“When I left clinical practice, I had no sense of self; my identity was intrinsically linked to being a vet, which was suddenly lost” - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

“When I left clinical practice, I had no sense of self; my identity was intrinsically linked to being a vet, which was suddenly lost”

Laura Shaw walks us through her career story and how she discovered what the most important thing in a veterinary workplace is

Laura Shaw, a vet and development consultant for Training-Progress, walks us through her career story, wherein she moved from clinical practice into a varied industry role. She shares how she discovered opportunities for personal development, tips for well-being and what is important in a workplace.

Can you tell us a little about your career journey so far?

I am a James Herriot-inspired vet (Christopher Timothy vintage!). Starting as a Saturday girl at Priory Vets at 13 and staying for my university foster practice, I remember how proud I felt the first time my initials appeared on the visits list – no longer tolerated but actually useful!

I graduated from Bristol in 2000 and went into mixed and then small animal practice until I left to locum in New Zealand. I enjoyed the challenge, and the variety of standards in practice there was eye-opening. I remember that one guy, according to his nurse, “doesn’t do many tests. He is such a good vet; he just knows what is wrong with them!”

On returning to the UK, I took two part-time jobs in Yorkshire but was unable to reconcile giving different advice on different days depending on where I was working. So, I resigned from one role and convinced my boss in Harrogate, Bob Partridge, to increase my hours, which he did, offering me an additional nurse management role. This was when I was first introduced to Training-Progress, which Bob was building to track team training.

Family ties took me south, where I joined the primary team at Willows Veterinary Centre and Referral Service. Initially, I loved it, but when I went part-time, I found it deskilling as my surgical caseload dwindled. With hindsight, though a wonderful practice, Willows was not the right job for me at that time.

Making the decision to break from clinical work led me to reach out to my old boss Bob Partridge again for some career advice. In addition to advice, he offered me a job with Training-Progress as a development consultant; he was about to redevelop the platform into a saleable product. I was delighted to take up the offer and have had a role which encompasses product development, marketing and support since then. It has been a very steep learning curve. We now employ a web developer and support staff, so I am managing other team members again, too.

I also volunteer with StreetVet in Gloucester. This work mainly involves attending outreaches a couple of times a month, but it also involves building a network within the local community to raise awareness, raise funds and positively influence local service providers.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

When I left clinical practice, I had no sense of self; my identity was intrinsically linked to being a vet, which was suddenly lost. It wasn’t until later, after I had worked with people in veterinary leadership and from other professions, that I learned about the skills and personal growth opportunities I was not aware of as a small animal assistant.

I would tell myself to hang my pride up at the door and embrace a growth mindset. It feels good to do new things, but to do this you have to be prepared to fail

To be fair, I am not sure there were so many personal development opportunities even 10 years ago, but now I would tell myself to hang my pride up at the door and embrace a growth mindset. It feels good to do new things, but to do this you have to be prepared to fail. I did not have the courage to do that in practice – which is why I felt myself contracting rather than growing as I wanted to.

I would also force myself to “be” something else, to “do” something else, other than being just a vet. Even before I had kids, I didn’t feel that I had time for a hobby; this was a mistake. When I first left practice, I joined an art class. I loved having real “me” time. There, I was willing to try something new. As I was flicking some paint about one day, someone said I was really brave and my reply was, “Why not? Nothing is going to die, and no one is going to get sued.” It made me think that maybe I had been practising defensively for some time!

How do you look after your well-being?

For my well-being, I have brought in “non-negotiables”: things I know help me switch off. These not only make me feel better, but I believe they help me to be a better mother, worker and any other role I find myself in.

The daily dog walk is so important to me: exercise, fresh air and being in the present moment. I am definitely not an advocate of catching up on a podcast as I walk. Half the benefit is being in the present, interacting with the dog and other walkers, hearing the birds and feeling the bark on the trees. I also go to Pilates. There is nothing like concentrating your mind on balance and control of your body to crowd out competing stressful thoughts. These are my non-negotiables. Unfortunately, painting has slipped from my non-negotiable list, and I miss it. I will endeavour to bring it back.

What is important to you in a workplace?

I have been very lucky to find a role which has been accommodating to my family needs and allows me to take time off for charity work with StreetVet. I believe flexibility in the workplace is the future. Such a high proportion of the veterinary population comprises women, who traditionally take the lion’s share of family responsibilities. For many, it is just too difficult to juggle with a clinical role. However, flexibility needs to work for all team members and can mean different things to different people, whether part-time, compressed hours, shift work, split shifts, school hours, term time, etc.

I believe flexibility in the workplace is the future […] however, flexibility needs to work for all team members and can mean different things to different people

I am a great believer in systems and processes. If you want consistent results, be they clinical, customer experience or management tasks, you have to provide clear protocols. Structure and training ensure team members are working consistently to the business’s processes and values rather than despite them. This allows team members to work with confidence and autonomy. This is one of the principles we work with at Training-Progress.

I also believe in involving the whole team in the development of working processes. Processes imposed from above are cumbersome to implement. A team-based quality improvement system in the workplace is vital to engage all team members in their roles – after all, they are vital stakeholders.

A team-based quality improvement system in the workplace is vital to engage all team members in their roles – after all, they are vital stakeholders

Laura Shaw

Laura Shaw is a veterinarian and development consultant for Training-Process. She began her veterinary career in clinical practice and has moved from clinical roles into a varied industry role after discovering the myriad opportunities for personal development and well-being available for veterinary professionals.


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