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HomeDairyVeterinary: Communication, cows & coffee
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Veterinary: Communication, cows & coffee

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Dr Fiona MacGillivray MRes BVetMed MRCVS, in this week’s Career Focus segment.

She grew up in Cheshire, studied veterinary medicine, worked in practices in Scotland and England, moved to Hertfordshire when she joined Merial Animal Health and now resides in Knutsford, Cheshire, where her company, MacVet Cattle Communications Limited, is based.

“My parents worked in healthcare – my father was a GP and my mother was a hospital theatre sister.

Despite my father encouraging me to follow in his footsteps in becoming a doctor, I always wanted to work with animals.

I grew up watching and reading the James Herriott series and books, so becoming a vet was always my dream from the age of six or seven.

When I first started vet school, my interests were in equine veterinary practice, mainly because we had horses and ponies at home.

But it was not until I spent time on a dairy farm during my second year at vet school that I realised farm work would be more fulfilling and interesting to me.

Vet college and practice

When I graduated, it was a popular choice amongst the other new graduates in my year to go into mixed practice, to experience working with different species and practise the skills we had learnt, so this is what I did for the first few years.

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I graduated in 1998 from the Royal Veterinary College, London and my first job was in Dumfries.

As a new grad, you are very conscious that farmers might be worried about whether you can ‘do the job’.

When several of my farmers asked which vet school I had been to – Glasgow or Edinburgh – I was worried what they would think when I answered neither.

Fortunately, I felt that my strong Scottish name saved me from too much suspicion of whether I would be any good in my clients’ eyes.

Animal health company

After eight years in clinical practice – working as a full-time and locum vet in mixed, companion and farm vet practices – I moved into a technical services role with Merial Animal Health.

This role allowed me to develop expertise in large animal parasitology and I was able to collaborate with several high-profile parasitologists, including Dr Theo De Wall at UCD, to publish a seminal paper on cattle liver fluke.

During my time as technical services manager, I became interested in the importance of communication: both between fellow workers within the company, and between the vets I was speaking to and their challenges working with some farmers.

Many vets would tell me they were frustrated that some of their farmers would not change things on the farm to improve, so they struggled in that regard.

This prompted me to want to study this more, so I moved to a different animal health company working as a marketer, where human behaviour and psychology are important aspects to learn about to help address such issues.

After working with this company for a few years, I decided to leave and start my own company, where I could focus on the continued study of communication, psychology and behaviour change and offer training for vets in this area.

I also completed personal trainer and fitness instructor qualifications.

This allowed me to combine my love of fitness with my desire to keep working with clients to achieve their goals and change behaviours through effective communication.

My training in communication involve both verbal and nonverbal communication skill development.

Own company

MacVet Cattle Communications Limited was set up in 2016 with the objective of supporting vets to work as well with people as they do with animals.

We believe that communication underpins this aspiration, have a strong affinity for vets working with cows and believe that coffee provides the key to a happy life.

Having discovered the important work of Dr Alison Bard in the application of Motivational Interviewing to farm vet practice, I integrated this into my training.

Motivational interviewing is a framework for vets, doctors, and many other professionals to be able to have conversations about change, that build on the client’s own motivation to make changes.

Nonverbal communication, often referred to as body language, is the primary means by which we communicate, so I was excited to complete a Master of Research degree that studied how vets and farmers interact during routine consultations.

Having a good understanding of nonverbals helps people become more effective communicators and builds trust, rapport and empathy, key skills to have when talking about behaviour change.

So, becoming skilled in verbal and nonverbal communication can really help vet practitioners in herd health planning and working better with their farmers.

MacVet Podcast

The MacVet Podcast is a fortnightly show and in each episode, I interview people who have expertise in either communication, cows or coffee, sometimes all three.

The purpose is to share experiences and insights into the importance of communication: to help listeners appreciate that this is not an abstract topic.

My guests are from a range of backgrounds – farmers, vets, personal trainers, coaches, YouTubers, and animal behaviourists – each having a unique view of and experience in the role of communication in what they do.

I wanted to make the principles of communication in different roles more meaningful to listeners than perhaps would be the case from reading my research and published papers – starting a podcast seemed like a great way to achieve this.

The show is aimed at vets and farmers, but also anyone with an interest in agriculture, communication, and hearing about the guest and their life stories.

It would be great if listeners of the show who work in vet practice feel inspired by what my guests are saying and decide to learn more about communication and build their skills.

The podcast is available on all streaming platforms, such as Apple Podcasts and Spotify and you can also access all episodes online via this link.

Looking ahead to the future, my plan is to keep finding ways to make communication a key topic for vets to learn more about, alongside their ‘regular’ CPD.

Having better communication skills is the best way to apply technical knowledge and have more satisfying interactions with clients.”

To share your story, email – [email protected]

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