How times have changed for vets

LAST weekend I took my mother-in-law for a tour of our fantastic new Alnwick surgery and while there took a trip to Barter Books.

My mother-in-law found me ‘Veterinary counter practice — a treatise on the disease of animals’ published in the 1920s.

It explains that anyone wanting to enter the veterinary profession must be proficient in reading aloud, English grammar with parsing, geography of Europe and Latin, specifically the first book of Caesar’s commentaries.

Having achieved entry into one of the then three vet schools, a student would spend three years and 43 pounds, 1 shilling, on their education. I think my younger colleagues would have looked favourably on three years at £43 compared with up to £54,000 over a six-year course.

Reading through the remedies, it is apparent how much therapies have moved on; quinine, pulverised belladonna and infusion of oak — all administered at night in a quart of hot ale. I suspect that reflected the kill or cure outlook.

The book made me nostalgic about a time I’ve never known. When I started practice in Yorkshire 18 years ago the then senior partner would reflect on his time as a young assistant under the practice principle Victor Lesley. Being summoned to a sick cow ‘up-dale’, packing his panniers and setting off on horseback with the expectation he would return two days later, knowing that any farmer would put him up.

Whilst I am aware of a vet on the Outer Hebrides who, in light of the ferry crossings, can still expect overnight call-outs, most farmers would find it disconcerting if their vet rocked up with sleeping bag and pyjamas.

Even 30 years ago things were very different. My father as a young vet worked extremely hard (as he still does), but whilst every other night and weekend on duty, and pit pony inspections on his Sundays off, would be considered intolerable now, I remember at quieter times that Dad would collect us from school at 3pm. If I tried to walk out at three o’clock my colleagues would consider me to be skiving.

The modern 24-hour Tesco-extra culture means our clientele expect routine appointments from 8am to 7.30pm and Saturdays. Advancements in veterinary medicine have further increased expectations. Blood samples can be processed in house, clinical records can be communicated by email and digital x-rays can be appraised by a colleague in a different part of the county.

Whilst these improvements benefit animals, clients and vets alike, it means vets will spend two hours a day responding to phone calls, emails and post-it notes.

We appreciate the benefits of the modern world, but when pursued by an irate client demanding results for a routine six-monthly blood test collected less than two hours previously there is temptation to point out how long she would wait for her doctor to get back with equivalent results, or to recall the patience of those Yorkshire farmers as Mr Lesley meandered his way ‘up-dale’ on horseback.