Making the move from clinical nursing to non-clinical leadership
I was infatuated by the BBC television series Vets’ School in the mid-1990s. When I was later given the book of the series by a family member, it set me on a determined path to join the profession.
As a teenager I had a Saturday job with Medivet and I stayed at the practice to do my vet nursing training. Once qualified, I moved from Medivet to the Goddard Veterinary Group.
Initially I was a senior nurse with key responsibilities across a range of areas and was then promoted to deputy head nurse and finally head nurse, where my role involved clinical, administrative and leadership components.
'I was inspired by the television series Vets’ School. When I was later given a copy of the book I was determined to join the profession'
After working in other large groups and referral settings, I decided to look for a non-clinical leadership role using the experience I had gained. I wanted to focus on the support that could be provided to colleagues and patients.
Now, my role involves strategy, leadership, and operational and business development. Southfields is owned by Linneaus, which itself is part of Mars Petcare, so we work inside a wider veterinary community as part of a global organisation.
Describe a typical working day
My primary responsibilities are providing leadership and supporting colleagues and other members of the leadership team.
Alongside this I have been given responsibility for leading our relocation into a new £11 million state-of-the-art home in Basildon, Essex. It’s a major project. Our current base also needs improvement, and I am developing business cases for a range of enhanced facilities and services.
I’m also involved with recruitment, mentoring and ensuring synergy between our services and departments. This includes operational and clinical support, working collaboratively with other centres and our teams to ensure our patients and clients are supported throughout their time with us.
What do like about your job?
I joined the profession to help animals and, although my role doesn’t involve directly working with our patients, my responsibilities impact and, I hope, improve patient treatments and outcomes.
But it’s mainly the people – I enjoy being part of a team that has facilitated our growth as a referral centre and I enjoy working with specialist teams. A key focus for me is fostering long-term relationships that enhance patient care, our team’s reputation and making our centre an enjoyable, fun and innovative place to work.
What are the main challenges?
Moving into our new centre will be a big challenge for the team. We will be installing some of the most advanced equipment in the veterinary world, so there is certainly a knowledge and skills deficit to fill, which I know the team will react and respond to well. Innovation is where the team excels.
Recruitment has been a fantastic success for us at Southfields, but is something that may be more challenging as we look to recruit a larger team in the next two years. Doing so will be essential to maintain a good work-life balance for individual team members.
What skills have you acquired during your career?
Along with my leadership skills, I’ve learnt to be more adaptive to individuals and situations. I’m still a registered vet nurse and animal welfare is always my first priority.
Who has inspired you?
I’ve worked with a number of inspirational people – the Goddard leadership team gave me space, opportunity and lots of tolerance to grow as a leader.
At Southfields, Emma Barnes, chief operating officer; Henry L’Eplattenier, clinical director; Lynne Hill, former chief executive officer; and the late Paul Coxon, who was chief financial officer, allowed me the freedom to explore the business and develop our team and centre.
'The profession continues to advance and offers many opportunities. What we can do for pets is remarkable'
Personally, my wife supported me through qualifying and my progression in the industry, and I owe my work ethic to my grandparents. My children motivate me to be a better person and remind me why it is important to mentor and support others.
How do you achieve work-life balance?
Work-life balance is difficult to achieve with a growing business and a large team. I set myself key events I must attend – a holiday, a festival, attending school events or meeting up with friends.
Weekends are a mix of family time and work emails, and getting the balance right can be challenging. I go to the gym every morning before starting work, which is very much ‘non-work’ time.
Working into the evenings is inevitable, especially with a large 24-hour team.
What are your interests outside of work?
Family and spending time with my children. I play the drums and played in a band for many years. Going to the gym. Dog walks and looking after various other pets. Spending time with friends. I am also a parent governor at my children’s school.
Would you recommend your job to a school leaver?
Yes, absolutely. The profession continues to advance and offers many opportunities. What we can do for people’s pets is remarkable. Everyone in the vet profession is there for the animals – there are so many roles to achieve this.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t give up your training. About a year into my vet nurse course I couldn’t decide if I had made the right decision. For a range of reasons I considered abandoning my training.
Now, of course, I’m glad I persisted and am grateful for the support of the colleagues I was training with, as we supported each other through the process.
1998: Registered vet nurse, Medivet
2005: Head vet nurse, Goddard Veterinary Group’s Wanstead Veterinary Hospital
2012: Hospital manager, Village Vet Group, Cambridge
2014: Operations manager and academy principal, Dick White Referrals, Newmarket
2017 – present: Hospital director, Southfields Veterinary Specialists