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Government Vets

VPHA and AGV Autumn Conference: A Reflection

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The VPHA logo featuring a cow, sheep, sea gull, dog and tree

The 10-17 October 2020 was the Veterinary Public Health Association (VPHA) and Association of Government Vets (AGV) conference entitled ‘Mining Diamond’s’. This was the first virtual conference by the VPHA and AGV and hosted a series of presentations on one health on areas such as international trade and the global trade on insects.

To give an overview of the course, Osiris Ointa from Food Standards Scotland talks about his experiences of the event. Osiris works as a Lead Official Veterinarian (OV) and Certifying Officer (CO) for Food Standards Scotland (FSS), protecting Public Health, Animal Health and Animal Welfare, ensuring compliance with the relevant legislation and delivering export certification respectively. He has recently been appointed Field Veterinary Coordinator (FVC) for FSS.

The first part of the conference consisted of pre-recorded presentations from a lineup of speakers representing different fields of Veterinary Public Health (VPH). Next, all delegates were divided into four discussion groups chaired by students from different UK vet schools. I joined the last session, involving vets from a wide range of academic and civil service backgrounds, looking at the important questions on what the UK veterinary profession had done in the last 60 years to benefit humans, animals, and the environment (One Health-VPH). We discussed ways in which UK vets could have had more of an effect in this field. There was also discussion between senior and young vets in veterinary public health, along with vet students, on what the UK veterinary profession needs to do more of in the future by investing in One Health concepts and principles, and which disciplines need to become more elaborative to be taught at UK vet schools. This was a great chance to contribute ideas on the past, present and future role of the veterinary profession in One Health.

At the conference I had a great opportunity to draw on my experiences and share my own ideas and perspective, making contributions throughout the discussion. I was impressed by how the discussion groups welcomed new ideas on shaping the future of veterinary public health.

The final live conference session, open to all delegates, was for the vet students to feed back to the conference through discussions between the graduates and undergraduates. On reflection, this was a fascinating opportunity for me to attend a conference of VPH colleagues from a wide range of disciplines and level of experience, to discuss in a relaxed and stimulating environment this vital aspect of One Health.

The conference involved a session where current veterinary students talked to current government vets about their experiences but also debated topics relevant to the profession. Here are some thoughts of two of the students involved;

Jennifer Simpson (Final year vet student, University of Cambridge)

  • What were the main experiences you took away from the conference?

The participation by so many graduate vets and non-vets from diverse veterinary and non-veterinary career paths in the virtual conference was also inspirational. As students, we really appreciated the time given by experienced members of the profession to share their experiences, insights and perspectives on the past, present and future contributions of the veterinary profession to One Health.

  • What were the main bits of information you learnt about the government?

There were several insights into the roles of different government departments throughout the conference. One area that stood out to me was the important role of vets in trade. DEFRA has a hugely important role in international movements of animals and animal products and safeguarding animal health, welfare and public health. The importance of trust and transparency through international trade was also emphasised.

  • How did the conference change your perceptions of the profession?

The conference was eye opening in highlighting the huge diversity of roles that vets are filling outside of clinical practice, using the hard and soft skills from veterinary training in so many different contexts. Discussions throughout the conference week also highlighted the important role of every veterinary clinician in One Health, and the potential for using the broad interface of vets with the public on a daily basis as a platform for education on public health. As an outcome of the conference, I look to carry a high level of consciousness about the principles of veterinary public health into clinical practice, to use every opportunity to communicate the principles of One Health to clients and colleagues and to demonstrate responsibility towards not only the animals in our care, but the people they are in contact with and the environment we share.

  • What are your future career ambitions?

I am hoping to begin work in small animal clinical practice to consolidate and develop the practical and communication skills of a veterinary practitioner. However, I am open to opportunities outside of clinical practice in the future and have a particular interest in food systems and policy. I would hope to apply my veterinary skills in different ways throughout my career to have a beneficial effect on humans, animals and the environment.

A photo of a person and a dog in a field

Susannah Simpson (4th year vet student, University of Cambridge)

  • What were the main experiences you took away from the conference?

I appreciated being part of the conference in running the Cambridge University student debate and presenting the findings from this debate at the roundup session. It was interesting to see how the ideas presented by students compared with the ideas which were recorded from the session by those more experienced in veterinary public health and government veterinary work. I was encouraged by the enthusiasm shown and the willingness to embrace the changes suggested by students to improve the role of vets in One Health and particularly in One Health teaching at vet schools in the UK.

  • What were the main bits of information you learnt about government veterinary work and veterinary public health from the conference?

The conference highlighted to me that the role of vets in veterinary public health is vital for the safety of many aspects of society. For example, the availability of safe food, particularly meat based products, to the public is dependent on the work of vets. I also learnt about how vets are a crucial part in creating and enforcing the legislation surrounding trade, particularly around the import and export of animal produce.

  • How did the conference change your perceptions of the profession?

The conference highlighted the fact that there are many roles which vets play in One Health and made me appreciate that the veterinary profession in very diverse.

  • What are your future career ambitions?

I would be keen to remain a vet in clinical practice and continue with further training. However, I would like to gain experience of the work of vets involved in government as I train as a vet and if possible do a placement with the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA). I would like to keep my options open at this stage and become proficient in as many fields as possible.

You can find the report and summary of the conference on the VPHA’s website and instructions on how to catch up on the talks on the AGV’s website.

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