Dusting Off the Stethoscope

I always felt a little… different to the crowd at University.

I’m not trying to blow my own trumpet. I scraped a place in vet school, not through academics but determination and enthusiasm. I was focused on becoming the next James Heriot, and there was only one way to do that — get into vet school. I certainly didn’t find the course a breeze. With a few minor hiccups, I achieved the coveted MRCVS in 5 years, again playing to my strengths; determination and enthusiasm.

Graduation with Mum and Dad

I touched on last time that vet school can be a competitive place. Not so much for me.

Having spent a lot of time taking part in team sports, I’ve always been more focused on group achievements. I didn’t get caught up in the competition; my philosophy was we’re all in it together. That’s remained true to this day.

the Mighty RDVC RFC (2009-10)

Vet school was ideal for mentorship. As a starry-eyed teen, socialising and learning with final years, clinicians, post-grads played a major part of Uni life. I took great comfort in finding out that the biggest lessons were learned outside of a library — that suited me just fine.

Feeling a bit like the cuckoo egg in the magpie’s nest, I was intrigued to find out about vets working outside of clinical practice. Appointed the student representative for Hills Petfood in my 3rd year, this was the first time I met a vet working in ‘Industry’. A career path that was of interest beyond graduation.

I will be covering career opportunities for vets outside clinical practice shortly. If you can’t wait, then feel free to get in touch. I’m always happy to help.

I worked in mixed and small animal practice in rural England and Australia for the first 4.5 years after graduating. It was a hugely rewarding time, encountering the big highs and significant lows that we all experience in clinical practice. But a career in industry was an itch that I had to scratch. On returning to the UK, I made that move into a marketing position for an animal health pharmaceutical company.

Paris Marathon with Team Vetoquinol

Early on into this role, I thought I’d turned my back on clinical practice forever. 9–5, employment benefits, travel, career opportunities… I’d hit the jackpot. For all vets interested in marketing and business strategy, I would hugely advise making a move to industry even if it’s only short-term.

But as time passed, I found my perspective of clinical practice changed. I’ve said before; it’s hard to look at the picture when you are in the frame. Part of moving back to Scotland to pursue new ventures (including VetFresh), I felt it was important to don the stethoscope once more and transfer some of those corporate skills to the consulting room.

Three weeks ago I signed up for locum work once again and started working at a fantastic practice in Stirling. There is a certain sense of pride you get from pulling on a scrub top, one that I had indeed taken for granted. There is something incredibly humbling about telling people you’re a vet; you certainly get a more enthusiastic reaction than from ‘Product Manager’.

Being back into clinical work, the three following areas where the most revealing;

1. Customer Interactions

Having been in a predominantly business-to-business facing environment the last two years, settling back into discussions with the general public has been oddly refreshing.

One skill I learned from industry is the power of silence. You discover nothing new when you’re talking. Your Customer will be more likely to leave a consult satisfied if they spent the majority of the time talking. The art of being a vet is not to bamboozle customers with everything you know, but to ensure they have understood the key take-home messages. By doing so, you ensure the welfare of your patient.

The importance of ‘Front of House’ is not to be underestimated neither. That first point of contact for your customers is key to their satisfaction. Get that correct and the rest is easy.

2. The Hours

The great thing about working in an office, you rock up at 8:55 am, put the kettle on, nestle into your desk space and let the magic happen. You are at the disposal of your personal time management. 95% of the time, you can predict exactly how your day will pan out. Other than the odd emergency teleconference or over-run meeting, the days tend to be predictable.

I forgot that feeling of complete uncertainty when you start the veterinary working day. Will it be quiet? Will I get an emergency? Will I get several emergencies? Will there be a disgruntled client? Will the inpatient be ok? Will I get to stop for lunch?

When you walk into a vet practice, it is like the start of the 100m sprint. The gun goes and you are off. I question how useful a vet is at 6.45pm when they’ve been on their feet since 8 am, hasn’t had lunch or a glass of water for that matter. Should we be looking to different means of easing vets into clinical work and management of the working day? Personally, I believe we should be open to a different structure. Could this improve the quality of life for both vets and their patients? An area we will explore in future posts.

3. The teamwork

If you want a job done, ask a vet.

That’s not entirely accurate or fair. But, I think there is an element of teamwork and camaraderie you can only learn from clinical practice.

In a corporation, everyone has individual tasks, goals and targets. Yes, there is a common objective, but quite often there is a financial incentive to complete your personal duty. But in a veterinary environment, there tends unified goal; look after the patient.

It came as no surprise when there was talk of medical students having to see practice in vet hospitals. The efficiency of a well-oiled, vet team is something to be admired. A good vet will tell you to keep your nurse team on side.

A team-spirited approach to clinical practice will put you in a much better position. Not to mention, you’ll enjoy your time at work more. Everyone has their strengths, and everyone has their weaknesses. The best vets are those who embrace their vulnerabilities and play to their strengths.

Back at it

So that was my insight from practising as a vet once more after a couple of years away. It is a fantastic profession full of incredible people. 11 years on from starting this journey, my mantra remains the same. We truly are all in it together. If we devalue our services, the pie will only continue to get smaller and the Giants will win. Don’t be afraid to challenge authority and do what feels right.