Overcoming challenges in pursuit of a veterinary career
I am a normal farm vet, doing normal things and living a normal life. Having graduated from Cambridge vet school in 2013, I joined the internship programme at Westpoint Veterinary Group – a nationwide group of farm animal practices – where I benefited from a phased and supported introduction to clinical work.
I then moved to the Chelmsford practice, where I stayed for five years before being appointed ruminant clinical director at Oakwood Veterinary Group this year. I thought my vet life was already looking pretty perfect when I received my biggest accolade so far – being awarded the title of ‘BVA Young Vet of the Year 2019’.
In truth, it hasn’t always easy. I could easily have left the profession and become just another statistic. I have had to cope with many challenges, and my career nearly stalled before it got off the ground.
I have Asperger’s syndrome. In my case it means that I can’t cope with unpredictability – I need structure and routine to my day (which isn’t always compatible with veterinary work). I also find that keeping my anxieties and imposter syndrome at bay challenging.
Eventually, I was forced to admit that I wasn’t coping. As a perfectionist, being off work for several months with mental health difficulties led me to feel like a failure – it was a very low point – and is something I’ve not been able to admit to before.
At vet school, I hadn’t had a specific career plan. I knew I wanted to work with large animals and I wanted to be happy and healthy and a good clinician. More than that, I wanted to be the vet that people were happy to see, and to an extent the same still holds true. I certainly never aspired to be a manager. However, this year, when a neighbouring practice needed help, I took on more of a management role, offering to check dockets and provide advice in making decisions, which changed my career plans very quickly!
During the past seven years I feel I have progressed immeasurably. I would hesitate to say I am more resilient, but the challenges have enabled me to acknowledge my difficulties and (I hope) have made me a more empathetic member of the team.
"Competence creeps up on you and you suddenly find yourself doing things you thought were impossible"
The more experience I get, the more my diary gets pre-planned with routine visits, which makes it less likely that I’m going to be faced with unexpected surprises.
My work is mostly out on farm with quite a bit of administrative work squeezed in whenever I can. I feel lucky to spend my days outdoors, working with great clients and spending time on farms.
If I’m completely honest, I’m not good at achieving a healthy work-life balance.
I love my job – it’s a way of life. I enjoy being part of the farming community so the lines between work and life are blurred. But the important thing for me is that I don’t mind, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Despite being fairly obsessed by my work, I do have other interests that keep me happy, active and, at times, distracted from work. I am a national athletics official, so I judge at all levels of athletics from local to international events, and also enjoy spending summer weekends stewarding or providing veterinary cover at agricultural shows.
Winning the award has been an opportunity to reflect and realise how far I’ve come. I’ve been inspired by and had the support of some amazing people.
My grandfather, John Craven was predominantly an equine vet and tales of his career were inspiring. Even though he died when I was quite young, his best friend and colleague Roger Fox – now in his 90s and thriving – is still in touch with the profession. He has had a great influence on me and even now could teach any of us a skill or two.
He is one of many people who have supported me – such as the vet who took the extra time with me during extramural studies, to the university lecturers who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, as well my colleagues and others I have met on my vet journey.
Despite my personal challenges, I love my career and cannot imagine doing anything else.
"I feel lucky to spend my days outdoors, working with great clients"
We are privileged to do this job. Entry to the veterinary course is competitive and many children/teenagers would give anything to be in our position. The job is rarely monotonous and we work with wonderful people and animals, and get to make a difference daily – how many people can say that?
I believe my anxieties are linked to my personality, not my profession. Rather than blaming a bad outcome for my anxiety, I try to remember how lucky I am to work with a species that I generally find quite calming. Those who have worked with me would probably testify that I’m nicer to know when I’ve been out on farm rather than in the office for a few days!
For anyone who may be questioning their career choice, trust me when I say things improve. I thought my career had ended on several occasions, but good times can and will come. Trust the system as your skills develop; it’s okay to be scared.
I didn’t enjoy university as much as I could have because I felt intimidated by the idea of being a ‘real’ vet and the associated responsibility it would bring. I doubted my ability to be a good vet, let alone mentor others and lead a practice. However, I’m still here, and I love my work more than ever.
Competence creeps up on you and you suddenly find yourself doing things you previously thought were impossible. I still take poor clinical outcomes badly and I worry about cases, but I’m alright with that now. I recognise that the feeling won’t last forever, and I know its okay to feel like that.
One thing my career has taught me is the importance of communication. Ultimately, most situations are controlled not by what happened – good or bad – but how it was communicated.
As for the future, I want to keep developing and improving and be the best version of myself.
If an opportunity comes up and it feels right, I’ll take it. But I will be forever grateful to the BVA and Zoetis for appointing me Young Vet of the Year. It is the biggest vote of confidence anyone could give me.
2013: Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge
2013–2014: Internship, Westpoint Veterinary Group (Winchester)
2014–2019: Assistant vet, Westpoint Veterinary Group (Chelmsford)
2017–current: clinical board, Westpoint Veterinary Group as mobility group lead
2018–current: undertaking certificate in advanced veterinary practice in cattle
2019–current: ruminant clinical director, Oakwood Veterinary Group
2019–current: mobility group lead, Vet Partners Special Interest Groups
2019: winner BVA Young Vet of the Year