Incoming BSAVA President John Chitty wants to build firm foundations for the future of veterinary science, with a vision of holistic support for the whole profession to increase enjoyment of their vocation, as the mantel is passed on by Susan Dawson at the BSAVA Congress AGM.
John Chitty will use his year in office to widen the BSAVA’s support for the small animal veterinary profession beyond the clinical expertise that has been the organisation’s mainstay for the past 60 years. He feels passionately that the challenges of the future must be met by helping practitioners as individuals as well as veterinary professionals.
John is honoured to be the figurehead as one of almost 300 volunteers who make a difference to members across the UK each year – it is an organisation run by the profession, for the profession. He is proud of the many facets of great work at the BSAVA – from education, publications, and a world-class Congress to regional events, almost 20 affiliative partnerships and valuable support services.
“The BSAVA is very well placed to help our profession better understand the changing challenges we face, including personal development which is just as relevant (and recordable) as clinical training. If we are not functioning as people, we are not going to function as professionals.
“I am very interested in expanding the great range of resources the BSAVA offers and working out how we fill in the gaps to provide holistic support for every individual, so we need to back up our words with actions and build indefinitely for the entire profession.
“According to conventional wisdom, my work life balance is probably pretty poor to be honest, but I do enjoy my work which counterbalances the times when the ‘life’ aspect isn't so agreeable. It is also important to support members to keep going through the bad days, it’s absolutely what happens in your practice that shapes your view of the profession. I understand what it is like, you get to do things that can have a profound effect on your clients, whether it goes well or badly.”
John is a proud supporter of the Mind Matters initiative and is delighted that BSAVA continues to provide this as a resource for members in his year as President.
This year at Congress two new initiatives were introduced as part of these projects. Catherine Oxtoby from VDS and Lizzie Lockett from RCVS ran a workshop on ‘Blame and shame: lost learning in the veterinary profession’ and the second initiative was Vet Confessionals, set up initially by a vet student in New Zealand.
John said: “I know from experience that mistakes happen in practice, and that reactions to these often cause more of a problem than the mistake itself. Understanding that we are human and therefore less than infallible is the first step; understanding how to react to mistakes, evaluate them and learn from them is what reduces their happening again.
“Similarly, we all have secrets, mistakes we have stored up, problems, fears and anxieties we keep locked away. Generally, we feel we are the only ones who feel these but when we talk to others we find many others feel the same, and are very happy to share their experiences.
“The bottom line is that isolation is avoidable and the Vet Confessional helps facilitate that first step as an anonymous way of airing your secret or fear - these were displayed allowing others to join in and comment and offer support. This is a worldwide project and responses are collated as part of a global view of the profession, its problems and how we can cope with these.”
John’s route to BSAVA President started when working with the publications department as an author and editor for the manual series (mainly Raptors, Pigeons and Passerine Birds, Psittacine Birds, Rabbit Surgery, Dentistry, and Imaging). He subsequently became Chair of Education where he says he ‘caught the bug’ for education and teaching in general.
“I have always enjoyed lecturing and teaching EMS students, so meeting and working with our Education team really opened my eyes, and this has been a major driver for some of the themes in the next year.”
In his first years of veterinary medicine, John was mainly a farm vet but as the work drifted away and the animals disappeared he became more involved in small animal veterinary science, more serendipitously than planned.
“The key moment was when one of the guys who taught me was semi-retiring at the Hawk Conservancy Trust so I stepped into his shoes and everything has changed from there. I moved into exotics because it’s new, it’s different, there aren’t so many of us and it’s interesting, but it just sort of happened and now it’s all I do.”
John is very driven by new opportunities and is keen to inspire the next generation of vets and vet nurses to find enjoyment in their work. He has also enjoyed being a BSAVA volunteer and encouraged others to follow in his footsteps.
“I use the analogy of hockey – I enjoyed playing the game but what I missed after retiring was the training and camaraderie of the team. Volunteering gives that to you in the same way, it’s part of the team thing, so you get more out if you put more in.
“This year is about supporting every individual to find ways to enjoy themselves at work, because fundamentally it’s a pretty good job and you can do lots of things to make it more enjoyable. The thing that drives me is seeing something new and thinking ‘I could do that’. For example, getting a CT scanner this year has pushed me into learning a whole a new technique and it has been such fun.”
John is keen to encourage others in the same way as he was supported to move jobs.
“We always have young vets in the surgery and I have always done EMS teaching which has been about GPs. The advice I will always give is to not be scared to go out there, try new things, enjoy the job and reflect on what you have done, in order to improve.
“I am really lucky to be part of a large volunteer team and the commitment of all these members - whether past presidents or committee members - is inspiring and definitely makes the organisation what it is today. Following in the footsteps of my presidential predecessors means I have a much easier job this year - the organisation is in good health and I hope to keep it that way. I must also pay tribute to the support we receive from Woodrow House - the team go way beyond the call of duty and we really couldn't function without them.”
About John Chitty BVetMed CertZooMed CBiol MRSB MRCVS
John graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in 1990 and then gained an RCVS Certificate in Zoological Medicine in 2000. Initially he worked mainly in farm practice, moving into more small animal practice and then into exotics and zoo practice
John is currently a co-director (his wife is the main shareholder) of a small animal and exotics practice in Andover, Hampshire and keeps busy with a full avian, exotic, and small mammal caseload.
He has two daughters in their twenties, now both at university (and both at Royal Holloway) - neither are vets, with one doing a PhD in plant biology, the other studying Comparative Literature.
John also works as a consultant to seven zoological collections, a commercial laboratory and the Great Bustard Reintroduction project, and serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Exotic Pet Medicine. He is just finishing a stint as President of the European Association of Avian Veterinarians.
In his spare time, John is an avid fan of sports, in particular cricket, and loves to collect old books, especially 1920-39 cricket books and Darwinia. He also really enjoys cooking, wines, and real ales.