Being a media vet – what I have learned
When I graduated, I had no particular desire to be a ‘media vet’ but, as my friends will tell you, I have never had any problems with speaking my mind! My journey into the media started around four years after graduating. I had reached the point where being a vet wasn’t taking up every ounce of mental energy and I was becoming frustrated by the lack of good-quality online resources I could direct pet owners to to help them understand their animal’s conditions and care.
(This is quite a while ago now! The current online landscape, although still somewhat of a minefield, is hugely improved from what it was.)
So, to remedy the situation I wrote a website of veterinary advice which was originally called yourpetshealth.co.uk and since rebranded as catthevet.com. From there I started a blog, discussing my observations of the veterinary and pet world. This led to me being asked to be a resident vet on a (now defunct) pet website and from there, an (also short lived!) TV show on Channel 4.
It then all went very quiet on the media front. This is a particularly important point if you aspire to be or end up in the mainstream media – the work available is extremely small and inconsistent in the veterinary niche. It simply cannot be relied upon as a sole career path but it is very interesting and fun to be involved with if you ever get the chance!
However, I continued to write in my spare time and I now have busy social media pages and occasionally update my blog. I am currently one of four vets on CBBC’s The Pets Factor and regularly work with brands on projects. I am also often contacted by radio stations wanting veterinary comment.
Thanks to the influencer and TV work I am now earning a reasonable amount of money from this side of my career but it certainly isn’t enough to live on and never will be, quite aside from the fact that it is an unpredictable income stream by its very nature.
So, my first piece of advice would be that you cannot want to be a ‘media vet’ to earn money. A very fortunate few of us are being paid for some of the work we do, but we are very much in the minority.
‘You cannot want to be a media vet to earn money’
Putting in the time
The hours that I invest in my online work are many. Once you have started a page or blog, don’t underestimate the pressure to post. Social media is the beast that needs to be fed. Even though no-one is really monitoring or judging your posting rate, it is very hard to get away from the nagging feeling you should be posting often. However, if your aim is to build a following and potentially an income, it is the only way to do it, but you must consider how much time and effort this will involve and whether you consider this a ‘job’ or just something you do to enjoy. Putting pressure on yourself can soon remove any pleasure from the process. I think this is particularly true if you are at the beginning of your career. Newer graduates may well be used to living ‘a life online’ but the early times in clinical practice are stressful and all-consuming and adding professional social media pages into the mix will inevitably add to that challenge.
I would also advise you consider how much of yourself and your life you are prepared to share. I have always maintained a very clear distinction between ‘Cat The Vet’, the media personality, and Cat the actual vet in real life. I don’t use my surname on any of my online pages, although it does appear on articles I write, I don’t share any of my work on our practice social media and I never discuss my work with clients, aside from asking them permission to share pictures of their pets. Some work it out and I have never had a negative interaction in real life, but I would never voluntarily bring it up. I also rarely discuss my home or personal life.
This is how I feel comfortable balancing these worlds; other vets are more relaxed about having that cross-over and that is entirely their prerogative.
Dealing with the negative
Although I do maintain this clear space between real life and online life, this is not to say there is not an impact on one from the other. Obviously my work in practice inspires a great deal of what I write, but the virtual world can leach into the real one as well. Sometimes in a good way – all of my influencer work has obviously come from my impact online, and certainly the experiences I have gained have helped me to be comfortable in front of a camera or microphone – but it has led to negative encounters as well.
For instance, I regularly write about ‘controversial’ subjects such as brachycephalic breeds, alternative medicine and dietary choices. Anything I produce is always correct in terms of the most up-to-date medical and scientific evidence, but this doesn’t prevent a great many people getting very cross! Being the subject of trolling can be extremely unpleasant and it inevitably impacts on my mood and stress levels. However, anyone posting in the online world can be a target for any reason and it is important to be ready. I believe strongly in the messages I send out and although a few angry people may disagree and comment, far more will read and learn from them, which is my primary aim.
‘Being the subject of trolling can be extremely unpleasant ‘
There can also be a lower level of criticism of various types and you can’t plan to be online without being prepared to deal with that. Comments on clinical standards and treatment choices are common if you post about cases, and comments on appearance are also a depressing reality for most female users of social media platforms.
Maintain standards and integrity
It is also vital, in my opinion, that if we do present ourselves online as professionals, we must maintain the standards and integrity that that entails. This doesn’t mean we can’t be passionate or definite in our opinions, and it doesn’t mean we can’t share our personal lives if we wish to, but it does mean that we should behave online as we would in real life in practice. Although sometimes the provocation can be extreme, we must remain polite and respectful to any commenters (and remember you can always delete comments and block people – you do not have to engage) and our language in posts or videos should be professional and clean! Remember, if you do present yourself in public as a veterinary persona, you are effectively representing us all.
As an aside, when it comes to content creation, especially on platforms like Instagram, which are so visual, it is vital we gain full consent from owners to use pictures of their animals and are never rude or derogatory in a way that could make a person or pet identifiable. I firmly believe we have a duty to speak up against bad welfare and clients can often be a source of frustration. Letting this out online can be cathartic, but it should never be in a way that could upset or inflame an individual. If you have a point to make that could be construed as negative, I would advise using stock images for illustrations, not clients’ animals.
I also believe we have to maintain integrity in the way we manage our profiles. For example, the use of bots to gain a following isn’t something I support at all. Although the desire to grow a platform is understandable, to use fake profiles and follow/unfollow techniques isn’t how to go about it. If you write interesting and engaging content, your fans will grow organically and really, if you are doing this for the numbers, you are not doing it for the right reasons.
Also, particularly for anyone embarking on brand partnerships, have a read of the Code of Professional Conduct from the RCVS. There is a section about product endorsement that it is very important to be compliant with. It is also vital to know and follow the Advertising Standards Agency guidelines on paid-for content.
When it comes to social media and writing, I always have full control over what I produce. (This holds true even if it is a sponsored project.) However, on TV or the radio, it can be more challenging, particularly if things are presented live. For anything recorded and then edited – TV, radio or a podcast – you will rarely be given the opportunity to authorise the content before it is published but most of the time you will be presented fairly. It isn’t generally in the interest of the producers to try to ‘catch you out’ or show you in a bad light. For live things, again, as long as you remain professional and are prepared on the subject you are being asked to cover, you can’t go too far wrong. And also, very few of us have a high enough profile for the media to be too bothered if we put our foot in it! (The RCVS is another story but, as ever, if you remain polite and professional you are very unlikely to cross any significant boundaries.)
Being a vet in the public eye, however small your following, does carry a certain responsibility but it is also a wonderful way to give an insight into our world and our work and to engage with the public in a way that has never been possible before. For me it is a passion project, a creative outlet and, occasionally, a paying gig. I love what I do and am very proud of the platform and reputation I have built. If you would like to join me, and many others, please do!