It’s 11am on a Wednesday morning and Ava Firth and Mary Fraser are delivering simultaneous lectures on evidence-based veterinary medicine. Ava is sharing her experiences of teaching the discipline in veterinary practices while Mary is discussing important clinical research.
They are among the plethora of internationally-renowned speakers at the biennial Veterinary Evidence Today conference being held in Edinburgh. Others include Vets Now’s clinical director Amanda Boag and Louise O’Dwyer, who is the clinical support manager.
It almost goes without saying Vets Now is the only veterinary business with four employees speaking at the event, never mind two competing against each other for a share of the audience.
“It demonstrates how seriously Vets Now takes EBVM,” said Ava, who joined the company 12 years ago and has pioneered its in-house training programme. “As an organisation we are committed to training and building our staff’s skills and EBVM is at the heart of that.”
“This demonstrates how seriously Vets Now takes EBVM”
Evidence-based medicine is not new. It’s been taught in human medicine for decades. But it only began to gain real traction in the late 1990s when the National Institute for Clinical Excellence was set up as a special arm of the NHS.
But what exactly is evidence-based veterinary medicine?
Put simply, it combines clinical expertise with patient circumstances and the best available scientific data. Its aim is to make the decision-making process for clinicians easier, quicker and less prone to interference from poor quality studies. In other words, it takes the guesswork out of clinical practice.
More recently it’s begun to play an increasingly important role in the veterinary world. But training in the field has always traditionally been delivered in universities or as part of a residency.
In 2012, however, Vets Now set on a path to change that. Under the expert guidance of senior clinical mentor Ava, it set up an ambitious EBVM training programme aimed at its vets and vet nurses.
"We were determined to push the boundaries"
Speaking at the EBVM conference in Edinburgh Ava said: “Our main objective was to build an evidence-based medicine culture within the organisation. We wanted to grow and enhance our people’s skills while increasing their understanding of the benefits of EBVM.
“We were determined to push the boundaries by taking learning into vet practice. But at the same time we wanted to share our results with the wider veterinary community for everyone’s benefit.”
More than 20 vets and vet nurses – spread across the company’s 53 clinics and three emergency and critical care hospitals – volunteered to enrol in the first cohort. Their remit was to embark on their own EBVM projects using data from 300,000 dogs and 120,000 cats that had presented to Vets Now in an emergency.
Ava explained: “It was the first time any veterinary business had launched a research initiative like this in a multi-site, first-opinion small animal practice. My role was to manage and mentor the students through their projects and we were awarded RCVS Knowledge funding to support our goals.
“The majority embarked on retrospective research, such as the outcomes for cats presenting with dyspnoea and the impact of eating raisins on dogs. There was also a survey into the experience of vets and vet nurses who had treated dogs with suspected synthetic cannabinoid poisoning. One of the students even looked at the effect of the full moon on emergency seizure caseloads.”
“It was the first time a vet business had launched an initiative like this"
Ava recognised early on that while she had the skills and experience to mentor the students through their projects, she would need help documenting their learning. She turned to former colleague, Ian Robertson, an experienced veterinary educator whom she’d worked alongside in Melbourne, Australia.
Ava added: “I needed someone to properly evaluate the programme and Ian fitted the bill perfectly. It was a vitally important role because we also needed to gain an insight into what would be required to develop and enhance it for future intakes.”
Ian’s findings, following regular meetings with the project team, were almost universally positive. He concluded that motivation and enthusiasm levels had remained high throughout and the learnings gained had been significant.
These words would have been music to the ears of fellow EBVM enthusiast Mary Fraser, Vets Now’s staff development manager, had she been able to hear them. At the same time as Ava and Ian were delivering their lecture in Edinburgh’s plush Assembly Rooms, Mary was presenting across the hallway. Her talk was on current thoughts on the treatment of Malassezia yeast infections in dogs with ear inflammation problems, a subject she has studied for many years.
She said: “I was disappointed to miss Ava and Ian’s talk but the fact we were presenting at the same time demonstrates just how many clinicians within Vets Now share a passion for EBVM. It’s something all vets and vet nurses in the business can become involved with. At Vets Now they will get the opportunity to develop their research skills in a clinical setting while studying topics that are interesting and relevant to their sphere of interest.”