I have wanted to be a vet since I was about 10 years old. I come from a family full of doctors but I always preferred animals to people and so this was an obvious career path! I was fortunate to have the support to get into university first time around (although I did get just the one offer from Bristol, it was my first choice anyway) and thoroughly enjoyed my time at university as well all do.
After I graduated in 2003, I headed off to Thailand. I wasn’t keen to immediately leap into the world of work and felt like keeping my easy life with no real responsibilities for a little bit longer! However, in order to prepare me for the inevitable world of work I volunteered for a neutering clinic for a couple of months. This was an absolutely excellent way to hone my surgical skills and meant I was really able to hit the ground running, especially when it came to bitch spays.
My first job was in Wolverhampton, a town I had no connections in, but I I picked it not for it’s famous nightlife and culture (unbelievably!) but because it was a good place to get away from! I was still very close to all my university mates and wanted to be within easy driving of my home town, friends and family but also be independent.
In those early days of practice it is really important to have a support network around you to share the highs and lows and also, I believe, be in a place where it isn’t too hard to have a life outside of the clinic and that is a reasonable drive to visit people on your weekends off. These days it is easier to stay in touch with social media and messaging, and I really encourage any new graduates to do so, but it is still vital to see them in real life as well!
So I started my veterinary career in a really great small animal hospital with ‘all the toys’, doing out of hours and generally getting stuck in. Looking back it was an excellent introduction to the profession, working in a team who supported me and being able to see a huge range of cases.
I stayed for four years and the, as I think is really common, got itchy feet! I wanted to stop doing out-of-hours and just try something different. At the time there wasn’t another job to move to, so I became a locum. I like to think I locummed before it was fashionable!
In hindsight, although I enjoyed locumming and did learn, I probably would have been better going to another permanent job where I could have had a bit more of a stable career progression but once I’ve made a decision, I am not the type of person to change my mind!
My advice to my younger self, and to anyone in a similar position, would be to take on permanent roles over locumming in your early career. You will gain more from working in a supportive practice that you can continue to learn and upskill in and that will set you up better as your journey through vet med continues. Especially if, like me, you have a family and work part-time, which gives a wonderful work/life balance but does significantly slow your development. In this job you never stop learning! I still rely on knowledge and skills I learnt in that hospital and I do sometimes wonder how many more I would have if I had stayed in that type of environment.
However, we look forward not back! What I gained from being a locum, which lasted more than a decade, was the most incredible insight into our profession. Over that time I worked with literally hundreds of different people, in all kinds of practices from low cost clinics to referral centres, from one man bands, to multi-vet clinics, independents to corporates, and I can count on less than the fingers on one hand the ones I wouldn’t want to work with again. We really are the most extraordinary, passionate bunch and I was inspired to celebrate that.
Which was one of the reasons that led to my social media pages as ‘Cat The Vet’; I wanted to give a public face and voice to my peers and communicate our perspective to the public. This has now grown into a really significant part of my life and I still love doing it now as much as I did when I started.
In my clinical life I have finally settled down! I moved back to my home town 5 years ago, to be nearer to family for support for our young family and found a lovely job in a small, independent clinic where I am part of a great team.
And now it is that that motivates me to continue in clinical practice, I value above all being a part of a group of people who work together for the animals in their care. It sounds cheesy but it is true, it is my colleagues around me who are my inspiration!