“Previously, I felt the glass ceiling effect without really knowing it, now I have a very clear eye on career progression while innovating for the future of the industry.”
Six veterinary professionals supporting pet owners via Joii Pet Care’s virtual consultations share their experiences of the remote working in the profession with Veterinary Woman. Joii is part of the national veterinary technology company Vet-AI, which employs its entire team, including 60 veterinary professionals, on remote working contracts.
Why flexible, remote working?
Working remotely and flexibly are two elements that many in the veterinary profession are increasingly seeking. Like many of the working population across industries in recent years, the idea of increased flexibility in both time and location have been sought after to help enjoy a long-lasting career. Beyond it being an opportunity to exercise choice over working hours and environment, working in this evolved way can help to futureproof the industry and support those that work so hard to become veterinary professionals.
Why is this? It’s certainly multifactorial and different for individuals, but there are consistent themes. It’s a shocking fact that a third of vets leave the profession in the first five years because of a lack of work-life balance. Vets’ leading concern in the workplace is stress, with an RCVS survey revealing that 90% of vets described their job as stressful. One thing the staff at Joii consistently report is a reduction in stressors through remote consulting.
Telemedicine in the veterinary ecosystem
Telemedicine is one of the components to addressing these issues. Remote working and flexible working via the use of technology enables team members to advise owners on pet care without additional pressures, such as commuting and long shifts, on their own mental health and wellbeing.
However, telemedicine cannot be successful in isolation. Offering telemedicine is an alternative method of triage and signposting before owners enter a bricks and mortar practice; helping to reduce unnecessary workload on teams in practices (cue those Friday evening emergency ‘walk-ins’ for chronic skin conditions).
The Equine Specialist:
Dr Adele Williams MRCVS, Recognised European Specialist in Equine Internal Medicine and Vet-AI’s Head of Data and AI, has 18 years of experience. She has spent her career committed to equine specialist work, mostly in academia.
“As an industry which predominantly attracts females to roles, it’s become more important than ever to support everyone to manage their workload and childcare around a happy home life; combatting worries around mental health that have been voiced across the industry for some years now.”
Adele thoroughly enjoys her specialism because she uses a variety of skills, and knowledge daily while always being challenged in the ‘right ways’ to bring forward the very latest technology which will help both owners and veterinary professionals. While she’s always enjoyed developing her skills, the move to remote working in recent years has been a ‘first’ which she describes as refreshing and one that should be explored more across the industry. She said: “As vets, we are all in the profession because we love animals and want to have a positive impact on pets and pet parents’ lives. Technology helps us to make pet care fair, improve understanding of pet disease, reduce care costs and provide safe, personalised healthcare to animals.
“All of this being wrapped around a completely flexible, remote caseload means I feel less pressure and stress. In turn, this helps me to make clearer decisions because I can fit work around my life, all while seeing really great outcomes for pets and their owners.” Added to this, since starting work for Joii, Adele says she has enjoyed a more personal approach to professional development in her career, giving her a renewed vision and enthusiasm for the future; she now expects to stay with the job she loves so much for the duration of her career.
Explaining her reasoning, Adele said: “Like most vets, I’ve worked hard my whole life and I’ve poured my soul into every job. In the past this meant making sacrifices along the way in terms of relationships, social life, sleep, diet and an exercise regime etc. Previously, I felt the glass ceiling effect without really knowing what was happening at the time – now I have a very clear eye on my career progression prospects while innovating for the future of the industry. That’s so important for job fullfilment.”
The Senior Veterinary Officer:
Senior Veterinary Officer at Joii, Dr Samantha Webster, graduated in 2012, and at that stage felt her job would define her life. She has undergone several rounds of promotions in recent years to lead a team of experts across the country. Samantha feels more settled, encouraged and capable of taking on more senior roles because of the flexibility that telemedicine and remote consultations offer.
Samantha said working remotely is incredibly rewarding and enjoyable for her and the team, even though they don’t have hands-on interaction with animals as everything is personalised.
“Anybody facing the dilemma of whether telemedicine is right for them because there’s less physical interaction with pets shouldn’t worry. Working this way still gives us the opportunity to get a good picture of the health and wellbeing of every pet and the fact that the animals are more relaxed in their own environment. It helps us to address certain concerns and discuss options in-depth with owners. It’s also satisfying because we can help in an affordable, convenient way – almost instantly – at an otherwise worrying time for pet owners.
Samantha added that it was reassuring to know that owners could be safe in the knowledge that wherever they are they can access a consultation.
Thinking about why she made the move to telemedicine and remote working, she added: “I knew general practice wasn’t working for me. There were two main reasons. The first was my developing interest in welfare; both the welfare of pets and that of the members of the veterinary profession. I didn’t feel that the general practice model was supportive for me. The second reason was my growing desire to start a family. There was just no way I was going to be able to maintain my current career path whilst bringing a baby into the world.”
Diversifying out of general practice proved to her that she wanted to stay in the profession, but in a role that was more flexible. Samantha added: “I wanted to rekindle my passion for veterinary medicine whilst still providing a good work-life balance. I’ve developed skill sets I never knew I had, and have been able to be part of something innovative and exciting; all while pushing veterinary medicine forward in new and exciting directions.”
Being part of shaping the future of the profession in terms of innovative approaches is something that Dr Michaela Cragg, Veterinary Surgeon and Team Leader at Joii, is also passionate about.
“The veterinary industry is a hugely powerful force that can improve the welfare of millions of animals. But often in doing so, I worry that the individuals who make up our industry can get neglected.”
Having worked in small animal practice since graduating in 2015, with a short break for maternity leave in 2018, Michaela returned to work and reduced the number of working days as a compromise. The reality meant very long days and a feeling of stress in trying her best to do the job she loves so much.
She explained how remote working still enables her to do the job she loves: “I’ve always got a “buzz” from veterinary practice. Moving to Vet-AI has enabled me to be involved in a variety of veterinary cases while feeling more settled in my role and profession. I love building up a rapport with pet owners and that is still a huge part of the job I love.”
The Veterinary Nurse:
Lisa Winkle, RVN, worked in full-time practice for around 13 years until she suffered a mental breakdown. She wants to challenge the way the industry has worked in the past to ensure she plays her part in encouraging future generations enter the profession. Lisa gets lots of enjoyment out of addressing concerns for pet owners and says there’s nothing like being able to see great results for pets, so they can lead healthy and happy lives.
“When I had a breakdown, I was a senior nurse with a lot of responsibilities and I found myself sometimes working 60-hour weeks. It hit me from nowhere; I had a panic attack at work and was sent home. Working such long hours is just not the way forward and is unnecessary. I would like to let the next generation of veterinary professionals know it is absolutely possible to find a great work-life balance and a supportive career in this wonderful industry, which is so full of rewards.”
After time off and discussions with her family, she decided she could no longer carry-on full time in practice. Lisa explained: “I needed to put myself and my wellbeing first. My passion has always been animal health. There is no doubt that the veterinary industry can be a hard one to work in. It’s emotionally draining and stressful, staff are overworked and underpaid, the client expectations are sometimes astronomical, and the hours are long. However, I do believe there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Vet-AI were mine.”
Sarah Warren is Co-Founder of Vet-AI and Chief Veterinary Officer (aka Chief Happiness Officer) at Joii Pet Care. She’s passionate about supporting mental health and wellbeing within the veterinary industry.
“Embedding a great working culture has been an incredibly strong focus at Vet-AI. Our veterinary team are passionate about making a difference to the health and wellbeing of pets across the UK; we are focussed on ensuring our team have a rewarding career, while always feeling supported and valued.”
Sarah added that mental health levels across the industry overall have suffered long enough. The culture of long hours and inflexible workload had become all too commonplace. She reflected: “Many have left the profession – a profession that is already at crisis point in terms of supply and demand as we simply do not have enough vets in the UK to support the number of pets.
Added to this, during my career, I have seen so many people suffer with imposter syndrome. Veterinary professionals are highly self-critical, meticulous, compassionate and genuinely want to do the best job they can – often at the expense of their own health. That’s why mental health and wellbeing have to be addressed head on.”
Sarah is one of our Veterinary Woman Role Models. Read her amazing story HERE.
The Working Mum:
Vet Tamsin Day MRCVS qualified 15 years ago and has spent 10 years in practice and five in industry. She sums up her challenges and opportunities in the industry and the dilemma she faced returning to work during the Coronavirus pandemic.
“Over the last four years I lost my vet identity and instead became ‘mummy’. This has been the most amazing time of my life and I love my children to the end of the world. But there came a point when I needed to regain my own professional work identity. I needed to refresh the grey matter, jump back into the workforce and have discussions about pets.
“My dilemma was – with an extended maternity leave and global pandemic/lockdowns – how would I actually be able to find my ‘unicorn’ role? I wanted to use my veterinary and industry skills, work from home and be able to have the flexibility to work around childcare and trampolining / mud playing duties?”
Now she works in a clinical and telehealth excellence role, so she can fit her life around her career. “I’ve been able to be involved in pet care and how artificial intelligence can be utilised. I have been able to find my unicorn, with an amazingly supportive team. I’m proud to say that I am now a vet and a mummy. The future is really exciting and I am really glad I’m on the ride. There are so many opportunities for all vets out there, no matter how long you have been out of the workforce, always start asking questions – you never know where it may lead.”
Find out more about the team of Joii vets and veterinary nurses HERE.
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