As a young vet, it’s a pleasant bonus when you get your first pay cheque. At last, after years of austerity, there is more coming in than going out. Soon after that, the hard costs of being a vet become apparent: the annual registration fee for the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and your professional indemnity insurance with VDS are the most significant ones. If you’re lucky, your employer may pay these for you, but it’s still taken into account when reckoning your take home pay. Perhaps for the first time, you discover that there is a real ongoing financial cost to being able to make that statement: “I am a vet”. These costs can be particularly hard to bear if you are a part time vet, or a Locum.
And these are just the compulsory payments: there’s also the optional membership fees for a number of veterinary organizations: the British Veterinary Association (BVA), the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) and the Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons (SPVS) are likely to be competing for your attention, asking you to be a member (for an annual fee, of course).
If you have a particular interest in a niche of the veterinary world (such as dermatology, orthopaedics, behaviour or diagnostic imaging), you’ll soon discover that there is yet another layer of organizations that you can choose to join, again depending on you coughing up a significant sum to support their activities.
So is it worth joining such groups? And if so, which ones?
I have a strong view on this, and my answers are yes, you should sign up, and you should join as many organizations as you can afford. If their membership is made up of people doing the type of work that you do, then you should join. We are a small profession, and the truth is that if we want to make changes in our own working lives, as well as in the wider arena that we work in, then we will only be able to do this if we club together to cooperate as much as possible. This is the reason why these organizations were originally set up, and it’s why they continue to thrive. The biggest reason for high membership fees and a perceived lack of action by any of these groups is simple: they are not supported by enough people. If all of the vets who fitted the profile of a suitable member joined up, the annual subs would be halved per head, and the impact of the organization on improving the lives of members would be doubled.It’s easy to look at the money spent on signing up, and to think to yourself “I don’t get enough out of that to make it worth it”. But I would take a different approach: if, in theory, you agree with the objectives of the organization, then you should sign up, pay the fees, and make an effort to ensure that you get the right value.
In fact, I’d go further than that: I’d suggest that you choose your favorite, most appropriate organizations, and you offer your services as an active member. You may start off as a junior committee member, but you’ll soon discover that hard work and enthusiasm is so appreciated that you will rise in the ranks, soon becoming an influencer and decision maker. You will find yourself in the position of making a difference in your own profession, and it will feel good.
By the way, you will also discover a range of fringe benefits, such as free registration for CPD if you volunteer to be on duty at the desk at the event, or having travel expenses covered to meetings which may allow you to spend time in the Big Smoke (with theatre, art galleries and other cultural perks on tap) that you don’t normally manage to visit.
And more importantly, you may find that your enthusiasm for your profession is rekindled. You’ll discover that fellow committee members are in the same boat as yourself, perhaps fed up with aspects of their professional lives but enthused about others. You will discover a sense of camaraderie that takes you back to your days of being a student at vet college.
It’s easy to be skeptical about veterinary organizations, but they are there for you, and they are made up of people like you. Sign up, volunteer, and make the most of them. If you don’t, you are missing an enjoyable trick.