Vets who work with farm animals are facing increasing challenges to their professional standing and need to increase and promote their disease prevention services, according to new research by The University of Nottingham’s Vet School.
The study published in Preventative Veterinary Medicine set out to investigate farm vets’ perceptions of current challenges to the profession and attempts to redressing what is seen as a worrying ‘de-professionalisation’ of the field. This is the first study that explores if and how vets are responding to the challenges facing the profession.
Researchers targeted veterinarians working in businesses with RCVS Farm Animal Accreditation to carry out an extensive qualitative survey of their experience in face to face interviews. A total of 28 vets, 21 male and 7 female, from areas with a variety of high, medium and low density farm animal populations took part in the study which was carried out over a four month period.
Threats to vets
Research Fellow, Dr Orla Shortall , said: “Farm animal vets in the UK have faced various challenges in recent decades related to the withdrawal of government funding and a contraction of the agricultural sector. They have been under pressure to respond by focusing on disease prevention advisory services but have been in competition with other providers in this area. We believe that if this is not addressed it could lead to a loss of farm vets’ monopoly over knowledge, a loss of work autonomy and an erosion of livestock farmers’ trust in their vet services.”
Dr Jasmeet Kaler, Lecturer in Epidemiology and Farm Animal Health, added: ” We found the majority of the farm vets we interviewed did recognise the challenges facing their profession. Most believed their role had changed, moving towards that of a disease prevention adviser who was part of the farm management team. In terms of maintaining and redefining their professional status, farm animal vets do have a defined body of knowledge and the ability to develop trusting relationships with clients, which enhances their competitiveness.
“But, while they recognise the changes and challenges, moves towards a disease prevention advisory model have only been partial. There seem to be little effort towards using farm accreditation status or other strategies to promote their services. They do not appear to be finding effective strategies for putting their knowledge on disease prevention into practice. Disease prevention appears to be delivered on farm on an ad hoc basis, they are not promoting their disease prevention services to farmers effectively or using their professional position to stave off competition.”
'A changed profession'
Some key comments participating vets gave to the survey were:
“It’s a very changed profession. We were very much a ‘fire brigade’ service and we’ve now moved so much further into that consultancy work. That is what has really come on from that, being 10 per cent of the job to being 50 per cent of my job and 100 per cent of some colleagues.”
“I think we are a profession with a very strong eye to the future whether it’s antimicrobial resistance or food security. So we are a profession with a lot to be proud of but we are also a profession that has got to look at itself and say ‘I think a lot of the failings of [biosecurity] have got to be pointed hard at vets really and it’s very important that we learn those lessons and move, move a long way forward”.
“I feel quite awkward going out to push disease prevention, as it looks as though we’re then trying to sell something for our own gain. Whereas, if a farmer has an issue, if we can suddenly pick up with their issue and shove information at them then I think they’re more receptive to us. But to coldly hit them with information, I find your credit is lost at times. You’re looking for work which in their opinion isn’t really there.”
“I feel that as a profession historically, what we’ve always done is be paid for disease and therefore potentially a farmer’s worst day can be our best day and I think we’ve got to change. That isn’t going to happen overnight and it isn’t going to happen for all our farmers but I think, you know, working with some of these more progressive guys and saying you know ‘let’s talk about the kind of, not just the normal pence per litre contract but let’s talk about how we might do that so you can come to us and pick up the phone and ask for the advice. Because actually you know it is already being paid for.”
The findings suggest that farm animal veterinarians were aware of a range of threats to their position in the market place. They identified threats that emanated from both within the profession and from outside the profession. Internally, a key challenge being faced was competition from other farm animal businesses which were corporatizing and seeking to expand their market.
The Nottingham study concludes that farm animal vets will need to adapt their veterinary expertise to the demands of the market and work together rather than in competition. The investigation also recommends vets improve their skills in preventative medicine, consolidate information given by non-veterinary advisors and develop new business models and entrepreneurial skills to demonstrate their market value if they are to avoid becoming marginalised.
The full paper in the Elsevier journal, Preventative Veterinary Medicine, is available here.
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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with a “distinct” approach to internationalisation, which rests on those full-scale campuses in China and Malaysia, as well as a large presence in its home city.’ (Times Good University Guide 2016). It is also one of the most popular universities in the UK among graduate employers and the winner of ‘Outstanding Support for Early Career Researchers’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2015. It is ranked in the world’s top 75 by the QS World University Rankings 2015/16, and 8th in the UK by research power according to the Research Excellence Framework 2014. It has been voted the world’s greenest campus for three years running, according to Greenmetrics Ranking of World Universities.
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