The changing face of veterinary care

I HAVE now reached that age where the word reminisce has entered my vocabulary. Two recent, but very diverse, events have highlighted this coming of age.

Firstly, the loss in July of a very dear friend and colleague, William (Bill, Willie) Caufield.

Willie, as he was known by his younger colleagues, graduated from the ‘Dick’ Vet School in Edinburgh in 1951. It was in the time before BVSc degrees were awarded so he was ‘just’ a BSc and very proud of the fact.

He entered a veterinary world filled with farm animals, pit ponies, working dogs and racing greyhounds, but few pets. Vets provided their own out-of-hours rota, often one in two nights on call, and there were no mobile phones so it was handy to have a wife (or a husband if you were one of the very few female vets) who could take messages. There was always plenty of help on the farms and a farmer’s wife to pass on messages and provide a reviving cup of tea.

Leisure horses tended to be stabled in close proximity to their owners rather than in livery yards, dogs were fed diets of table scraps and cats rarely warranted being presented to the vet. Consultations at the surgery were relatively few and most of his time was spent out and about in all weathers. This veterinary surgeon is almost unrecognisable today. My generation is probably the last that produced the truly mixed practitioner. We are still a mixed practice and new graduates like to start their career with us as they can get experience in all facets of their profession, but veterinary medicine has moved on in leaps and bounds and now there is such a vast amount to be learned that specialisation begins much earlier. Many practices have out-of-hours services provided by a centralised emergency clinic to improve work/life balance, but the more rural practices such as ours have kept that provision in-house and our clients prefer it.

The second event that made me realise how much the interaction with our clients and patients had changed occurred while putting the practice on Twitter. A significant proportion of clients communicate with the practice via our website, Facebook and now Twitter. It is becoming as routine to deal with inquiries through these media as it is to answer the phone. Even I am becoming surgically attached to my iPad, much to the chagrin of my husband, but I have no intention of being left behind.

One day I’m sure our patients will be barcoded, arrive at a drive-thru style surgery, go through scanners, be diagnosed and treated without ever seeing a vet, but until then, the art of veterinary medicine is, albeit in a different form compared to 1951, still alive and kicking.