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Rhetoric and Reality: The Development of Professional Identity in UK Veterinary Medicine

Perrin, Hannah Charmaine (2016) Rhetoric and Reality: The Development of Professional Identity in UK Veterinary Medicine. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:54325)

Language: English
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Veterinary Medicine does not have a history in the social sciences and is therefore a fascinating field of study. Despite the growth of education research in the veterinary schools, the social and relational aspects of veterinary training and practice are under-examined, and could have profound effects on the ability of students to make a successful transition into qualified work. This thesis explored the development of occupational identity in veterinary students and newly-qualified veterinary surgeons, using narrative interview techniques and organisational policy analysis.

From interviewees’ stories, a clear distinction could be drawn between the majority, who were vocationally-motivated, and a smaller group who were drawn to a veterinary career by the high academic standards required. All identified several influences on their own professional identity development: role models, the need to perform as competent and confident, and presenting an approved personality type in order to gain access to the practical experience required during training. The predominant story arc is that of becoming increasingly ‘vetlike’ as they progress through the course.

Animal welfare is a substantial silence in the organisational discourse of veterinary medicine. The discourse analysis revealed the overwhelming presentation of the elite academic nature of the profession, at the expense of any mention of animal care or welfare, or acknowledgement of vocational motivation. A compelling collective responsibility was also identifiable in terms of upholding a professional reputation and its high standards. A strong occupational history contributes to this, leading to a very bonded occupational group. The idea of veterinary medicine not being a nine-to-five job is expressed in policy and resonated very strongly with interview participants. However, there exists a very clear, organisationally-sanctioned, officially-approved attitude towards veterinary life and work, allowing very little deviation. This has the subsequent effect that tolerance of weakness, unhappiness, or complaint is low; so that members are forced to either internalise their unhappiness or leave the profession entirely.

Veterinary medicine is perceived as a career with high job satisfaction and a positive public image. However, awareness is increasing of worryingly high levels of mental illness, stress, unhappiness and dissatisfaction with their work among the veterinary workforce. This thesis suggests that one factor that could underlie this is a mismatch between a new entrant’s ideas of what a vet is and does, and the reality of a working life in veterinary practice. From the conclusions presented in this thesis - in particular the finding that, as a profession, veterinary medicine strives to distance itself from an animal care or animal welfare focus - I suggest that it is the confused messages received as part of the process of socialisation during training that could connect to many of the problems facing the modern entrant to the veterinary profession.

This research specifically focused on the development of occupational identity in veterinary students and newly-qualified veterinary surgeons in the UK and is the only current work to examine the processes, presentation and experiences of veterinary training in this comparative manner. As a relatively new, and very interdisciplinary, field of study, the capacity for future work in veterinary social sciences is considerable, with much to be learnt from allied fields as well as further explorations of just what makes veterinary medicine unique, and such a valuable source of social inquiry given the significance of pets and livestock to the lives of a nation of animal lovers. This is potentially a very rich field.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Vickerstaff, Sarah
Thesis advisor: Calnan, Michael
Uncontrolled keywords: veterinary medicine, identity, occupation, clinical professions, socialisation, training
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
R Medicine > R Medicine (General)
S Agriculture > SF Animal culture
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research
Funders: Organisations -1 not found.
Depositing User: Users 1 not found.
Date Deposited: 29 Feb 2016 11:38 UTC
Last Modified: 09 Dec 2022 02:04 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Perrin, Hannah Charmaine.

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