New NZVA Chief Veterinary Officer Helen Beattie comes clean, and makes a strong argument for the benefits of association membership.

It’s quite an admission from your new NZVA chief veterinary officer, but here it is: I haven’t always been an NZVA member.

Given my current position, and recent involvement with the NZVA Companion Animal Veterinarians (CAV) branch, you can take that as me entirely seeing the error of my ways, and also being slightly embarrassed about it.

For a long time I wasn’t a member, and here’s why: after graduating in 1998 (and I’m possibly reflective of a wide part of the profession here), I had the attitude that if my membership was part of my employment contract then I’d be a member, and if it wasn’t then I wouldn’t be.

A lot of us choose not to opt in when our membership isn’t covered by our employer. I know why I didn’t: there was a lot of horse equipment to buy, as well as new clothes, social events and household bills. They all just seemed to be absorbing my new salary!

I guess I didn’t understand what it was that the NZVA did for the profession. Of course, I did understand the difference between the Veterinary Council of New Zealand (purple team) and the NZVA (blue team). I knew why I needed to be on the purple team; the blue team, not so much.

But, the truth is, even after buying my own practice, which one would think
would be a really good reason to have the support and advocacy of the NZVA, I still didn’t make the leap.

Eventually, when it became an employment benefit, I jumped in boots and all. And I found that it was a bargain, as I also got the two-for-one deal of involvement with CAV too.

Now I feel quite passionately about spreading the word about the value of the NZVA. I want everyone to know just how much the NZVA does for the profession.

There is an incredible amount of unglamorous grunt work that goes on. Before the culmination of all the work is presented to the profession and the wider New Zealand public, a heap has been done behind the scenes by dedicated NZVA folk. Consider tail docking. That’s 22 years of consistent lobbying and campaigning, much of which the general membership has no idea about.

There’s not just the paid staff, but also all of the voluntary efforts arising from the work of your special interest branches (SIBs) and regional branches (RBs). These are significant contributions that help to ensure that the profession’s voice is heard and its position is protected.

All the background work the SIBs and RBs do in providing policy, positioning and guidelines provides the scaffolding for how the NZVA functions. It’s an awful lot of work, knowing the right people and being in contact with them. It’s about writing and reviewing documents, developing new positions, and being on top of legislation to be reviewed or regulations to be issued.

There are things we know; there are things we know we don’t know; and then there are all those things that we don’t know we don’t know.

Since joining the NZVA, I’ve learned some of what I didn’t know that I didn’t know, and I have no doubt that this part of the pie is still the biggest cut. If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have been an NZVA member from day one!

The membership value has pieces that are tangible and pretty clear, but sometimes it’s the unseen work that has the biggest impact.

All of that advocacy and support is actually the major chunk of the NZVA – even if, in the day-to-day, it’s not visible. Once I saw behind the scenes the urgency with which documents have to be turned around, the managing of internal and external politics, the tireless work – I appreciated how that function is a huge cog for the membership.

I view the NZVA and its people as the folk who know how to provide the support you need as a busy veterinarian. They’re the people to get you the advice that will save you hours of your day.

I can relate a personal example. I think it was my predecessor Callum Irvine’s second day in the office as the NZVA Head of Veterinary Services when I rang him and said, “Cal! I’ve got an issue with a cat!” How ironic, given the hours of my life that have since been dedicated to addressing the very issue I first rang the NZVA about: stray cats and their euthanasia.

The NZVA’s work is public facing too. On a day-to-day basis, all sorts of people – from the news media to members of the public – are seeking information and wanting to know what the NZVA has to say. In every response to every query, the NZVA is advocating on your behalf. This gives us street cred with the external world, because we can help to answer queries, educate, and solve problems. As well, the NZVA is the go-to source for agencies and the public sector. That’s vital for our reputation.

In my mind, supporting the NZVA is a little like taking out insurance: you don’t fully appreciate what you’re paying for until you need it. At that point, one is eternally grateful and understands the value of the service, advice, support and guidance.

When the rubber hits the road and the proverbial hits the fan, knowing that you’ve got that person on the other end of the phone and knowing that the NZVA has your back … well, that’s priceless.