As a vet nurse, I wanted to be my own boss and run a practice

Helen Navran, vet nurse and practice owner

I was introduced into the veterinary world aged 15 when I completed a two-week work placement at the practice across the road from my home in Exeter, Devon. 

Having completed it, I was asked if I would be interested in working there at weekends. I then started helping out during the summer holidays and, before I knew it, I was offered a full-time job after I finished college. 

I loved it and knew I had found my calling. I had always loved animals and as a teenager had nursed my cat Roly Poly through mouth cancer.

Being a vet never seemed like a possibility for me – my school career advisers considered it was men’s work – so I embarked on a vet nursing route into the profession. 

After two years, I moved to London to train at the Blue Cross Animal Hospital. The hospital team was like a family – it was an incredible experience – it really shaped how I grew as a vet nurse (VN). Working for a charity also helped me to develop my nurturing side, which is something I now use in my own practice to help new vet and VN graduates to flourish.

A complete career change followed. I took a seven-year sabbatical from the veterinary profession to help train my then partner in track and field for the Olympic Games. Although I enjoyed this new chapter in my life – during which I also developed management and organisational skills – I missed the veterinary world. 

Driven to lead

So, I returned to practice with a new perspective and the drive to succeed and lead my own team. I felt there should be more female energy in practice leadership. 

I sensed that it was assumed that VNs wouldn’t have the business acumen to run a practice. I decided to challenge those boundaries – to be my own boss and run a practice the way I wanted, so I began actively seeking opportunities that could help me achieve this. 

'Vet and vet nurse partnerships benefit practices as each one brings their own perspective and skillset to their role'

At the time, Vets4Pets was the only group enabling VNs to be practice owners through its joint venture partnership (JVP) scheme. 

I joined a Vets4Pets practice in south Wales as head nurse to trial working for the group and familiarise myself with the company’s values. I took on Vets4Pets Cardiff Bay in October 2016 and hired vet Samantha Bird. Two years later, I invited her to become my co-JVP. In my opinion, vet and VN partnerships benefit practices as each one brings their own – different – perspective and skillset to their role as a leader.

Benefit of a graduate scheme

In the beginning, organising the rota to cover holidays or sickness was a frequent struggle. Vets4Pets’ introduction of its new graduate scheme in 2017 has been a really positive experience for us as a practice. It was through the scheme that I realised my favourite part of my job – mentoring the next generation of vets and VNs. Training a new graduate has to be niche to your team, culture and ways of working as a practice. 

A graduate scheme can provide young vets with a great foundation, but it is important to mould it to your own specific practice dynamics. Samantha and I are strong and opinionated, each having a clear set of goals for our practice, and we tweaked the scheme to fit our vision, drawing on our experiences of practice. 

We have found that our graduates bond with the practice and are a huge asset. Hiring vets through such schemes is the way forward – I would recommend it to any practice owner. 

My advice to those considering taking on a new graduate through a support scheme would be to make sure you are fully committed to helping them – not just clinically, but providing emotional support too. 

As vets and VNs, we are driven first and foremost by animal welfare. It is the foundation of everything we do. To maintain a high level of animal welfare we need great vets, which is why I am passionate about helping to build the next generation of veterinary professionals through graduates.

'I hope to inspire other VNs to lead a practice'

Running a practice doesn’t come without its difficulties, and at the start I felt that, as a VN, I had to overcome certain prejudices around management hierarchy. 

Vet practices are often still male dominant and tend to be led by vets, but VNs are more than capable of building really successful practices that offer a high level of service and care to clients. 

I hope my story helps to inspire other VNs to pursue becoming an owner or JVP of their own practice, because although it is hard, it is all worth it.

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