New skills and new opportunities through voluntary work
As a child in Scotland, I remember spending many hours with my nose buried in the Herriot books. If asked to do any chores, I would do them with the book in one hand, while attempting the task with the other. From then on, I wanted to be a mixed practice vet, which was about as far as my career plan went.
I qualified from Glasgow vet school in 1993 and, during my first job interview, I suddenly realised that working in mixed practice wasn’t for me after all. I had been heading for a mixed practice job out of a sense of what I thought I should do rather than what I wanted to do – I loved small animal practice.
I spoke with a number of people who really helped me identify what it was I wanted. I applied for jobs in small animal practice and, in the autumn of 1993, started working in a private practice in a market town in north-east England.
In 1998, when I decided to move back to Scotland, I joined the PDSA in Glasgow. This was a great opportunity to develop my surgical skills and work in a larger team.
However, although my family was close by, most of the vets I had graduated with had left the area, and I felt isolated. I joined the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) and attended local CPD events so I could meet more people in the area – people in a similar position to me and with whom I could share my experiences.
I became part of the BSAVA Scottish Region and took on the role of treasurer within its Scottish committee – this was the beginning of my volunteering life alongside my day job.
On reflection, it’s the skills I have learnt in my different volunteering roles that have led me to where I am now. I gained confidence, learnt how to understand a spreadsheet, and worked well with a group of vets and nurses. I took on a more senior role within the PDSA and spent a few months involved in a project management role, rolling out a new initiative within the charity.
At the end of 2009, I moved out of the charity sector and into referral practice – I took on the role of hospital manager at Vets Now’s first 24/7 emergency and specialty hospital in Glasgow. It was also the moment I left clinical work behind.
I had never imagined I would leave clinical practice, but I had developed a range of non-clinical skills in some of my roles outside work, and felt that this new challenge would be a good time to commit to more structured learning. I attended Strathclyde Business School at night and achieved my MBA (with distinction) in November 2014. Vets Now supported me throughout this.
"Finding an employer that will support and encourage you is really important"
It was strange going back to lectures and sitting exams and was a very different experience as a mature student. However, it was much easier to understand the relevance of what I was learning and how it applied to my work.
Vets and nurses generally want to keep learning, so finding an employer that will support and encourage you is really important.
I also had the privilege to serve as president of the BSAVA. I had continued to be involved with the association since those early days and was delighted and honoured to have this opportunity. Once again, my employer was hugely supportive and I took a partial sabbatical during that year. It was hard work – it meant a lot of juggling and being very organised – but was definitely a highlight of my career.
I still work for Vets Now. As its business development director, I am responsible for opening our new out-of-hours clinics and emergency and specialty hospitals. I have to be very organised and have project managed some large-scale projects over the past few years. I also enjoy being on the company’s board – one of a mixed team of people from inside and outside the profession. Everyone brings different views and experiences to the table, which enables individuals and the business to go from strength to strength.
How do you achieve work-life balance?
I love being busy and having different roles and getting involved with projects. Strangely, this helps me to achieve my life balance (my preferred term), but it can be tricky making sure I don’t take on too much – it’s easy to underestimate how long something will take to achieve.
I am the UK director of the Federation of Companion Animal Veterinary Associations (FECAVA), a voluntary role I hold through the BSAVA, and I love it. As Europe’s community of companion animal vets, FECAVA represents more than 25,000 vets in 40 European countries.
"I don’t think I appreciated the value of the European veterinary community until I joined FECAVA"
I don’t think I appreciated the importance and value of the European veterinary community until I became involved. FECAVA relies on volunteers to deliver its objectives and I serve on a number of committees. The hard work is balanced by the opportunity to travel and meet some amazing people. It is important to keep in contact with our colleagues in Europe.
In addition, a few years ago I also become a trustee of Vetlife, the charity that provides support for the veterinary community.
The Vetlife Helpline provides independent, confidential and free help 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. Although I wanted to be involved, I knew I wasn’t the type of person who could become a helpline volunteer, so becoming a trustee was an ideal way to do my bit.
I also volunteer with StreetVet, sit on the BVA Scottish Branch committee and the BVA Electoral College.
What do you do to relax?
Time off is precious. I started running a few years ago (more like a very fast walk) and I make time for that two to three times a week. I don’t go far and it’s usually only for 30 minutes, but it’s really important for me to get outside, enjoy some fresh air and stretch my legs. Running is something I can do when I’m travelling and I can be flexible with time…and Google means I can find routes in new places quite easily!
What advice would you give to others?
Make the most of opportunities and use them to expand your horizons.
It can be scary to take on a new role, but tap into the advice and experiences of those around you. Talk to people and listen to what they have to say. You may not agree with them, but understanding others’ viewpoints is a great way to improve your knowledge.
Lastly, and most importantly, make time for yourself and your family.
Graduated Glasgow vet school
Small animal practitioner in north- east England
Senior vet, PDSA, Glasgow
Hospital manager, Vets Now 24/7 emergency and specialty hospital, Glasgow
MBA with distinction, Strathclyde university
Business development director, Vets Now
UK director, FECAVA