The valuable role of the veterinary receptionist
I didn’t find my dream job until I was 43 years old.
After leaving school in 1981, I completed a short clerical course and got a job at a local solicitors’ office. I then spent 14 years as a legal secretary, working my way up from being a junior secretary to working for one of the partners.
My day consisted of taking shorthand, audio typing, organising appointments and getting paperwork ready for my boss to take to the local County Courts and the High Court in London. It was a demanding job and a busy law practice, and although very different clientele to those I see now, a lot of the skills I use came from this experience.
At the same time, I also had a part-time job in a local pub, which I really enjoyed. I worked alongside a great guy who subsequently became my husband and we married in September 2000.
We left the pub life, moved into our new house and adopted our first dog together from Dogs Trust. Gypsy was a beautiful crossbreed – a gentle soul – and my husband and I idolised her.
Moving into the veterinary world
In 2007 I was made redundant from my legal job and I decided to take my time to find a job that didn’t involve sitting behind a desk all day. My main passions were animals and gardening, so I applied to become an auxiliary nurse at Blacks Vets in Dudley, West Midlands. Although nursing was completely new to me, I decided it was a case of nothing ventured, nothing gained.
The day before my interview I took Gypsy for a walk to clear my head and prepare myself – I wanted it to go well – when we were attacked by three dogs that were running free. Gypsy ended up at our local vets and I suffered a deep bite wound to my wrist, which meant I had to go to the accident and emergency department. We escaped with flesh wounds, but the experience was terrifying.
"I work with an amazing bunch of people and can’t imagine having a better job"
I remember feeling pretty rubbish before my interview and was apprehensive about how it would go. I shouldn’t have worried, it was like having a chat with friends. Everyone was so lovely, I couldn’t believe my luck.
The practice was also looking for a receptionist and I was asked if I would prefer to apply for that role because of the experience I had gained working with people, but I had set my heart on the auxiliary nursing position. After a one-day trial I was offered the job – I was over the moon.
My days involved helping the head nurse prepare for surgical procedures, watching over the animals as they recovered from anaesthetic procedures and making sure the inpatients were warm and comfortable. I also helped out on reception when we were busy and I found I loved the close contact with the clients.
Switching to reception duties
Eventually I realised that I actually preferred reception work to nursing, so I was delighted to hear that our Dudley hospital was looking for a receptionist.
I’m glad I made the move to reception work – I love it. I work with an amazing bunch of people and can’t imagine having a better job.
Being a receptionist isn’t just about checking clients and their pets in to see a vet – I’ve had lots of other experiences too. I’ve been asked to help care for puppies born by emergency caesarean section, I’ve held a large python around my neck and even got to meet actor Christopher Timothy when he opened our newly refurbished surgery. And on two occasions I’ve put a client in the recovery position after they were taken ill at the practice.
Kendall with python!
I still work mainly at the Dudley hospital, but from time to time I may be asked to do shifts at any of our surgeries, covering for holidays or sickness.
A typical day includes getting the reception area ready for the day’s clinics, making sure prescriptions are ready for collection and checking the vets’ rota so that each block of consultations run smoothly.
We have five branches and 20 vets who consult/operate at each one. We also hold puppy parties where reception staff may be asked to help to speak to the clients about our preventative treatment packages.
After just over 11 years working for Blacks Vets, I feel honoured to work with such great people. We are the only veterinary hospital within the local area and our orthopaedic surgeons, cardiologist and dermatologist have cases referred to them from far and wide.
At our annual summer garden party last year I was announced as the winner of ‘best receptionist’, having been nominated by my colleagues, and was subsequently nominated for the first ever British Veterinary Receptionist Association’s receptionist of the year award. I was thrilled to win that too.
The role of the veterinary receptionist is a valuable one. We often have the first contact with our clients and share both their wonderful news and their sad news. We have to be able to manage many tasks at once, think on our feet and always put the pet and their family first.
Sadly, my husband and I lost Gypsy when she was 15 years old, and my colleagues were so kind during this difficult time. Pet loss never gets any easier.
When you work in practice, some clients become friends, and when one of them brought her lurcher for a pregnancy scan, you can probably guess what happened – I was asked if we would like one of the pups and the answer was, of course, yes. Betty was born on 31 January 2016, one of a litter of eight, and she quickly filled the dog-shaped hole in our lives.
Outside of work my husband and I are keen walkers and are often out walking in south Shropshire and the Malvern Hills with Betty.