Crisis sets the agenda for AVSPNI’s new president
When Coleraine vet, Cathal Carr accepted the chain of office from outgoing AVSPNI president, Paul Crawford, during the Association’s annual Omagh Day event in January, he could have had no idea of the upheaval that would mark out his first few months in the role.
Cathal Carr (53), who comes originally from Dublin, has been running Millburn Veterinary Practice in Coleraine since 2005 along with his wife, Anne-Marie, who comes from the town.
And speaking to NI Veterinary Today this month, Cathal acknowledged that at the outset of his year in office as president of the AVSPNI, his mind had been focused on topics far from the upheaval caused by the onset of the pandemic:
‘I took on the presidency in January and at that time, we were passionate about trying to get all vets to work together, to encourage a feeling of getting back to our professional roots whether private or corporate,’ he said. ‘I do think that as a profession, we’ve been very bad at playing for each other, so there was a movement towards bringing in a little bit of cohesion.’
Now, however, those aspirations have slid down the priority list as the Association has moved to mitigate the worst effects of Covid-19 on its membership:
‘To date, we’ve been able to do a lot of work through the Association to advise vets what they should do and a lot of follow-up has been put in place to help them along,’ reported Cathal. ‘As an association, we’ve also done a lot of work with the Department around what could and couldn’t be done and to help people get used to what we now call the new normal.’
Cathal has lived in Coleraine since 1996. After obtaining a degree in human physiology from Trinity in 1991, he went on to graduate from Edinburgh five years later. After qualification, Cathal worked for a short time at a veterinary surgery in Dromore before joining his wife at the former Harding, Frizzell and McKee in Coleraine in 1996.
‘When we started in Coleraine,’ recalls Cathal. ‘I was doing mixed veterinary and Anne-Marie was doing small animal, but there were virtually no partnership prospects at the practice we were in, so I became self-employed and went to work for Catherine McNeill’s Millburn practice in the town.’
Mrs McNeill had been a fixture in Coleraine veterinary circles since the late sixties and Cathal worked with her for the next two years. When Mrs McNeill retired, Cathal and his wife bought the practice from her, but with four children under the age of five at home and a busy veterinary surgery to develop, Cathal admits that he and Anne-Marie were kept busy:
‘I don’t think that I could do it now, but at time we just got on with it,’ he remarks.
‘We went through some hard times, there’s no doubt about it. 2008 and 2009 were quite difficult, but 18 months after we started, we took on an assistant. We were running our own business, we had good clients and we worked hard. It was what we wanted, we wanted to be vets and so we just got on with it. That’s the way it was and still is.’
These days, Cathal’s Millburn veterinary practice – which has been part of the IVC group since 2018 – has four vets and six support staff.
Since the onset of Covid-19, Cathal’s focus as AVSPNI president has been on trying to ensure that members continue to have access to vital CPD courses Sadly, however, the Association’s highly-regarded Spring and Autumn Conferences have had to be shelved this year:
‘In terms of the conferences, we just felt that these are very much a personal, face-to-face events and there is no way that we could produce that in the current circumstances,’ said the president. ‘People look forward to meeting each other and talking and the conferences have built a great reputation as fantastic family events, even for people who visit from outside NI.’
Despite the cancellation, however, local vets will still be able access the vital CPD that would have been available there. Eight small animal and eight large animal lectures will now be rolled out online in October and November of this year and Cathal reported that interest in accessing the teaching is already strong. Lectures delivered during the last Omagh Day event in January were recorded and these are also being made available online.
‘There is definitely an appetite for this material and people are going online look for it,’ he added. ‘We hope that we’ve been able to give our members enough information to help them get through the Covid-19 emergency and I hope that they know we are here working for them.’
Away from the AVSPNI, Cathal says that he and Anne-Marie will continue to be focused on improving the quality of the work they do at Millburn and perhaps, trying to find a way to withdraw to a small extent from the busy everyday live of the surgery.