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Kids Or Canines – Why Should We Have To Choose? The Veterinary Parent’s Dilemma

Cat the Vet has her say on being a working mum…

No, I did not keep my children in the cage during surgery but I was tempted!

No, I did not keep my children in the cage during surgery but I was tempted!

This week, for the first time in the three years since I became a mother, I had to take my kids into work. My childcare fell through and my husband was away. As it was only a Saturday morning and the consults were quiet I didn’t think this would be a problem and it wasn’t, thanks to a supportive nurse, an ipad and a copious amount of biscuits!

I could have rung in and cancelled, leaving others to deal with the problem but that’s not fair on them. Neither is it particularly fair on my kids to be stuck in a surgery all morning but I had to make a choice; my job or my children and, not for the first time, I chose my job.

These compromises pretty much define the life of a working parent, whatever your profession. However, for a vet I think there is more pressure than average to be at work. If we don’t turn up, there will still be a waiting room full of patients and a list of operations. In a small team the loss of a single vet causes great upheaval and burden on the rest of the staff.

Every vet mum, or dad, I know will move heaven and earth to be on the job, even if their family suffers as a consequence.

The veterinary profession is also pretty unique in the hours we work and the lack of flexibility there is (often) from employers. Practices will always need to be open late in the day, over weekends and out-of-hours but it is very difficult to find professional childcare which lasts beyond six in the evening or is available at the weekend

Supportive families or partners are a godsend but many, similar to my husband and I, share the same profession and live far from any relatives.

I am only able to work at all because of a childminder who will keep my children late into the day. Without her I, like many other women in the profession (and I know there are fathers in the same position but the bulk of the childrearing generally does fall on the mother) would have to leave the job that I love, that I trained hard for and that I am good at. It is hard enough coming back from a break of just a few months and almost impossible from one of several years.

The ‘brain drain’ of women who become parents occurs in many professions but is particularly acute in veterinary medicine as it is so feminised. I find it desperately sad that we can’t find a way to get these women back into their careers and it makes me angry that so many are effectively forced out.

There is an army out there of vet parents and if practices could harness them, finding a way to minimise late surgeries or weekend work, they would unlock a powerful workforce of experienced, committed, enthusiastic staff who are likely to be fiercely loyal.

After all, the challenging years of child-rearing don’t last forever. Once that time is over these individuals are likely to be able to re-enter the profession full time and repay the support they received.

Which is surely better than losing them for good.

You can follow me on Twitter; @cat_the_vet or find me on FaceBook;  Cat_The_Vet

If you liked this blog, why not read; 10 Reasons Why Being a Vet or Vet Nurse is Excellent Practice for Being a Parent?