As started in my last article, I am highlighting several of the more positive features to emerge from the early years of my career.
Diagnostic aids were not so advanced and veterinary surgeons lacked the scientific training of today. This often meant that both their clinical skills and their common sense were more highly developed, and I was privileged to learn from them, with beneficial results. For example I was able to palpate an impaction the size of a hazelnut in the intestine of a vomiting dog. Subsequent surgery enabled the removal of a clump of sweetcorn husks that an X-ray wouldn’t have detected. Delays before treatment and expense to the owner were both minimised.
The practice where I had my first assistantship had a golden rule of each client seeing their vet of choice, despite there being six vets. At first I had to wait for a newly registered client who would be allocated to myself. This was an excellent idea because clients saw the vet of their own choice, continuity was ensured and problems arising through miscommunication were minimised. Indeed I find that the most frequent reason clients transfer from other practices is “we saw a different vet each time”.
When I joined my third practice, I found the owner to be very progressive. The practice was equipped to the highest standards of the time and the owner introduced two ideas, which did not acheive universal acceptance within the veterinary profession until relatively recent times.
The first idea was to encourage each vet to develop a particular skill or interest. This in house expertise on feline medicine, orthopaedics, ophthalmology and heart-lung disease soon evolved. The practice encouraged attendance of courses. Another fifteen years were to pass before the Royal College introduced Certificate Education at practice level. Prior to this, vets tended to “try their hand at everything and all species” with mixed results!
The second idea should have achieved universal acceptance much earlier than it did. The veterinary profession has traditionally worked a very long day, accommodating clients in evening surgeries so that they could attend after work, so a typical working day in vet’s life would often not finish until after 7.00pm, then if a vet was on duty he or she would have to be available for emergencies until the following morning. Such vets would naturally want to relax; therefore out-of-hours callers were often sidestepped if the problem did not appear to be urgent. If an emergency requiring prompt surgery arose, then additional risks would occur if the tired vet were unable to concentrate fully. Sometimes, vets on duty would operate without adequate support staff. All this would arise after a prolonged, stressful, “normal” working day, during which vets had to see their clients at excessively frequent intervals giving themselves inadequate time to work properly. Does your vet give you as much time as your solicitor or accountant? It is no wonder that the profession had one of the highest rates of alcoholism, suicide and divorce.
My progressive employer simply divided the working day into two parts. The day staff worked from 9am to 5pm while a completely fresh vet, nurse and receptionist worked from 5pm until midnight. The advantages of this “shift” system were: -
Firstly. Staff were on the spot and fresh for duty instead of having to be called out from their homes. Emergencies after midnight were very rare, when the vet was at home.
Secondly. An increased workload could be accommodated without the need to extend or alter the premises.
Thirdly. Clients were able to make routine appointments at any time of the day up to 9.30 pm.
Fourthly. The practice benefited from both an improved reputation and increased profits.
Finally. There were no problems recruiting new staff.
My employer offered this facility to the neighbouring practices but no interest was shown. Since then, attitudes have gradually changed because an increasing number of vets are unwilling to be on call after a full days work. The recently introduced European Working Time Directive has finally laid such working conditions to rest. Hence in Derby for instance, there are now two Emergency Clinics providing an out-of-hours emergency service for clients of all the local veterinary practices. These clinics came into existence thirty years after my far-sighted employer introduced his own out-of-hours emergency shift system.
8th March 2005.