Married to the job: working with your partner in a vet practice

Kate and Keith Holton at Vets4Pets

We met at the Royal Veterinary College as undergraduates; Keith qualified in 2004 and I qualified the following year. We have been together for 14 years, married for eight and we have two daughters aged three and six. Having worked in practices throughout Dorset and Wiltshire, we decided to settle just outside Bristol in 2011. Then, in October 2015, Keith opened his Vets4Pets practice in Yate as a joint venture partner (JVP). At the time, I was working part-time as a locum, and also worked occasional days at the Yate practice.

Advantages of working, owning and running a practice as husband and wife

Earlier this year we decided that I should join the practice as a vet and co-JVP; we already knew that we worked well together.

There are advantages and disadvantages to working, owning and running a veterinary practice as husband and wife. One of the main advantages is that we are able to organise our own rotas, which means we can plan our working hours around child care.

We also have the benefit of knowing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and can arrange the practice structure accordingly. For example, Keith’s strengths lie in consulting and interacting with clients, while I am more organised and enjoy the surgical aspect of clinical work. This means that Keith spends more time consulting and dealing with the client-facing issues and I concentrate on operating. I also spend a half-day a week doing office work.

Another advantage is that we can wholeheartedly trust one another to take care of the practice, our colleagues and our clients when the other is out of the building. This means whoever is not at work can enjoy a proper day off without being interrupted, or worrying about work.

Outside the surgery one of the biggest advantages is that we always have someone to rely on, someone to talk to and someone to share the workload.

Challenges of being a joint venture partner (JVP)

Being a JVP can be challenging. It can mean trying to deal with many different and pressing issues, some of which have no easy solution. The old saying ‘two heads are better than one’ definitely applies in these situations. We have the guidance of Vets4Pets support office colleagues who we can rely on for help with some of the business and HR aspects of running the practice, and on the clinical side we are lucky to have an amazing team, as well as friends who are JVPs who we can talk to and bounce ideas off.

"One of the major conditions of our working together was that it would be on an equal footing"

When we decided to become co-JVPs, one of the major conditions of our working together was that it would be on an equal footing. We didn’t want one person to feel that they were not taken as seriously or viewed differently. As vets we both do clinical work in the practice. Keith works fulltime (four days a week and one-in-four weekends), while I work part-time (two-and-a-half days a week and one-in-four weekends).

We only spend one day a week doing clinical work together and one-and-a-half days a week in the building at the same time. My half-day is spent doing paperwork and other jobs within the practice.

Working together has its disadvantages too. One of these is that in our profession, it can be difficult not to take work home. The practice is relatively new and it requires a lot of hard work, time and input, and not all of this can be done in working hours when we are also trying to care for clients. This means we spend time at home in the evenings working and talking about what has happened during the day. However, arguably, this isn’t really anything new, as we would often spend time discussing cases at home before we worked together.

Domestic harmony through communication

When we are at home, in order to separate our home and work relationships, we have to ensure that we communicate well and we talk a lot.

We both take responsibility for home life and domestic chores. We try to have a couple of nights each week where we don’t do any work or talk about work so that we can relax and chat about other things. We learnt very quickly to turn off our e-mail notifications when we aren’t at work, otherwise it’s easy to get drawn into things that should wait until we are back in the practice. Having said that, if there was ever a major problem, our colleagues know they can call us.

It can occasionally be difficult to keep our personal life out of work, but we are very careful about this. We are professional with one another at work so that the practice can work efficiently and colleagues don’t feel uncomfortable. We encourage a fun and happy atmosphere in the practice and keeping a good sense of humour definitely helps to make working together easier.

Child care - a military operation!

Child care is part of many people’s working lives and for us, working together means if we have problems with child care at short notice, it affects us both. Such a scenario could mean one of us having to take time off and the other taking on the workload of two people. Having said that, we are very fortunate to have family nearby who provide some of our child care, so this is rarely an issue.

Our family has bailed us out at short notice many times when there has been a problem requiring our immediate attention. We are grateful for their support and understand that not everyone is in a similar situation.

Keith and Kate working together during surgery
Keith and Kate working together during surgery 

As our work involves us both working one weekend each month, time as a family can be limited. We try to organise things so that we get time together with the children, but it can be difficult. Because of that we make an effort to make the most of the time we do get together as a family.

Most of our time outside of work is taken up by the children and their various activities. Sometimes it can feel a bit like a military operation getting them to the right place on time – remembering to buy presents and cards for all the birthday parties they are invited to! Their social lives are definitely much more active than ours, but we make time to go out for dinner together occasionally and put extra effort into making a nice meal for the two of us at home.

Family holidays can be tricky, as it obviously means we are both away from the practice. Having said that, we are very lucky to have a great team of locums who we trust and rely on to help us out when we want time off.

We also have an excellent full-time team, who keep the practice running smoothly when we aren’t there.

Continuing to work together

Although we are still relatively new to working together, it does seem to work for us and our family. There may be other difficulties that we have yet to encounter. As some of our nurses have pointed out, perhaps they are better placed to say how well we work together than we are!

We are soon moving into a house that needs total renovation and that will bring its own challenges. Sometimes we wonder if we are taking on too much at once but we definitely like to keep busy.

The most important thing is that we are happy, and our colleagues and children are too.

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