Gauging the extent of ‘blame culture’ within the veterinary professions

2 March 2017

We are asking veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses to fill out an anonymous online survey to help gauge the extent to which blame culture might be present within the veterinary professions.

Jack Russell and chewed cushion

The survey is being conducted by the Open Minds Alliance over the next two weeks and aims to establish the prevalence of a culture of blame which, we have increasingly recognised, can lead to a culture of fear of making mistakes within the profession. This can have a negative impact both on the mental health and wellbeing of members of the profession and, ultimately, animal health and welfare.

The survey was launched on 1 March 2017, and is a major step towards our moving to a learning culture which has a greater focus on openness, reflective practice, learning and personal development.

By moving towards a learning culture we can also hopefully reduce levels of stress and mental ill-health within the professions

Nick Stace, RCVS Chief Executive Officer, said: “Moving towards a learning culture is one of the key aims of our Strategic Plan 2017-19 and we have already started to make some progress in this area with our Mind Matters Initiative, for example. This survey will help establish a baseline against which we can measure any improvements over the course of the next three years.

“As a regulator, this is part of our attempt to be much clearer about the kind of culture we would like to see in the professions; one that encourages members of the veterinary team to learn from each other, and from their mistakes, and to be more open about when things do go wrong in order to better manage public and professional expectations.

“By moving towards a learning culture we can also hopefully reduce levels of stress and mental ill-health within the professions, as practitioners will feel they can be more open about their mistakes and take steps to improve their practice – rather than feeling like they cannot talk about what goes wrong, which can lead to fear and anxiety.

“This is no easy task – particularly when public expectations of what veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses can and should do is increasing – but we hope that by being brave and open about this new ambition, we can galvanise veterinary associations, educators, practices and individual veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses and make a real difference.”

The survey will also be asking to what extent members of the profession may feel that we, as the regulator, contribute to any blame culture and where improvements could be made to the concerns investigation and disciplinary process to help combat it.

It is a common misconception that if you make a mistake then this will be investigated by the College and you will end up in front of a Disciplinary Committee

Eleanor Ferguson, RCVS Registrar and Director of Legal Services, added: “It is a common misconception that if you make a mistake then this will be investigated by the College and you will end up in front of a Disciplinary Committee.

“However, we recognise that mistakes can and will happen and that expecting 100% perfection is unrealistic. The real professional conduct issues arise when members of the profession try to cover up their mistakes, whether that is to professional colleagues or clients, which often does far more damage than if the person was open and honest about what had gone wrong.

“We do also accept that there is always room for improvement in our own processes and if there are positive steps we can take to make the investigation and disciplinary process less onerous for members of the professions then we would like to hear your suggestions.”

The survey was emailed to all veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses yesterday (Wednesday 1 March 2017) and will close two weeks on Wednesday 15 March

All the data will be handled and analysed by the Open Minds Alliance and only anonymised analysis of the data will be passed back to us.