Life with horses as an equine director

Ben Jacklin

Horses have always been my passion. I have a particular interest in thoroughbred racing, so I felt that veterinary medicine would offer me the opportunity to combine my passion with a stimulating and challenging career.

Following graduation from Cambridge university, I got a job in Newmarket, as I had intended, working with thoroughbred racehorses. Newmarket is a special place and, as a young vet, it was a privilege to be exposed to such a high volume of cases in an elite veterinary environment.

A couple of years later, I moved to Melbourne, Australia, where I was exposed to a different thoroughbred industry – one that I enjoyed even more.

Prize money there is huge because of the way that the betting industry is structured. This made racing accessible to a wide group of people who, as a result, saw the value in giving their horses the very best treatment. I was fortunate to work there at a time when Black Caviar, a racehorse undefeated in 25 races, was at her height. Being part of that team remains a career highlight.

Eventually the lure of the scalpel drew me back to the UK to undertake an equine surgical residency at the Royal Veterinary College in London. My ECVS diploma followed and I later rejoined my previous colleagues in Newmarket as a consultant equine surgeon.

By 2015, I was starting to believe that the ‘traditional’ models of equine practice and of equine veterinary careers were not sustainable. The banks were lending less to private partnerships and competition within the profession meant that collaboration across the country was difficult.

In addition, it was becoming clear that the newer generation of vets were not as willing to work the hours I had done during the first five years of my career – I don’t blame them. New graduates today are better educated in terms of what work should look like and, more importantly, what life should look like.

Moving into role at CVS

Coincidentally, at this time I was approached by CVS about a role running one of its equine hospitals, Oaklands Veterinary Centre in Yarm, Northumberland. I could see from the proposal that CVS made to me, and its plans to build a strong, consolidated equine veterinary team, that the company was addressing many of my concerns.

After much deliberation, my answer was yes. It was an enormous decision. I had worked every hour up until that point with the aim of becoming a Newmarket surgeon and it wasn’t easy to leave this ambition behind.

From week one though I knew I had made the right decision and I can honestly say I haven’t regretted it for a moment.

During my first year at CVS, in addition to running Oaklands day-to-day, I oversaw the building of its new state-of-the art hospital. Once this had been successfully opened in 2016, I was appointed director of CVS’s Equine Division, which currently encompasses 32 equine practices, ranging from leading referral hospitals, to ambulatory practices and mixed practices.

"My advice to vets thinking about the next step in their career is not to allow your decisions to be constrained by the past and by ideas of a traditional veterinary career"

Stepping up to this role was a challenge, but I was fortunate not only to have access to formal financial, management and leadership training, but also to work alongside some of the leaders in our company from whom I was able to learn a great deal.

In my role as equine director, I am firmly focused on ensuring that our teams provide the highest standards of clinical care to our patients and that we offer them a great working environment with real opportunities for career progression.

Our Equine Clinical Advisory Committee, comprising clinical staff from across the division, makes decisions on the key issues facing our business and the wider profession. These include purchasing decisions, the advice we give our vets and our investments in the latest equipment and facilities. In addition to my leadership role, I still spend time in theatre operating.

In my experience, veterinary medicine offers the opportunity to combine stretching scientific thinking with a job where working with people and animals is at the forefront, and I think this is a rare thing. I also enjoy the variety of my work. In my clinical role, I can be working with animals that are treasured pets, or with equine athletes to ensure they can stay at the top of their game.

Seeing a surgical patient out competing and winning is fabulous – but so is watching a loved pony being reunited with its 10-year -old owner. The experience is different – but equally satisfying.

Job challenges and satisfaction

Working with so many practices is the biggest challenge I face in leading the division but it is also one of the things that makes the role so energising. It is great to work with a wide range of people, both within the company and outside it, and encouraging new practices and colleagues to join us and supporting their integration and growth is the part of my job that gives me the most satisfaction.

I really believe that we need to create a better working model for the next generation of vets and we are working hard to introduce this via flexible working, shift systems for vets and investigating new models for out-of-hours provision.

I have been fortunate in that I have found an employer who has allowed me to carve my own path and shape my own future – giving me a sense of control over my destiny which is refreshingly new.

My advice to vets thinking about the next step in their career is not to allow your decisions to be constrained by the past and by ideas of a traditional veterinary career. The world is changing fast so explore and enjoy all the opportunities our degree gives us and relish that flexibility!

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