already fierce for new graduate jobs though, is there room in the UK for a new vet school? Lisa Roberts, dean of the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at Surrey, seems to think so. “By targeting areas where there are known shortages of vets in the UK including research, pathology and livestock medicine and tailoring our course in the way we plan to, Surrey University vet school graduates will be a very different type of veterinary graduate.”  Lisa also envisages Surrey being a leading centre of CPD and lifelong veterinary learning, so the existing vet population will also benefit from what Surrey has to offer.

But can any vet school education really stand out that much when the same basic education needs have to be covered and already fill the degree course timeframe in other schools? Or, in order to future proof the whole profession, does a more modern approach to veterinary education, like the one Surrey hopes to offer, need to be adopted?

Moving on from Practice

6 months after starting at Companion Consultancy, Emily Rackley reflects on her move from practice to ‘industry’ and how other vets can do the same:

I, like some of my colleagues at Companion Consultancy, was at one time a vet in practice. Whilst the life of a practising vet suit some well, the draw of a career in ‘industry’ was too great for me to resist and so I made that seemingly momentous move. The opportunities to engage an alternative way of thinking, be more creative and apply my experience and knowledge to a different set of problems from those seen in practice (although not always that different!) have allowed me to grow in a way that would never have happened otherwise. Whether my growth is better or worse compared to the alternative, I will never know, but where I am today validates my dogmatic dismissal of woeful friends and relatives who just could not understand why I was leaving everyone’s ‘dream job’. Secretly, I think they were actually more upset about the discounts on flea and worming treatments suddenly being taken away!

Despite many of the veterinary degree courses in the UK being very much aimed towards a career in practice, there are many vets, like me, who realise that it isn’t the life for them. This can happen months or years after graduation and holds absolutely no shame. I make this latter point because even now, vets still seem to be under the impression that a move to industry will be perceived by their peers as synonymous to flirting with the devil. This just isn’t true and the ones that do hold this opinion perhaps simply have absolutely no appreciation for how industry and practice rely on each other to exist.

A recent non-official online forum survey indicated that as many as 50% of UK practising vets desperately want to leave practice, but don’t know where to go or how to get there. Many have tried and failed, becoming disillusioned with the idea of ‘industry’ as an impenetrable fortress to all but a lucky few. To hark back to something that many vets will have heard throughout university, (with varying degrees of passion, depending on the views of the person delivering the comment) “You can do almost anything with a vet degree.” It sounds contrived, arrogant even, for the educators of the course to say this, but they are absolutely right.

They key is not a vets’ qualifications or their experience, it’s their mind set. Put aside the degree for a moment – a vet becomes a person again. A person with a wealth of interpersonal skills gained in sometimes the most adverse of conditions, making them all the stronger and adaptable. A person with an enquiring mind, suited perfectly to problem solving and possessing scientific and technical knowledge that far exceeds many other science graduates. A person with an indomitable work-ethic forged through years of out of hours exposure at university alone. Suddenly, this person seems very employable indeed, irrespective of their official ‘title’. Once vets that want to leave practice realise their skillset boasts extend far beyond ‘able to do a bitch spay in 30 minutes’, the world opens up like a flower around them.

So now the picture has suddenly become a lot bigger, where does a vet wanting to leave practice begin to look for their new, exciting role? So many vets fall at this hurdle by narrowing their perspective again. Never mind what is available with the word ‘veterinary’ in the title – vets need to ask themselves a few questions before trawling the job sites. What do they WANT to do? What do they ENJOY? What are they GOOD at? I am a vet that enjoys writing and being creative, but still wants science to feature in my work day, so I ended up doing what I do. Perhaps a vet enjoys the precision of surgery – knowing the rules and expected outcomes and so being part of the regulatory process would suit their exacting mind? Or maybe another vet takes great pleasure in solving people’s problems – would being a technical advisor satisfy their need to help? A gregarious vet who loves interacting with people could be fantastic salesperson… It’s about really drilling down to the things that make someone tick.

After the enlightenment comes the CV. A clinical CV differs markedly from an industry one. Indeed it goes further than that – a sales CV differs markedly from a technical advisor, charity or governmental role CV. It’s like looking at a sculpture from different angles – same imagery, different shapes. It is quite acceptable (and indeed sensible!) for a person to have 4 or 5 versions of a CV to send out, each highlighting a different take on that person’s overall skillset.

Talking to a good recruiter is a simple first step to achieving the right tone of a CV for a particular role. In fact a good recruiter is worth their weight in gold for the advice that they can give. With the BVA launching its first ever careers fair at the London Vet Show this year and many others available (just google ‘veterinary career fair’), the associations really do want to help all vets, including those that are interested in life outside practice.

The point is, leaving practice IS an option for every vet that wants it. It can’t be a push though, it has to be a pull. Yes, there may be dissatisfactions with practice life, but the opportunities, excitement and prospect for development of a new role have to be the driving forces behind a move for that move to be made objectively and be given the best chance of lasting. The phrase ‘out of the frying pan, into the fire’ is a good one to keep in mind.

Developing New Perspectives…

Susan McKay, Companion’s MD reports from the editorial coal face:

The last few months have been hectic as I’ve taken on the role of editor for a new veterinary publication. The VetPerspective Handbook is out in time for London Vet Show and hopefully will be a really good read. I know that I have enjoyed reading the various contributions sourced from people in practice and within the veterinary industry. Everyone has their own slant on things and I think it’s a nice mixture of new ideas, state of the nation reviews and a few hidden gems. The team at Ten Alps has done a brilliant job of holding my hand throughout my editorial debut – from explaining why I can’t introduce an article with the phrase ‘Read it and weep fat boy!’ to introducing me to the wonderful concept of the flat plan in all its various permutations.

Being an editor gives you a real appreciation for the importance of detail – something that as a notorious ‘blue sky’ thinker I have always struggled with. Luckily, PR provides the perfect background if you want to develop skills in the finer points of grammar. The bug is definitely catching though. We have long and tedious debates in the office about the difference between symptoms and clinical signs, where to put the semi-colons and the difference between dependent and dependant. At other times we are pondering the relative beauty of various cows or searching for just the right rabbit. I love my job!

I have to say though the biggest challenge has been writing a lengthy piece on what lies ahead for the veterinary industry. I’ve been polishing my crystal ball and the future still looks murky. I wonder what vets out there consider to be the big game changers for practice going forwards. Several pages in I felt I was still scratching the surface like a lazy Rhode Island Red. It will be interesting to hear the feedback and if you have any thoughts right here, right now, it would be great to hear them. It’s too late for additions to the final piece but there’s ample time to bring me out in a cold sweat over important omissions.

The important question then is would I do it all again? Watch this space for news on that front…

How much is a veterinary education worth?

Everyone can remember that ‘back to school’ feeling marking the end of summer. For the students from England that are due to pay up to £9,000 per year in tuition fees for the first time this autumn, there is perhaps more to worry about than just exams though. With the average debt for a student starting university in England in 2012 estimated to potentially top £59,000,1 it is no wonder that UCAS, the university admissions board, has seen a drop in applications. There are even claims of some universities having to launch advertising campaigns, just to fill places.

A weird twist in the tale is that vet schools seem to have escaped the slump in applications being experienced by almost all of the other faculties in their respective universities. That is despite all five English vet schools now charging the maximum £9,000 per year that they can by law. This means that students starting vet school this year can expect to graduate with a debt of £45,000 for tuition fees alone. Add to that maintenance loans to cover living costs and many vet students are facing entering their working life with the equivalent of a mortgage to repay.

Actually purchasing property and achieving other common financial life goals will be out of the question for many young vets. The average full remuneration package for a newly graduated vet entering into practice is worth £30,965,3. This figure is calculated to include provision of a car (if applicable), housing (if provided) and CPD allowance, so the average basic starting salary is actually much lower. There also seems to be a relatively small rise in salary as vets gain experience, with assistant vets anecdotally rarely achieving salaries above £45,000. When this earnings ceiling is compared to similarly qualified and experienced professionals, a huge gap is apparent. Doctors in the UK can look forward to earning a basic salary of up to £80,000 a year, rising to over £100,000 after specialisation. These figures do not include extra financial incentives that come with working above 40 hours a week – something that the majority of practising vets do for no extra pay.4

So why is this financial millstone not putting off prospective vet students? The prestige and high quality education associated with veterinary schools in the UK is no doubt greatly valued – perhaps students think it is still worth the newly inflated prices? Or perhaps the lure of a traditionally over-subscribed and challenging course coupled with a desperate desire to enter the veterinary industry is strong enough to push thoughts of finance from the minds of applicants entirely? Maybe the hard work and effort already put in by this years’ applicants, just to get to the point of application, would seem futile if they hadn’t followed through?

Whatever the reasons, only time will tell if the trend will continue as students become more savvy about the long term financial impacts and cost-benefit analysis associated with going to university. Maybe veterinary medicine has enough history, prestige and respect to be able to weather the storm? If so, then that is surely a fantastic sign of the quality of our vet schools and something to be proud of as a profession.

But what will happen to the veterinary profession as these future vets face financial hardship? It would be understandable if vets started demanding salaries more in line with those achieved by doctors. This will have an inevitable knock on effect on the price of veterinary services for clients, as practice owners struggle to balance the books. If the public are unprepared to pay more for their veterinary care, this could have a huge negative impact on the health of our nation’s pet population. The alternative is that practice owners will have to start being more innovative in their business models to earn extra revenue – certainly no bad thing but something that many business owners would argue they are already doing just to stand still. Perhaps more veterinary graduates will value themselves above what is offered by practice and move into other branches of the veterinary industry?

Despite the fee rises having no immediate obvious effect on applications to vet schools, it is hard to believe that the repercussions aren’t going to be felt in the years to come, whatever form they may take. The whole structure of the veterinary industry workforce could shift with possible unrest as vets battle to find a solution to their mounting financial worries. It will be interesting to see how a profession with such tradition and a history of what can sometimes only be described as financial martyrdom, will respond.

 

  1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-14488312 – Aug 2012
  2. http://www.ucas.ac.uk/about_us/media_enquiries/media_releases/2012/20120709 – Aug 2012
  3. SPVS oral correspondence
  4. http://www.nhscareers.nhs.uk/explore-by-career/doctors/pay-for-doctors/ – Aug 2012