Comment | 'Amazing opportunity to take our profession forward'
By Professor Matt Jones, Head of the Harper & Keele Veterinary School. This article first appeared as a Personally Speaking column in the Stoke Sentinel on March 23rd, 2023.
I’m writing this in a café in Toulouse, which is lovely, but only relevant when I tell you it's because the Harper & Keele Vet School (HKVS) is very proud sponsor at the Society for Veterinary Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine conference here this week.
The past few weeks has seen a real burst of activity within the School, not least of which was the official opening of our new building at Keele University by Lord Trees, the former President of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Launched in 2020, the Harper & Keele Vet School provides an amazing opportunity for students from our region and beyond, from all backgrounds, to help take our profession forward to meet the grand challenges we are facing.
Veterinary graduates, uniquely, are educated to draw together the protection of animal, human and environmental health, playing critical roles in public health, food safety and security and environmental impact. It's what we as vets do, to a greater or lesser extent in our roles. Our own Professor of Veterinary Public Health, Philip Robinson, is an exemplar of the role of veterinarians in 'one health' in this way, with a PhD in human geography alongside his expertise in state veterinary medicine and clinical farm animal work.
A few months ago, we hosted a research exchange day with Harper Adams colleagues and those from our own Faculty of Natural Sciences at Keele University. A potential future focus area of 'rural futures' started to crystallise – it was first introduced to me by Clare Holdsworth, Professor of Social Geography and Head of School for Geography, Geology and Environment. It became clear that there are huge challenges at the intersection of agriculture, veterinary work, rural isolation and economic sustainability, and we as vets are well-placed to engage with understanding these somewhat better.
I find it easier to understand these issues though the interaction of researchers working in these wide-ranging but related specialisms rather than rely on any one definitive definition of "one health". We recently hosted a 'One Health Day' co-organised by the School and both our parent universities, which brought together an eclectic group of researchers amongst our academic communities but also included speakers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Centre on Climate Change and Planetary Health MRC Unit.
The key issue of biodiversity loss was quickly highlighted as one that can get forgotten in one health rhetoric, and it was notable and encouraging that the introductory speaker, Lord Benyon, carries the title Minister of State for Biosecurity and One Health. He was joined by senior policy makers from DEFRA and related agencies which gave us an excellent opportunity to build support for our ambitions to be a future centre of excellence for skills development in roles relating to the better integration of public health, pathology and clinical farm animal veterinary work.
The veterinary profession also has major challenges which we are attempting to grapple with. As well as equipping the next generation of vets to be able to impactfully engage in one health work, we also need to ensure that they can thrive in a very dynamic and intense profession and animal health industry. We have our own biodiversity issues and challenges of retention and mental ill-health amongst the veterinary profession.
We are taking an evidence-based approach to this under the guidance of a mental health specialist, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Professional Performance, Jason Spendelow. This work has already shifted focus from individualised mental health issues to that of psychologically healthy organisations, developed through close working with our academic and professional services staff, our students and our partners from industry. This work will allow students and graduates to thrive as professionals, rather than to have to be 'resilient' just to survive.
All of this means that the new School provides an amazing opportunity for students from our region and beyond, from all backgrounds, to help take our profession forward to meet these grand challenges facing our communities.
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