Veterinary events and their legacy

3 May 2022

In the days that follow a large-scale event such as the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) Congress, there’s always a period of reflection. As the adrenaline brought about by the anticipation, excitement and buzz of the event wears off, I find it is replaced by a quiet calm as my mind processes the wealth of information it has absorbed and my feet recover from being in smart shoes all day (and most of the night). This year’s congress was no different, though the lens I saw it through certainly was. In many ways, being president facilitated a more holistic perspective, as the position naturally means you touch on everything, from the strategic to the tactical.

There is no doubt that BSAVA Congress 2022 was a resounding success, with the breadth and depth of the programme attracting a significant proportion of the UK’s veterinary profession, as well as many veterinary professionals from further ashore. The new structure and format piqued the curiosity of many individuals, and, judging from the feedback I’ve received, exceeded expectations.

This year’s exhibition sat against the backdrop of Manchester Central; with its history and natural light, it was a warm and welcoming environment in which to host Congress. The impact of daylight on mental health and well-being has been well documented. So, I’m sure those packing in three full days of intense CPD (plus the extra-curricular activities) will have benefited from this light, through better maintenance of their circadian rhythms.

This seemingly small detail had a big impact, and the theme of mental health was echoed and augmented in the Wellbeing Zone. Sponsored by IDEXX, the Wellbeing Zone provided space for the likes of MMI, VetLife, BVA, BVCIS, BVEDS and BVLGBT+ to provide a series of sessions which looked at making the workplace happier and healthier, feeding the busy person, energy-saving life-hacks and pacing. The practical advice given in these sessions was, in some cases, apparently “easy” or “obvious”, yet evidence and experience show that when we take shortcuts (skip the run and replace lunch with biscuits and fizzy drinks, for example), their effects are profound.

Also in the exhibition hall, exhibitors took the opportunity to engage with their communities. While Vetoquinol’s climbing wall was an irresistible draw to those with a competitive streak, IMV Imaging used the event to deliver personal service and an interactive explanation of its product. Virtual Recall was also a highlight of the exhibition for me – considerable time and energy had clearly gone into their creative and engaging stand. The Zoetis Learning Academy was another new concept for Congress this year. Pharmaceutical companies are great allies of the veterinary profession and I’m delighted we’ve been able to facilitate a platform wherein Zoetis could take the time to share their research with the congress community.

I’m delighted that the committee’s aim to bring some of the “softer” skills into the core of the programme was also a triumph. Personally, I don’t like the term “soft skills” as it belittles their importance and implies they are a “nice-to-have” skill rather than an important part of a rounded professional. One delegate reached out to tell me that while they would never actively attend a session dedicated to communication skills or managing their well-being, having these topics discussed as part of the clinical content in the “Day in the life of…” dramas meant they had taken away some extremely valuable concepts. Through the event, they’d changed their mind about the importance of these aspects of practice and wouldn’t be hiding from these types of sessions in the future. The impact of this on them and their colleagues is invaluable and I’m thrilled that Congress had such an effect.

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of this year’s congress was the strengthening of existing communities and the founding of new ones. Seeing those broad smiles, nods of acknowledgement and wide-open arms of delegates as they met peers, colleagues and friends, whether planned or serendipitously, was simply heart-warming.

Aside from the dancefloor at ClubVet (kindly sponsored by VetPlus), the spaces where I most frequently witnessed these community moments were the members’ and volunteers’ lounges. It was a stark reminder of the value of BSAVA beyond Congress. Those regional groups, the various committees and volunteer teams all, for the first time at the event had a dedicated space. At a time when professionals are so pushed for time, it was wonderful to glimpse those wider benefits of volunteering that we so often talk about but rarely see. Knowing how much I’ve drawn on the clinical knowledge and experience of those I’ve met at congresses past, I have an appreciation of the value these meetings will have on our clients and patients. Having leant on my networks (and been leant on) when times have been hard, I have gained an understanding of what some of these connections will mean for those who’ve made them.

Another, perhaps slightly obscure, element of Congress was the inclusivity and accessibility of the hybrid format. While we were captured by the moment in Manchester, online delegates were also captivated by the speakers. It was only when session chairs started firing questions from remote participants at speakers that we got a sense of the wider community we were reaching.

As I look back at BSAVA Congress 2022, it will be the strength of the community that I will remember. Science and CPD will forever be the foundation of Congress. It will always underpin the quality of service we can deliver, but community – that will be treasured.

The BSAVA Congress programme is now available on demand. To find out more, visit the BSAVA Congress website.