Alison Speakman BVMS Hons PhD MRCVS is the 65th President of the BSAVA. She works in small animal practice and has been an active member of BSAVA since graduating from the University of Glasgow Veterinary School in 1991.

BSAVA Congress 2023 Alison Speakman President

She took some time out to speak to us about BSAVA Congress 2023, her experiences in volunteering for BSAVA and her vision for the future of the profession.

Alison, thanks so much for agreeing to share your experiences with Veterinary Woman. Please could you give us a summary of your career journey so far?

I graduated from Glasgow university in 1991 and spent 18 months in mixed practice before taking up a residency in feline medicine at Liverpool university. Staying at Liverpool, I then completed a PhD on “Studies in Bordetella bronchiseptica infection in cats” followed by a short period of post-doctoral research. Having started a family in 1997, I chose to return to small animal practice where I remained until 2006 when I undertook a brief period in industry as a veterinary technical manager. I returned to small animal practice in 2008, including a year spent working in Queensland, Australia, and have remained in small animal practice right up to the current time!

As a young vet, how did you most benefit from being an active BSAVA member?

In my first practice I was living away from friends and fellow classmates. Although the vets in my practice were really welcoming and friendly, they all had their own family commitments away from work. I started attending the local North West regional BSAVA evening CPD meetings and found it a really sociable way to meet my peers within a like-minded community whilst also gaining valuable CPD.

Having enjoyed that first taste of BSAVA, I attended my first Congress in 1992 and have been going ever since! I also used to use my CPD allowance to attend some of the BSAVA educational day courses which were a great way to keep up to date with knowledge and advances in the profession whilst enjoying a social element and gaining great networking contacts. It has always provided a great sense of community and professional enthusiasm.

What first motivated you to volunteer with BSAVA?

At one of the North West regional evening meetings they asked if anyone would like to join the regional committee to help organise the events for the region. As I was really enjoying attending the meetings, I decided to give it a go. I can really recommend it as a way to get involved. A couple of years later I volunteered for the education committee and since then have volunteered across a wide range of committees. BSAVA always welcomes new members to join our great community of volunteers and I would encourage anyone to join in.

Working in practice, you must be well aware of the value of being part of a professional community. How does this inform your ongoing work with BSAVA?

It is important to consider the purpose of the BSAVA: “to drive excellence in veterinary practice to improve the health and welfare of animals” with a mission to “enable the community of small animal veterinary professionals to develop their knowledge and skills through leading-edge education, scientific research and collaboration” which is at the heart of everything we do.

Working in small animal practice allows me and other volunteers to be able to convey first-hand the issues that practitioners are encountering and allow us to plan our resources to the profession to provide current and advancing knowledge that is appropriate to the profession’s needs. For example, BSAVA Congress ’23 will feature issues such as the current cost of living crisis which has influenced our “Veterinary Care on a Shoestring” stream, issues with imported diseases such as Brucella canis, dentistry best practice with “dental radiography” and management of “Brachycephalic ocular problems” just some of our topical clinical streams. It also allows us to input into relevant small animal government consultations (e.g., the Kept Animals Bill) and external reference groups (e.g. Small animal expert group, brachycephalic working group) ensuring that the daily reality of our members and the small animal profession is reflected in discussions.

It also informs the way we provide our educational courses, publications (e.g. BSAVA Manuals) and scientific resources. The development of the BSAVA Library provides busy members with an extensive range of webinars, reading and video materials to access at their own leisure. This is a rapidly expanding resource that can provide several years’ worth of CPD at your own pace, included as a member benefit.

“I would encourage those interested in a leadership role to look at what the role requires and how you can achieve it in a way that also fulfils your own leadership and working style.”

BSAVA Congress 2023 Alison Speakman

Hosting congress must be one of the key ways BSAVA delivers on its aim to enable vets to develop their knowledge and skills through leading-edge education. Can you give us a behind-the-scenes peek at how the CPD programme is developed?

The programme is developed in conjunction with a team of volunteers who are all vets and nurses within the profession including first opinion, referral, academia and industry all under the expert leadership of Paul Higgs, Chair of Congress Committee. We also regularly review feedback from the previous Congress and direct input from our members. This enables us to develop a programme that is suitable for all members of the profession featuring a combination of pragmatic approaches, frequently encountered scenarios, current topics and advances in optimal veterinary care.

We cover clinical subjects but also a wide range of non-clinical issues such as wellbeing, equality and diversity, management and leadership that all have significant impact in our roles within the veterinary profession. In line with current teaching advances, we have developed our 15-minute short format lectures with accompanying audience discussion/question time to provide maximum engagement and benefit for delegates. We recognise that learning styles may vary and therefore there are some conventional longer lectures, interactive panel discussions and a highly hands-on “practical village” all included. The main lecture programme can be viewed here: BSAVA Congress 2023 – Programme (

One of BSAVA’s aims is to deliver innovative material to members. How are you going about this?

Innovation is very much an ongoing team effort working to identify the needs of the small animal veterinary profession and develop solutions.  We have current projects in developing support for new grads in VetGDP and our new Head of Education has exciting plans around different formats of education to suit the changing needs of vets and vet nurses.

I know that the subject of mental health and stress-management in the profession is important to you. What have you been working on to help ensure the safety and wellbeing of people within the profession?

I am passionate about safeguarding the health and wellbeing of our profession which inspired development of the Wellbeing zone at BSAVA Congress. This year we have expanded the programme to provide three days of fantastic wellbeing workshops, discussions, and resources, in a safe and supportive space including a series of four different “hormonal health” sessions. Full details of the Wellbeing Zone and programme can be found here BSAVA Congress 2023 – Wellbeing (

The Wellbeing Zone is open to all registered attendees with a lecture or exhibition pass providing everyone the opportunity to improve personal knowledge and understanding, together with skills to support both our own and our colleague’s wellbeing. In addition, there is a stream covering neurodiversity and the importance of recognising and supporting neurodiverse employees, students and clients.

Other initiatives have included a monthly wellbeing section in our member magazine Companion and a collection of wellbeing resources are available on demand within the BSAVA Library Mental health and wellbeing | BSAVA Library.

We have recently provided free Mental Health First Aid England level 3 training for our BSAVA Student mentors at UK veterinary schools in conjunction with the RCVS Mind Matters Initiative (MMI) and have representation on both MMI and Vetlife external reference group.

What do you think could most help to improve leadership opportunities for women within the profession?

In recent years, the profession has opened conversations on women in leadership with the fantastic support and advocacy of groups like Veterinary Woman which has improved the playing field considerably. However, there is still much to be done and it is important to remember that regardless of gender identity, everyone should have equal opportunities. It is therefore incumbent on us all as individuals, members of the profession and team players to recognise and remove external barriers. At the same time, we need to be aware of our own internal barriers (e.g. perfectionism, guilt, imposter syndrome) that can be self-limiting. I would encourage those interested in a leadership role to look at what the role requires and how you can achieve it in a way that also fulfils your own leadership and working style. There are many different leadership styles – one size does not fit all!

What is your vision for the future of the veterinary profession?

BSAVA Congress

The profession has certainly seen a considerable amount of change in recent years, accelerated by the COVID pandemic and other global challenges. I would like to see an innovative and thriving profession underpinned by innovative educational and scientific methodology that provides a diverse range of career paths. In doing so, we can facilitate retention, recognition, and reward alongside supporting the health, happiness and wellbeing of veterinary teams. Additionally, we need to be the leading force of animal health and welfare underpinned by the support of government regulation and at the forefront of the One Health approach to protect animals, humans, and the environment alike.

BSAVA Congress 2023 takes place on 23-25 March in Manchester. For more information and to get your ticket, visit the BSAVA Congress 2023 website.

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