I am delighted, honoured and a little nervous about being asked to write this article. I like to think the request means that I have an interesting career story and leadership journey to share, but of course you, dear reader, will be the judge of that…
I always say that my veterinary career journey started at an early age – through a lack of imagination and awareness of other career options, I decided I could be a farmer, or a vet, or, perhaps, a rally driver (I was a huge fan of Stig Blomqvist at the tender age of seven). Was there really anything else that appealed? I decided not and having managed to pass my A levels, I embarked on my veterinary career thinking it was all I had ever aspired to. But it didn’t turn out that way, and within a few years, I started to look for different ways to use my “veterinary brain”.
It turns out that lack of imagination has not hindered me in pursuing a varied and exciting career since I graduated from Edinburgh University in the mid-1990s, with plenty of opportunities to travel. Starting with a postgraduate project in Oman and then roles in mixed and small animal practice in the UK, Hong Kong and New Zealand, I branched out into physical therapy, rehabilitation and acupuncture.
Then, in 2001, everything changed, and I was drawn into my long-term career as a government vet, responding to the UK’s foot and mouth disease (FMD) outbreak. Since then, I have worked in the operations, policy, veterinary and science directorates of Defra and APHA. This has included working as Defra’s head of EU relations for animal health and welfare (2012-2015), the veterinary lead for avian virology in the UK’s National Reference Laboratory at APHA, Weybridge, and one of APHA’s veterinary leads in Wales.
I am currently the Food Standard Agency’s director of veterinary services, and to be honest, it all still feels a bit “grown-up” for a farmer’s daughter from Yorkshire.
So, how did I get here and what advice would I give to my younger self?
Well, apart from trying harder at modern languages – Latin was great, but it doesn’t help me speak to my fabulous European colleagues very much! – I have boiled it down to three main themes:
1) Closing a door may lead to a window opening
It might be scary or even disappointing, but don’t be afraid to slam those doors and jump through those windows!
I vividly recall the worst interview of my life: I was applying for a promotion in the Civil Service, the first after a series of lateral moves, and it was awful! I came out of it thoroughly depressed and not sure what it meant for my future. However, I received some excellent feedback from the panel chair (and that is another piece of advice: always ask for feedback!). So I dusted myself off and looked around for the next opportunity. Within a few months, I found it. It was not a promotion, so now I look back and realise that I would not have considered applying if I had been successful in that promotion interview.
It might be scary or even disappointing, but don’t be afraid to slam those doors and jump through those windows
The role was a secondment to be Defra’s head of EU relations for animal health and welfare, and that changed my whole career pathway again. I was able to work on financial policy on top of animal health and welfare and learn from the UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO). It also kick-started my engagement with the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe and, ultimately, my role as president of the European Association of State Veterinary Officers.
2) Lateral moves are important to explore career options, so build your network and deploy your transferable skills
There is more about my career pathway below, but this feels like a great time to remind my younger self that leadership is not just about seniority. Every one of my roles, whether on a farm, in an office or at a general session of the World Organisation for Animal Health, has needed me to bring “everyday leadership” to the table – just as the RCVS promoted with its “Inspiring Veterinary Leaders” campaign.
Leadership is not just about seniority. Every one of my roles, whether on a farm, in an office or at a general session of the World Organisation for Animal Health, has needed me to bring ‘everyday leadership’ to the table
3) Your network and mentors are vital
My career and leadership style have been supported and influenced by so many of my colleagues, from the people I worked with in those early days of FMD in 2001, where I could see how valuable the role of government vets was, to working with our amazing CVOs, who are excellent role models of veterinary leadership.
Having branched out into “veterinary politics with a small p”, I have hugely valued working with and learning from the BVA and RCVS leadership teams and all my non-veterinary colleagues, too.
What advice would I give others considering a similar career path?
Of course, I would say “go for it” and not be put off by the Civil Service recruitment process. (My colleague, Jane Holleran, has written a great blog about her experience of applying for a job in the civil service – it is well worth a read!) But I would also say consider taking sideways or even small steps “backwards” to form a firm base and understanding of the various roles available.
In writing this article, I looked back at a presentation that I gave at a VSGD career campfire a few years ago and thought it would be helpful to share the slide of the route that I have taken. Only the final two steps (seven and eight) were promotions (Figure 1).
Consider taking sideways or even small steps “backwards” to form a firm base and understanding of the various roles available
To finish, I was asked to share a photo of something that “sums up my career”. I have chosen this photo of my maternal grandmother’s butcher shop (Figure 2). This is so special to me in highlighting my family connection to farming and food – a core value for me – and that I am so proud of my granny being a role model for “women in leadership”, even if I don’t think she quite realised it herself! She made the best pork pies, too!
Thank you for reading.
|If you would like to find out more about veterinary careers in government services, Jane recommends looking at the GVS Blogs website.|