The value of volunteering
I grew up in the town of Airdrie in Scotland’s central belt – or the Centre of the Universe as I see it. I’m not sure where my obsession for animals came from; nobody in my family had any background or real interest in animals but the interest didn’t go away and was likely fuelled by such TV shows as ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ and the books of James Herriot. I was a self-confessed pony-mad girl and I begged my parents to fund my horse-riding lessons. There was never any question that I would do anything other than become a vet and so I worked hard and earned my place at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. I qualified in 2004 and have been in practice ever since.
Horses are what motivated me to become a vet but opportunity, confidence (or lack of) and fairly severe Raynaud’s syndrome in my hands affected this choice (it’s not easy to rasp teeth and find veins when you don’t recognise the difference between your fingers and your kit) and so I chose to move to small animal practice. I have held a variety of posts over the years and learned a lot in the process. I have made my fair share of mistakes and I hope I’ve also made a few good decisions, meeting lovely people and animals along the way. There are memories to cherish and I have made friends for life.
For a variety of reasons though, I have had my doubts about my place in the vet profession and, a few years ago, I began to explore my career options; in fact, I almost took the plunge to leave the profession, never to return. However, around that time, I was given the opportunity to join the charity VET Trust as a volunteer director. VET Trust is run by a board of directors with the objective of providing, promoting, encouraging and advancing continuing education for those who are engaged in or associated with the practise of the art and science of veterinary medicine and surgery. We organise a conference each year in June and we provide monetary awards to successful applicants to attend CPD courses. I found that I really enjoyed being part of something outside of my usual day job and getting involved gave me a new sense of purpose as well as providing an opportunity to meet new people.
Through VET Trust I met Kathleen Robertson, who at that time was coming to the end of her final term as the BVA regional representative for Scotland. She encouraged me to apply for the role when the vacancy was advertised and told me what it would involve. I was fortunate to gain the support I needed and was elected to the role in early 2018. The role is a voluntary one, with elected reps serving a maximum of two three-year terms. We attend four meetings of BVA Council each year to represent the views of members in our areas, and between meetings we attend local meetings of BVA members, give talks at local Young Vet Network events and sit on various BVA working groups and committees.
'I really enjoyed being part of something outside of my usual day job'
As part of the BVA role I have been invited to attend a variety of stakeholder working groups such as a Scottish Government puppy trade working group. The illegal puppy trade has been a problem I have seen first-hand as a practitioner in general practice. Volunteering has taken me to meetings where I see the hard work and efforts to tackle this cruel trade at Scottish Government level and with the support and work of the SSPCA and stakeholder groups across the UK. Their work is tireless and unrelenting, and it is humbling to witness.
I was and still work as a locum vet, which gives me the flexibility to take on voluntary roles as I can choose when I work. It has also helped me to develop confidence in talking to new people. As I began to get into the regional rep’s role, I started to realise that I really enjoyed engaging with my fellow professionals outside of everyday practice life. I found myself motivated and driven to help other vets and nurses. The BVA role has been an incredible opportunity for me. I have met so many new people and I get the chance to input on the important issues affecting each of us working at the coalface. It also allows me to revisit areas of veterinary medicine that I had almost entirely forgotten. I love learning about the different species groups and seeing the different roles vets play in the workforce and it has reminded me why I wanted to be a vet in the first place.
I have had many more opportunities to volunteer, including performing admissions interviews for students applying to veterinary medicine, which was a rewarding experience. Outside of the vet world, I occasionally volunteer for Parkrun, which has been a nice way to feel part of an inclusive community enterprise. I also take part now and again though I am somewhat of a fair-weather runner.
I now work part time as a locum vet in practice and part time for the Veterinary Defence Society in the membership team. I am certain that the opportunities that have come to me from volunteering, exploring and networking helped me to secure the latter position and I now enjoy the best of both worlds by working in practice and working on behalf of my fellow vets and nurses.
For me, volunteering has been career saving. I love the variety in my life and career and whether it’s BVA, Streetvet or Parkrun, I can highly recommend volunteering to bring joy, interest and opportunity to your life.