Dr Clive Elwood FRCVS is a name familiar to most in the
profession (checkout his impressive biog at the end for a reminder). Since
hanging up his hat as MD of a large referral practice, Clive has started a new
chapter learning more than ever from the school of life. Alongside the painful
but valuable lessons of personal loss, he has started a new career path in
coaching. Clive talks to Veterinary Woman as he reflects on some of his most
important – recent – learnings.
“I am, undoubtably, very well-trained and very fortunate. Veterinary degree, PhD, Specialist diplomas etc. have stood me in good stead within the narrow field of veterinary referral work and I have, along the way, learned a fair bit about business and leadership. But the last few months have been a completely different type of education.
What has happened?
In January 2019 I left my role as MD of a large referral practice, with the deliberate intention to take some time out and re-new and re-direct my energies. In that short period of time a number of life events have happened.
Sadly, both my elderly aunt and father-in-law passed away. As executor of her estate I have had to engage with carers, NHS staff, funeral directors, HMRC, banks and building societies and all the other organisations that intersect with someone’s life. With changed circumstances I have had to consider household budgets, investments, long-term expenditure and many other areas of financial life.
I am also studying for a Master’s in Executive Coaching have been developing a coaching practice. The Master’s program has exposed me to a whole new side of learning and people with life and work experiences that are very different from my own, and forced me to look inside myself and examine my fundamental values, habitual behaviours and my self-identity (and the significant role that being a ‘vet’ has played in that).
“I have deliberately exposed myself to new experiences and a rich diversity of people and stories to connect with – an area of my life that has been neglected for many years.“
And now, as I write this, we have a whole new scenario with COVID-19, which brings a whole new set of challenges for society. I feel very lucky to be safe and secure, albeit with inevitable worries for family, friends and the world in general.
What have I learned?
Life is complex and hard. Life is suffering. Everyone is fighting to keep their head above water and has struggles that we may or may not know about.
Getting old is tough, with all sorts of restrictions, degenerations, pain and losses which cannot be avoided. My aunt taught me to bear this with dignity and grace, and that death is, indeed, a release. Being with her when she died was a privilege and the first time I have seen a person’s life end. Even with loss of consciousness, the sheer force and tenacity of her grasp on life was remarkable. I have taken rapid, peaceful, chemically assisted death of my animal patients for granted and this was a completely different experience. Seeing her, and my father-in-law’s, bodies in death was also new and bought home our fundamental mortality. So I will try to squeeze what I can from life, and appreciate every little experience, every breath, every sunbeam and every bit of bird song.
I have learned that my professional identity is not all of me, but that it is right and proper to value it, holding it proudly but lightly. And if I never practice as a ‘vet’ again, that will always be part of my experience and of who I am. The skills and behaviours that I developed in practice are both transferable and valuable, applicable in the service of others in all sorts of arenas. But, and this is very significant to me, it is my whole self that is ‘good enough’ and that which I need to use in the future. Furthermore, this ‘me’ is valuable and valued and significant in my relationships with others; friends, colleagues and family.
“Everyone has their own stories; there is so much to learn when we listen with our head (thoughtfully), heart (emotionally) and gut (instinctively).“
Being present for someone, either a client, a colleague, a friend or a family member, and attending to them with your whole self is a powerful gift. Compassion, curiosity and patience are needed to really hear, and be with, others.
We are who we are in relationship with other people (I can now try to explain the difference between logical positivism and social constructionism if you really want me to….). Realities are subjective, complex, created with others and may be beyond an easy definitive description. What you see (hear, feel) and what I see (hear, feel) may well be different and will be influenced by both our prior experiences, which are unique, and the ‘here-and-now’.
People are essentially good. People may do bad things but, in general, they are good and given the right circumstances (e.g. COVID19) can do great things.
“It is through relationships that we are so much more than the sum of our parts.”
Science is great and art is wonderful (and they are not mutually exclusive). Art is communication beyond words. Some of the problems we face are ‘wicked’ and not amenable to simple, clear cut, scientific reasoning and deconstruction. They are managed by imagination, teamwork and communication in relationship with others. So it is important to cultivate the artistic brain (or, to be neuroscientific, the right cerebral hemisphere) so you can be both an artist and a scientist.
The veterinary profession sits within, not separate from, society as a whole. Human society and our place in it cannot be dismissed, even if our role is also to preserve the welfare of animals in our care. I am part of society and society is part of me. People respect and value the role vets play, on behalf of them and the animals that share our planet.
“You are only here once. If you want to make the most of it, put your own oxygen mask on first, treat yourself with respect and care, be proud of your whole self. Just surviving is a victory! Be respectful of others, their struggles and their successes. Be humble in the face of your mortality.“
What about you?
You may be on a career break or struggling with juggling the demands of life inside and outside work. What muscles have these struggles developed, what insights have you been given and how can you use them in the future inside, or outside, of the veterinary profession?
Don’t dismiss these experiences. If they have helped you grow new skills or uncovered attributes you did not realise you had, lean in to them and be grateful. Society, and the veterinary profession, needs a diversity of experience, capabilities, and interests and you will have much to offer.”
“And, above all, enjoy life where you can. All of it.”
Biography: Dr Clive Elwood, MA VetMB CertSAC MSc DipACVIM DipECVIM-CA PhD FRCVS
After qualifying in 1989 Clive trained as a specialist in small animal internal medicine. He holds a Masters in Immunology from King’s College London and a PhD from The Royal Veterinary College.
Clive was founding chairman of SAMSoc and has served on numerous committees including BSAVA, ACVIM, ECVIM, BSAVA, BCVS, RCVS. In 2009, He was awarded the Melton Award from the BSAVA for meritorious contributions to small animal practice.
Clive practised as a specialist in private practice for 20 years and from 2010-2019 was Managing Director of a large veterinary referral practice, where he developed his interest in and experience of professional leadership. He now concentrates his time on executive coaching, leadership development and strategy.