Opening up conversations about the profession and leading on wellbeing issues
I was lucky enough to have secured my dream job before I graduated. Leaving Cambridge in 2004 for the hills and thrills of a full-throttle mixed practice life in Cumbria was exhilarating. I used every part of my veterinary degree dealing with prolapses in pigs, frozen semen artificial insemination in mares, caesarean sections in prize-winning Belgian blue cattle, and surgeries for conditions such as gastric dilatation volvulus and colic. One day I removed the gonads from five different species! I loved the job and the people were fabulous mentors and friends. Because of this, it was hard to admit to myself that I wasn’t happy; I was lonely.
I left to start a small animal internship at the rapidly expanding Dick White Referrals in Suffolk. I fully intended to return to first-opinion practice, equipped to be the best GP vet I could be. I did have the offer to pursue a further research position, but due to family illnesses I decided to take a week-on, week-off night job in a local small animal hospital instead, so I could help out at home on my weeks off. Life gets in the way of a career at times, but most of these things only last for a while and I’ve learned to flex my career with the ebb and flow of life’s demands.
I then worked a mixture of days, out-of-hours and shelter medicine shifts in between starting a family. Despite loving clinical work, I was developing other interests.
Exploring alternative careers
I started having conversations with friends with alternative careers. One of these sparked the idea of setting up a website, which coincided with an increasing awareness and concern for the stress, disillusionment and poor mental health I was seeing among friends and colleagues. Vetsnet was born – a website to curate, summarise and signpost the growing resources to support mental, physical and financial health.
Vetsnet is a not-for-profit enterprise created in my own time with my own money. I taught myself business skills, web design, accounting, social media marketing and networking. It links to the Facebook communities Vet Mums and Vetsports.
Other Facebook groups were also emerging. Ebony Escalona set up Vets: Stay, Go, Diversify (VSGD) and Veterinary Voices UK started opening up conversations about the profession. Ben Sweeney started shaking up the locum industry and VetLed introduced learning on workplace culture to the veterinary profession. There must have been something in the water!
"Doors started opening, so I thought what the heck? Push them!"
Through networking with these like-minded, inspiring individuals, we found our ideas had the same core values but different expressions. We have collaborated widely, working across platforms to complement parallel initiatives. I joined the VSGD working group. VetLed and I joined forces and co-founded WellVet to organise events for the wellbeing of mind, body and soul. This year, WellVet is collaborating with VSGD and Veterinary Voices UK for our event in September.
Doors started opening, so I thought what the heck? Push them! I started writing articles for the vet press and spoke on wellbeing and parenting at conferences. I worked as a consultant on www.vetsurgeon.org and www.vetnurse.co.uk, and I still write the monthly ‘Need to Know’ newsletters for these websites as a useful quick references for users. This year I joined the board of the Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons to help organise the Vet Wellbeing Awards.
All these skills and passions led me to the door of Susan McKay at Companion Consultancy. If you had told me – even a year ago – that I’d be doing a public relations and marketing job I would not have believed it. Yet when I read the job description, I realised the skills I’d been fostering through all my projects were a great match.
The negotiation and networking skills, the social media management and planning, the content creation, event management, marketing materials, website design, spreadsheets, business planning, budgeting…all these skills have prepared me for the role of senior account manager.
Having a varied job
We work with a wide range of clients including vet, pet trade and agricultural sectors. My days are hugely varied; from meeting with a biotech startup company to ghost-writing a column for a magazine.
One minute I’ll be searching for an amusing gif file for a social media post, the next I’ll be reading scientific journals for the latest content. The skill of empathising with each client who walks through the consulting room door is transferable to putting myself in the persona of each commercial client to reflect their brand values as I create content and plan campaigns.
My passion for creating support resources is the second part of my role at Companion Consultancy. I am working on reinvigorating the Veterinary Woman website, which was set up by Companion Consultancy.
The prospect of having a platform to encourage women to realise their full career potential through blogs, pod casts, training, role modelling and even a book club is exciting.
Liz is working on reinvigorating the Veterinary Woman website
As a feminising profession we want to inspire women to aspire and grow into leadership roles throughout the industry. From professional organisations, animal health companies and corporates to head nurse or clinical leads in their local branch, leadership does not have to be on a grand scale. We can all be leaders in our own sphere.
My ‘day job’ now offers me the flexibility and opportunity to work from home much of the time, and indulge my clinical penchant with locum shifts. The downside is you never quite get away from work, so it’s important to ring-fence family and self-care time.
I get my regular fix of outdoor exercise by cycling, running and walking the dogs. I have a fabulous network of mums on the school run, all with their own entrepreneurial ventures, with whom I can share a ideas and a glass of prosecco.
If I look back at my journey, most of it is a surprise to me and I never would have predicted where my career would take me.
I am fortunate to have had friends coach me through the muddy waters to get clarity about what drives me and how to follow my passions. I am still on a journey – it’s an ever-winding road as my skills evolve, and I regularly reassess the direction I’m heading.
I love clinical work, but I thrive on the variety of my current roles. Part of my heart will always remain in Cumbria, and I regularly visit and stay on one of the farms to muck in with the lambing. Old habits – nay, passions – die hard.
- 2004: Qualified from Cambridge
- 2004–2007: Mixed practice vet, Cumbria
- 2007–2008: Small animal rotating internship at Dick White Referrals
- 2008–2018: Cromwell Veterinary Group – predominantly emergency and critical care and shelter medicine
- 2017– present: founder of Vetsnet – a social enterprise providing a free resource website for the veterinary profession. This included setting up Vet Mums community on Facebook
- 2018–present: co-founder of WellVet – organising sport, social and personal development events for veterinary teams
- 2018–present: member of the working group of Vets: Stay, Go, Diversify
- 2018–2019: consultant to vetsurgeon.org and vetnurse.co.uk
- 2018–present: locum vet
- 2019–present: board member of the Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons
- 2019–present: senior account manager at Companion Consultancy – PR and marketing to vet and pet trade and content for the Veterinary Woman website.