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Stop. Let’s talk about communication within our profession.

Submitted by Shyla Heagy, RVT

There are somethings you should consider before you communicate with someone in the veterinary community. We communicate daily at work and in our personal lives. How you communicate in your personal life and in your profession can be very different but should be treated the same. There is a level of professionalism required when communicating within our profession. You must be mindful of the professional/private friendships that form and when and what is appropriate to discuss within work life matters. Those friendships that are with colleagues can seem to form a grey area around where to draw the line. So do not consider it a grey area at all, being a part of the veterinary community, we are professionals. Even when we are not at work or not speaking with a fellow veterinary team member, we should be upholding professional communication that is courteous and we should avoid being slanderous. Our personal behavior does reflect on who we are professionally as well as it effects the public’s perception of the veterinary community. The SVMA and SAVT hold its members to a high standard of professionalism, compassion, and good character. This is reiterated in the Bylaws, which should be read and understood before considering entering the profession to strive towards maintaining a high level of excellence. Following the Bylaws allows its members to be united and more consistent in how they conduct themselves.

In our Bylaws and Veterinarians Act of 1867 there is a standard in which we are to treat others in the veterinary community and how we are to uphold the professionalism for the good of our associations. We need to be able to communicate within our profession for the good of the animals. This is stated in the following Bylaw Section 12.3 h) Members shall communicate with each other to ensure health and welfare of any animal or group of animals. When communicating concerns in a professional manner there are a few things to consider. Are you speaking to the appropriate person about the matter and is your context professional? If there is conflict you should consult with an employer, supervisor, manager, or someone with the SAVT or SVMA to see if the issues can be resolved. They can guide you to the proper proceedings and offer you an outside view. If it is about another clinic do not contact them directly, speak to the SVMA. If something is bothering, you do not publicly or privately contact people about conflict because it can be received negatively. Many things can be taken out of context, if you feel you need to speak to someone there are options for counselling services available through our association. You can speak about your thoughts and issues without it being made public because it would confidential. Practice Standards Section 5g F: Members individually and collectively, shall uphold the integrity of the veterinary profession and must maintain the trust of their clients and society through exemplary standards of clinical practice and conduct including competence, accountability, honesty, fairness, compassion, and confidentiality.

With social media being so prevalent it is easy to make communication unprofessional. Social media can aid in helping you professionally with your business and the profession. It can also cause a lot of upset and be used inappropriately without thinking of the consequences. It can be used to showcase your staff, represent your clinic, educate the public, familiarize the public to the roles of the people in the veterinary profession and make people aware of the services available. These would all be considered appropriate and professional uses for social media if done right. There are many risks and consequences of unprofessional communication in a public forum.

A written complaint can be submitted against you to the SVMA through the Professional Conduct Committee. If the Professional Conduct Committee thinks the complaint is unsubstantiated then it is dissolved and there is no further investigation with the complaint. However, if they find the complaint to have validity, this complaint must be sent to the accused member themselves. That member has the right to respond to the complaint, this is when the member can give a written explanation and submit any other documents about the complaint. If the Professional Conduct Committee finds just cause for the complaint it allows the process to continue. The Professional Conduct Committee will review the complaint and investigate it as they see fit.  The Professional Conduct Committee uses The Veterinarians Act 1987, the SVMA Bylaws and Practice Standards to guide them with the complaint. If the matter can be settled by the Professional Conduct Committee, with the Alternate Dispute Resolution process, then the accused member is not sent to the Disciplinary Committee. If both parties do not agree, then the case is sent to Disciplinary Committee which either investigates, dismisses the case, or forwards the case to the Disciplinary Committee. The case goes to Disciplinary Committee hearing in which the final decisions are made. If the member is found guilty of professional misconduct or incompetence, there are several consequences that can happen to the member.

Depending on the severity of the complaint the member is disciplined in a variety of ways:

• The member may have to take certain classes or courses related to the reason they are being disciplined

• The Disciplinary Committee can also make any other order that they find appropriate such as writing an article on the matter

• Limitations in what they can do and how they must do it, but can continue to practice

• Receive medical treatment

• Suspension for a certain amount of time

• Fines at the discretion of the Disciplinary Committee

• License revoked

In conclusion if you need to communicate with someone in the veterinary community, take a step back and think first especially if you are upset. Think about how you can professionally deal with the situation.  Talk to someone who is nonbiased and reach out if you need to. Talk to a counselor or someone that works with the SAVT or SVMA someone that would keep it confidential. Use the counselling services the association offers us that’s what it’s there for! We all chose this profession for a reason, and we have that in common, we should always be working together to become stronger. It should be that we are building each other up not tearing each other down. We all know mental health is of high concern in veterinary medicine. We are here to serve animals and their welfare. This can take a toll on people in this field, so be kind to one another use the care and compassion we joined this profession in the first place with to help animals.  

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