“Never give up. Follow your dream. If you want something badly enough, you will overcome the challenges and succeed”
Determination and hard work
Sarah has not had a straightforward path, overcoming many challenges along the way; “My journey began when I was 7 years old, when I knew I wanted to be a vet. I came from a working-class background and was brought up in a make-shift house with a corrugated iron roof! Sadly, my father died when I was 10 years old but with the support of my mother and her determination to give me the opportunity to have a better life, I managed to achieve a bursary to attend a convent school.”
Vet school was not an easy ride for Sarah, who found the academic side challenging. However, she excelled in dermatology; “Here began my passion for becoming a veterinary dermatologist, which drove me to study for the RCVS Certificate in Veterinary Dermatology alongside raising a young family and working part-time. I became the lead Veterinary Dermatologist within the CVS group, setting up the New Graduate Training Programme in Dermatology and running two very successful dermatology referral services at Lumbry Park and Highcroft Referrals. I was also the Allergy Vet Advisor for Axiom Veterinary Laboratories for several years and am currently the President of the BVDSG (British Veterinary Dermatology Study Group).
Leading the way in vet-AI, telemedicine and team wellbeing
“Recently, I have become increasingly interested in the use of technology to enhance and extend veterinary care both in the UK and around the world to improve animal welfare. This led to me founding Vet-AI with my husband (Robert Dawson, also a vet) and his business partner in 2018″. Vet-AI runs the Joii platform and works in R&D collaborations with the University of Leeds.
Sarah also has a passion for caring for her team, having experienced numerous work and life pressures throughout her career. “Although my official job title is Chief Veterinary Officer, I prefer the title of Chief Happiness Officer. This better describes what I think my most important role is within the business.”
Life-changing physical and mental challenges
“I have had a number of challenges in my life, but without doubt the biggest one was being diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in 2017, just 2 years after losing my mother to ovarian cancer. I then underwent radiotherapy, several surgical procedures including a mastectomy and revision surgery, and chemotherapy. Following complications I experienced a septic crisis and spent a week in hospital on triple i/v antibiotics. I nearly lost my life. With the incredible support of my husband, family and friends, I made a full recovery. Although I returned to work as a referral dermatologist soon after finishing chemotherapy, my experiences made me re-evaluate my life and what made me feel fulfilled as a person. This coincided with the decision to set up Vet-AI and work closely with my husband pioneering a new business venture.
My second biggest challenge was losing my step-father to suicide in 2018. He suffered with anxiety and depression after my mother’s death and finding him hanging in his home was the most traumatic experience I have ever had to deal with. As a result, I have become more passionate about the issue of mental health”. Sarah wants to help address the rising suicide rate and issues surrounding poor mental health within the profession.
Sarah understands the daily challenge of working life, and how the first thing to be side-lined is often self-care. “As a working mother, the biggest challenge is balancing a rewarding career with a happy home life. Studying for career progression, whilst supporting a young family and running a busy home, whilst trying to find time for yourself is impossibly difficult. Usually something always has to give – usually the time for yourself! A more flexible working routine would have helped me enormously”.
Read about our next role model, Sheila Voas, here