Thursday, 22 December 2016

What is the ethos of BEVA's MumsVet?

Yesterday I had a frank conversation with a veterinary colleague and (male) friend about MumsVet. It was a really thought-provoking and interesting chat as always and I was reminded to be mindful that there are always two sides of every argument.

MumsVet was a concept developed by four female equine vets (our brilliant male committee member joined us later on…) to tackle the headaches and challenges posed by our jobs as equine veterinary surgeons. Despite a huge amount of advice on government websites and the like on safe working in pregnancy the equine field poses its own unique challenges that have historically relied on anecdotal advice from a “phone a friend” network.

MumsVet was launched to provide a support network and one-stop shop for advice and resources for Mums and Dads…and the colleagues that invariably end up stepping in to help support them. But what about employers? How does a pregnant assistant affect an equine veterinary business? Has anyone stopped to consider the effect of multiple maternity leave (s) on the on call rota of a small equine practice? My friend has had his fair share of assistants on maternity leave so knows the score in terms of ensuring his assistants are supported through pregnancy and maternity leave but realistically how does this affect his practice? We are all acutely aware of the fickle nature of equine clients and their “preferred vet” and the long process of ensuring a new member of the team is accepted by all of the equine clients, but what happens when two members of our team simultaneously announce they are pregnant? Suddenly the remaining vets (and often the long standing and already over worked assistants and partners?) have to shoulder the responsibility of calls because the client “won’t have anyone else”. Is this a problem of our own making?

Additionally, what happens when a prospective partner in your practice suddenly announces that she’s pregnant? Where does that leave you in terms of staff/budget/client complaint/workload responsibility for the next 9 (if you are lucky) months? How many potential partners do equine vet practices lose to motherhood? There are clearly some notable exceptions (and none other than our remarkable BumpVet blogger and her amazingly supportive practice) but what happens to private practice owners if the female vets all get pregnant and decide to work part time. Is this a feasible option or is corporate equine practice the only answer? Who is fighting the (male?) senior partner corner?

The answer is BEVA MumsVet. Scratch beneath the slightly misleading name (we liked it and Family Vet just didn’t have the same ring to it) and look at all of the inspiring real life stories, podcasts and resources. Part time working CAN work in practice and if employers embrace the concept of flexible working then they will hopefully be rewarded by experienced, hard working parents who are happy in their jobs and willing to give 100% effort albeit not full time in a traditional 8-6 role. There are plenty of people who have the experience and WANT to stay in the profession but is it possible to combine equine practice with family life?  A debate at BEVA congress 2015 which asked, "does equine practice need to change to be compatible with family life" showed 92% of the delegates voting in favor of the motion. This was reiterated by the 2016 BEVA congress session about alternative careers where Anna Hammond discussed the benefits of part time working... But how can we help employers?!

MumsVet was created both to support employees (mums AND dads) but also employers and we must not lose sight of that. Employers (and specifically small businesses) have a tough time with logistics when considering maternity leave/pregnancy health and safety issues/employing the right vet too. We aren't talking about the multi-national businesses here like Apple and Google; pregnancy/maternity OR paternity leave and the ramifications of covering the subsequent work load with our demanding equine clientele are a really difficult task. We must absolutely support our pregnant equine vets (and those on maternity and paternity leave) but spare a thought for the employers as well. If we want to continue the "family feel" of independent equine practices rather than the cooperate feel of "VetsRus" small animal comparisons then we absolutely need to work together. Part time vets have benefits for employers too (a full share of the OOH rota means everyone does less on-call for instance) so we need to look at opportunities rather than threats of flexible working. BEVA is mindful of supporting ALL of our members as feminization of our profession increases. We are currently working on a "BEVA family-friendly practice" toolkit to support employers and employees and would welcome member comments on this blog or to 

Friday, 9 December 2016

Maslow’s Hierarchy Part 2 – Your Role

This may be a philosophical view point but in essence I can only describe my personal view on trying to scale the pyramid. As suggested each of us will have a different emphasis and this will depend on stage of life, life experience, and any on any ascertained goals or desires. Whilst this may not be exclusively relevant to veterinary life I hope my view could be translated, bits poached or indeed rejected as fanciful by anyone.

In describing Maslow’s hierarchy I fairly firmly placed the emphasis on how the job or your employers can empower or provide an environment for personal and professional growth. In an altruistic environment this would be ideal but as we know and have experiences of, vet practices are not necessarily geared towards the actual vet. Richard Branson coined perhaps an idealistic view of his companies by saying “you need to train someone so well that they could leave, but look after them better so that they won’t.” If only. But if this isn’t the case, what should you do to keep striving?

There is a book by Rhonda Byrne called “The Secret” which highlights the Law of Attraction. This suggests that we all have the ability to acquire whatever it is that we want as long as we go about it the right way. I’m always extremely dubious of psychobabble but increasingly have the view that my actions, in combination with the right preparation, understanding and conditions means that reaching a defined goal can be achieved or at least pulled a little bit closer. I’ll give you another quote, this time from Henry Ford, “whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.”

In any practice, as a team member, you have a big contribution to make. You could define it specifically – conditions to understand, clients and colleagues to communicate with, drugs to order etc. But it is far simpler than that. A true team member will be someone whose behavior feeds positive energy. A strong belief in your ability to get “the job” done will allow you to be assertive, decisive, patient, reflective and supportive.

Your thinking will be empowered and you will find yourself in a position to move forward. Let me give you an example to mull over. In 1954 Roger Bannister broke the 4 minute mile. Medics claimed that running at such speed would make a persons’ heart explode. When Bannister broke the record in1954, thirty seven did it in 1955, and over two hundred in 1956. Belief was all it took.

Again, I hear you shout, what has this to do with the practicality of veterinary life? The answer is in “challenge.” The challenge to attain a better salary, to attain a directorship, to attain a certificate…… That challenge to you should be the challenge to everyone around you. A mutually beneficial relationship of worthy colleagues, substantial people, and recognized characters who gain from their investment in a positive, motivated you and you from them. You work openly toward your defined goal with honesty and positivity, and your associates aid you in that pathway reaping the benefits you bring.

It is true that such relationships can be hard to find, or be easy to lose and that any relationship is dynamic and the nature of give and take can change. Ultimately your input into the role and the output you receive may run its course. This is not failure, but simply a natural conclusion and it is, nor should be, a reflection on either party so long as effort and respect was maintained. Things will not always go to plan but these “things” are often outside of our control and influence. Losing sleep over them will simply make you tired.

The essence of the amble is this: allow yourself to be successful. Set a goal that is worthwhile to you, a goal that will stretch you while still being attainable, and that by reaching that goal you’ll be recognized as a more valuable person by your colleagues and more importantly by you. Relax the “have to” achieve thought process and change it to “allow yourself” to achieve.

Ben Sturgeon

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

What is a good job? Fulfilling your hierarchy (Part One)

It is not uncommon to be asked “why did you become a vet?” And with a certain exasperated sigh and life flashing before the eyes thousand mile stare, your answer will be stock: “I care about animals.” When perhaps really what you actually meant was “all those years ago, I did care about animals, science and medicine excited me, knowledge excited me, I thought the money would be good, vets drove a good car, and…….. there was a certain level of kudos.”

But when asked 10 to 20 years later, you realise it was all smoke and mirrors. You still do care about animals. But do they care about you? Do they **$!

Almost every survey on the veterinary profession returns depressing figures of poor job satisfaction, and with it the unedifying relationship with mental health. In any other profession, this would and should not just set alarms bells ringing but call in the fire brigade.

In 1943 an American psychologist Abraham Maslow presented the theory that human actions are directed toward goal attainment (“A Theory of Human Motivation”). This is a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, starting from mere physiological subsistence, to belonging to a social circle, eventually in pursuing your talent and culminating in self-actualization.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has often been represented in a hierarchical pyramid with five levels. The base levels are considered physiological needs, while the top levels are considered growth needs. Vitally, any lower level needs must be satisfied before higher-order needs can occur, and if the deficiency needs aren't satisfied, the person will feel the deficit, with potential clinical results, and this will stifle his or her development.

* Physiological – air, food, water, sex, sleep.
* Safety – security of environment, employment, resources, health, property.
* Belongingness – love, friendship, intimacy, family.
* Esteem – confidence, self-esteem, achievement, respect.
* Self-actualization – morality, creativity, problem solving.

When Maslow's hierarchy is applied to work situations, it implies that managers/partners/directors have the responsibility, firstly, to ensure the deficiency needs are met. This means, in broad terms, a safe environment and proper wages. Secondly, it implies creating a proper climate in which vets can develop their full potential. Failure to do so often results in frustration, poor performance, low job satisfaction, and increased withdrawal from the organization and even within the individual. Achieving it would mean the reverse; a motivated, engaged and happy vet and the practice would be regarded as a more considerate, supportive and interested organisation.

Importantly good leaders/managers need to have this level of understanding if they are to be in a position to motivate. And to be a good leader and manager you need to recognise that people are different and at different stages in their development or hierarchy. Some people come to work to earn money (existence needs) but have no desire either to get on with others (belongingness needs), or earn promotion (growth needs). Others work to meet people and have a personal challenge and sense of achievement (belongingness needs). Others work to gain experience to get promotion (growth needs). For others, it may be a combination of these. How you go about influencing or motivating these needs is up to you and depends upon the person. For example, existence needs may mean simply paying someone enough, belongingness needs may be improved communication, recognition and praise; and growth needs may be training, encouraging creativity, involvement in practice decisions, new challenges etc.

So to return to the title – “what is a good job?” A good job is one which satisfies your needs. Your needs at the time and your potential needs as you develop.

Ben Sturgeon