Podcast #35

KICK ASS VETS was very lucky to have Dr. Sarah from www.sarahthevet.com join us on March 18, 2020 for an interview on her take on the veterinary industry, a bit about the economic state in the UK and practice structures, and some of the challenges she is facing in the field and what she wants to do about it!
Sarah’s Background:
Sarah is an experienced vet practicing in the UK. She graduated from Glasgow 18 years ago and at that time mixed practice was the norm, so that is what she went into upon graduation. She loved mixed practice and being out in the community, but after 6 years felt that she hit the limit of personal growth that she could obtain from that practice.

After taking time off to travel for 6 months, Sarah found a small animal clinic and was in that practice for 10 years. She didn’t choose a small animal practice by choice, but necessity to fit into her husbands' job. She missed the feel of mixed practice but enjoyed the work-up of cases she could experience with small animal. Sarah loved this clinic when it started but as it grew she felt the change in management style changed the feel of the clinic, and made it a place that wasn’t for her and led her down a path towards burn-out.
When there are job descriptions for certain positions, don’t immediately rely on the job description to determine whether or not you would like or be happy fulfilling that role. Many times the job description is unrelated or loosely related to the position. If you feel that you would like a particular role in a clinic, set up a meeting and ask for it, because it might be they are looking for that role but don’t know how to word it in an advert or on paper! Sarah missed out on internal promotions due to this discrepancy of what the job advert stated and what the final job role really was!
After another travel stint Sarah came to another job, but this job was ‘mis-sold’ to Sarah and wasn’t what she expected. This brought Sarah to last year at this time (~March 2019) and she was looking for a new job. She found that in the recruitment crisis there were many many job ads but they were all the same. At this point she tried “Reverse Recruitment” where she put herself out there on companies such as Linked In, and the “response was over-whelming.” She was very specific about her needs and wants, and the recruitment agencies and clinics ignored any of her requirements and just plowed ahead to try to get her in their role, independent of her wants/needs. Sarah shares “I was naive.” As an experienced and highly skilled vet, for Sarah it is very frustrating to see job after job, lacking what she wants, but stating and claiming that it does. And that brings us to the ‘now’.
Sarah Joins the Locum Ranks:
Locuming is for some people long term, and not for others. For Sarah locuming is not the long term plan. She likes that she can pick and choose her clinics, and is exposed to many different clinics, and mainly that when she interviews for a clinic with low standards she can just say “sorry I’m not available” if they offer shifts. She also feels it is a great way to test out clinics where you may want to work long term. It is difficult to do longer working interviews when you are in a full-time employment situation, so by locuming you can continue to have income while you test out clinics!

Sarah feels that for people that “don’t want to stay in the same place long term locuming can suit them well, good for travelling or taking time off to study- so it fits with more the younger generation.” She also shares that the RCVS released a survey and 1/4 vets who are employees are working independently- this means either locuming or travelling specialists. Sarah feels this will only increase as “people try to take back control of their working lives that they can’t control in any other way”.

The biggest con of course, especially amidst COVID, is the lack of stability. Stability is very important to Sarah, and in this time especially it has been challenging as all of her shifts have been cancelled for the next 4 months.
Fisherman on the edge of a boat balancing between a pole and a net.
Life is always a balancing act. You need to take risks and put yourself out there to get ahead, but you also need to have a safety net to fall back on if the risk fails. Locuming is no exception, and having a good sized emergency fund is recommended.
This is one of the biggest factors that individuals need to consider when locuming. Do you have a safety net? What is the job climate and how important is it for you to have consistent income? Some people are OK with this lack of stability and variability of income, however this instability is why locum rates are higher, so if you do locum KICK ASS VETS strongly recommends having at least 3 months’ worth of an ‘emergency fund’ to cover essential costs (rent, food, medications).

Lack of the ability to invoke change and improve clinics is another huge ‘con’ for Sarah. She is very committed to improving her work culture, environment and level of medicine, and as a locum this is pretty much impossible. You are a gun for hire, and even Sarah, having extra training and certifications in internal medicine and cardiology, is under-utilized because “the premium I would get as an employee because I can do high-end medicine, cardiology, etc., I can’t charge that as a locum because the practices are looking for someone that is a few steps below me. So I can only charge the going locum rate.” Unlike most locums that will make up to double/hour than the going associate vet rate, Sarah has taken a financial hit in her /hr rate.

KICK ASS VETS discusses the feeling that the main part of the huge discrepancy between the locum and permanent rate is the fact that most associates, especially in Australia, are massively underpaid. At clinics that are paying their staff appropriately, the locum rate is only the 25% additional, which is the mathematical equivalent of having vacation, CE, sick leave, etc.
COVID Discussion:
As this interview occurred in the middle of March 2020, we were all just ramping up the COVID measures. Many clinics at that point ( and some now at time of publish in May 2020) are still incredibly hesitant to take measures to do contactless consults, to put work teams into cohorts, and take measures to not only protect their staff but to do their part for social responsibility. Sarah points out “ I don’t know if you’ve noticed but I think that the vet profession is very traditional and backwards looking… and really resistant to any type of change… and it’s not doing it a very good service”.

This lack of ability to change is a common problem seen across the world in the vet industry and COVID is a magnified display of which clinics are progressive and which ones aren’t.

Sarah also discusses that in the veterinary world in the UK there are many small clinics that are barely keeping their doors open, and with COVID we might see a big change as small clinics might shut down, or corporates may amalgamate smaller clinics. “Lots of change coming” is the general feeling.
Image from cover of www.sarahthevet.com website.
See Sarah’s blog for ideas and thoughts to ponder and discuss to improve the veterinary field at www.sarahthevet.com .
Sarah and KICK ASS VETS connected over a communal passion to try to improve the veterinary industry. Sarah started her website and blog “Chewing the Cud” last year when she was in this recruitment crisis and was looking for a good job, but was continually lied to by employers. She felt she could see all the problems in the industry but couldn’t find any help guiding through them. She also feels the climate is “very pessimistic… but nobody is talking about the problems. What they are, and what the solutions are”. Sarah feels “we need to start talking about things, and when we start talking about them we will come up with ideas on how to fix them.” “The more people thinking about it in total, we will come up with ideas.. and then we need to stand up for what we need and want”. This is the motive behind the website, getting people thinking, talking, and thinking of solutions to the problems in the industry. Sarah admits that she has no special insight, or is any different from any other vet, but she is hoping that by creating and sharing her website and ideas it will spark more conversations that will lead eventually to a better professional environment for everyone!
Sarah’s Previous Jobs:
KICK ASS VETS is always interested in learning why people leave their jobs, and why they stay. By analyzing many many different vets, in different situations, we can help other vets, and clinics, create environments that are conducive to happy and long-term employment! So, we bugged Sarah about her previous jobs, and why she stayed in them for so long!

The big secret: “they were actually good jobs”. “The mixed practice, really supportive team, everyone was working together.” “ Even though mentoring and support was not a thing (at the time of Sarah’s graduation), I did have mentoring and support. It was a community, and we were part of the community as well.” The downside to this practice was more the nature of mixed animal work being all ‘fire brigade’ work and Sarah felt she wasn’t “stretching my brain, I’m not growing”. It just wasn’t stimulating enough and Sarah felt she wasn’t using the skills she had learned in school. She just wanted more than that industry could provide, so it was an industry issue instead of a clinic issue.

The small animal job “started off as a small well-knit team, and as the practice was growing I was growing as well.” In this job Sarah furthered her ultrasound skills and did a certificate in medicine, but “as the practice grew the support fell away as well. They had management consultants come in to tell them how to do things better, and the practice changed from ‘this is a family and we will do this together’ and making money is a side goal, to the opposite by the end…. That’s what we were told to our faces- it was to make as much money as possible, that’s the sole reason we were there.” Sarah shares her feelings of “that just doesn’t work for vets”. As the clinic pushed more and more for profit, the hours became longer and Sarah was approaching burn out. She brought this to her boss and told them “I’m working far too many hours, I’m about to burn out” and she was told “you are salaried and it doesn’t say in your contract how many hours you are to work so you will work until all the work is done.”
Even if you are ‘salaried’ make sure you are paid /hr according to that salary, otherwise you will often work 70-80hr/week but your salary is set for a 40 hour week. Also, make sure there is a clause in your contract for overtime. This is important not only to be valued for the extra work you put in, but to motivate owners to get you out on time so you are not overworking and burning out! “Also to feel valued to what you are giving to the practice” Sarah adds.

Sarah and KICK ASS VETS both feel that you should be paid for the hours you work!
Sarah on ‘Overselling’:
KICK ASS VETS has been open about our opinion that if you are just open, and honest, and actually recommend what patients NEED, you will never over-sell and you will be profitable. The stats are on the side of the vets, as most medical care that animals need is not performed. Sarah, agrees that “practices need to make money, if they don’t make profit they won’t be there”. But it was often “how management put these things to us at the employees, and this showed complete lack of leadership”…. “a leader would be going ‘we recommend the best treatments, we explain to clients and explain why… and the money will come”.

Sarah also shares her feelings that “the other side of that is that it comes from a mind-set position of vets. We feel awkward talking about money… we don’t want to tell the owner the dental will cost 500 pounds. We do ourselves no favours on how we talk about it”. Sarah explains how important our delivery of information and discussing finances is, because we often undersell ourselves because we feel uncomfortable. We need to describe and put the emphasis on the value of what we are doing, and then just simply deliver the costs, instead of undervaluing ourselves from the beginning.
Communication Tips from Sarah:
1. “Having the confidence to go forward with what you know is right” . Be confident in your delivery of what you best recommend. This isn’t ego, but a lot of new grads are very hesitant in their delivery. “It’s an act- when you put your consulting top on you are an actor- you are the confident vet that will give the best treatment. It doesn’t matter if inside you are feeling wrong, you need to act that to get the best for the patient, and eventually it becomes not an act”.

2. Doing CPD and doing ongoing training is important, and even if you are 18 years out there will be cases where you don’t have the ‘foggiest of what is going on’. This is OK and the longer you practice, the more you will know you need your tests!

3. “Don’t hurry in consults”- “the most important bits are the pauses”. “give your recommendations.. and then STOP”. Sarah and KICK ASS VETS both agree that silence is a very important part of any negotiation, whether it is a salary negotiation, or the negotiation you are having with the client to part with their income to fix their pet. Silence displays confidence!
Sarah’s Challenges With Finding Employment:
As a very well educated, experienced and motivated vet, you would think that Sarah would have no problem finding a clinic that would want to snatch her up to help their clinic grow! However, despite remaining optimistic, she has yet to find a clinic and the problem is that clinics are “stretching of the truth because clinics are desperate”. “Because experienced vets are far and few between we are rare…in interviews I don’t know if clinics are telling the truth or not”.

Sarah is looking for a job where she can provide both clinical, and non-clinical input, and can help the team and clinic grow and progress. When Sarah graduated the structure of most clinics was a ‘partnership’ with both senior and junior partners that all shared in ownership, and responsibility, of running the clinic. The senior partners, older and closer to retirement, helped teach and train the junior partners, and the junior partners became senior partners over time. They maybe had a couple associates as well. Sarah’s goal was always to join into one of these partnerships, however with corporates coming in this structure has basically gone the way of the Dodo. Now corporates buy a clinic, and have one ‘vet director’ that is in charge, all by themselves, with ‘support’ from head office that is questionable at best. They are hiring a new staff member that doesn’t know the team, doesn’t know the area, and this person comes in with no management/leadership experience and is running the clinic. Sarah feels this is very dangerous for both staff and patients, and she feels this is “why some clinics are really struggling.”

Sarah also discusses the challenges of opening up your own clinic in the UK. It involves a minimum of 150,000 pounds to set up, and then you would be the sole vet, working 70-80hours a week, have all the stress of running a clinic and the management/business side, with the added sudden responsibility of being an employer- which is very challenging in the UK with all the red-tape.
Parting Words of Wisdom from Sarah:
1. “Know what makes you tick.” Find out your values and your underlying reason for doing anything in life. It’s hard and painful to determine this, and coaching can help for some, but “once you know what makes you tick, you can then choose to do things that fit with your underline values”

2. “Know what your boundaries are.” As vets we are terrible at setting boundaries, and often go over our mental health thresholds. If you burn out early it is a struggle to get back on your feet, so know your boundaries, set them, don’t feel guilty about them, and follow them.

3. “Do something that is not ‘vetty’.” So many vets do work, and go home and go on social media that is vet related and go to vet conferences. They never have a break from the vet world. Sarah is a crafter in her spare time. Anything and everything she can get her hands on! This keeps her grounded and gives her a break from the vet world!
Cover of Sarah's Etsy Shop
Check out Sarah’s Etsy shop!
Thank you so much to Dr. Sarah for sharing her time, experiences and ideas with us, and for being part of the change and progression of the vet field. Check out her blogs at www.sarahthevet.com and through COVID she has also started an Etsy page selling her crafts SarahTheVetShop.
Written by Dr. Ann Herbst BSc, DVM

Published May 8th, 2020

Advocate for yourself, you are the only one that will!

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