Fulfilling career aspirations through veterinary practice ownership
As a teenager, I was torn between three very different career paths. Apart from training to be a vet, becoming a dentist or an entrepreneur also really appealed to me, but my mind was made up during a visit to a veterinary practice in my late teens, when I swiftly realised that by becoming a vet I could combine all three. I was amazed, and very pleased, to see just how many different doors a veterinary degree opens.
After qualifying in South Africa, at the Onderstepoort University in Pretoria in 1995, I came to England – to Shropshire – to work in a mixed practice. I loved my time in the countryside and was supported and encouraged to develop as a vet. But I’d always promised my family I’d return to Johannesburg, so my time in the UK was short.
Back in South Africa, I picked up some further experience running a small animal practice for a few weeks every couple of months in Johannesburg. During this spell, I also did a lot of emergency work, learning to love the challenges it brought.
As it turned out, my stay at home wasn’t as long as planned when an opportunity arose in New Zealand that I couldn’t resist. I was invited to run a small practice in Paraparaumu, which had been sold and was waiting for new owners. It was a mixed practice and I would be the primary clinician. I’d only been qualified for 18 months, so it was a challenging position, but I relished it and learnt a lot about running a practice.
Starting a practice
As well as the opportunity to save money and gain further skills and experience, my time in New Zealand gave me the courage to move back to the UK and nurture my more entrepreneurial side by buying my first practice, Emerson’s Green Veterinary Surgery in Bristol.
I hadn’t yet been qualified for four years, but I felt ready for the challenge. And there were certainly some challenges along the way. As well as having to build up my business skills and learn all about disciplines such as software development, the pressures of running my own practice took their toll on my health.
Dealing with health issues
I became stressed six years after setting up the practice. I experienced four grand mal seizures, leaving me with a compression fracture in my lower back and a broken shoulder.
As well as needing surgery, there were concerns about permanent paralysis. Thankfully, the operations went well but, as money was tight, I had to overlook the causes of the seizures – stress and workload – and return to work after two weeks rather than the 12 weeks’ rest and physiotherapy that I’d been advised to take.
"I do find I’m constantly battling to achieve a good work-life balance"
A few years further down the track, with more experience and surrounded by a great team of colleagues and staff, the stress isn’t quite so intense, but I do find I’m constantly battling to achieve a good work-life balance.
I always strive to ensure that I give attention to my family, my work and my health as much as I can. This comes down to time management, which in today’s busy world, is something we could all probably do with some help with.
Labour of love
While there are challenges, I can honestly say that I love my job. The interaction with staff, clients, colleagues and pets is brilliant.
It also offers some great opportunities to learn and develop my career. I started my certificate in small animal medicine in 1999, but had to put that on hold to concentrate on building up the practice. Then, once everything was on a more even keel, I was able to focus on the third of my teenage career options – being a dentist – by studying and achieving advanced practitioner status in veterinary dentistry. This was incredibly rewarding.
From the very beginning of my career I’d always wanted to own my own practice and develop my dentistry skills. I felt certain that dentistry held one of the keys to having happy and healthy pets.
Winning Vet of the Year at this year’s Petplan Veterinary Awards was a major achievement for me. I was deeply honoured to be nominated by my staff and clients; however, much of the credit for the award must also go to my practice team. There is no way I could do my job without them.
I’m also very proud that our passion for providing veterinary services at Emerson’s Green has also been recognised. Since 2008, we have been nominated for Veterinary Practice of the Year in these highly regarded awards.
"I felt certain that dentistry held one of the keys to having happy and healthy pets"
In 2011 my team won that award, which was a culmination and celebration of a group of people that I will never forget. It was also a huge surprise – we had no idea we were even in the running.
At that time we were a small team doing our best for our patients. Taking an accolade like that ahead of some big names felt very special. At the time, my nurses were all newly qualified and it was a fantastic validation of not only our care and dedication, but also a comment on how we had trained our nurses and our support staff.
I’ve still got plenty of aspirations and I hope this accolade will help me to achieve them. It will provide a platform to give people our message, working to keep pets healthy and happy.
I believe the public is looking for a new type of veterinary service – one where vets use more technology to document their findings and diagnose disease. This will be a really positive step – one that which will lead to healthier pets and happier owners.
Helping to meet public demand by changing the face of veterinary services will definitely excite me for many years to come.