Rachel Kilmartin at BVA live

Grabbing a moment between meetings, Veterinary Woman caught up with Rachel Kilmartin, Senior Marketing Manager for CloserStill Media, the events company behind BVA Live and the London Vet Show.

Growing up in a veterinary family, Rachel is passionate about “putting the heart and soul into CPD events”, enabling an inclusive, community atmosphere and ensuring that veterinary professionals are able to get everything they need from the events.

Rachel filled us in on her drive for innovation in CPD events, her preparations for BVA Live 2023, and her commitment to the veterinary community.

Rachel, thanks very much for talking to Veterinary Woman. How did you become involved with organising veterinary CPD events?

I arrived in the UK from Australia with two suitcases, two bachelor’s degrees and absolutely no contacts or career connections. I graduated university at the height of the global financial crisis so getting work experience in business was tough. However, a friend organised an interview for me at CloserStill Media (organisers of the Vet Shows). I showed up an hour and a half late after getting lost – and somehow managed to get a job in the telemarketing department.

I fell in love with CloserStill, and quickly events too. After a few months, I was promoted to marketing assistant and began working on events for human health doctors and nurses. After a few years and a few promotions – in 2017, I got the opportunity to do some work on the London Vet Show. I instantly had a knack for writing copy that resonated with the veterinary audience, probably because my dad is a veterinarian in Australia. I’ve been on the team full time ever since and have loved every single vet show I’ve been involved with.  

You’re known for championing opportunities for the veterinary community to connect with each other. What motivates this?

The world is constantly pushing us online under the guise of making life easier – automating our processes and showing a deluge of digital advertising. It’s endless. But it is a fact that biologically, humans need human connection. There’s nothing that can replicate being face-to-face, we literally feed off each other’s energy. I think this is especially true for vet professionals. I’ve seen how lonely, isolating and stressful working as a vet professional can be. You put so much pressure on yourselves and you need an outlet and channel for this stress. CPD events are perfect for this – you get inspiration from the programme, and the people around you.

“Biologically, humans need human connection. There’s nothing that can replicate being face-to-face, we literally feed off each others energy”

I truly believe that if you are struggling with something (personal or professional), there is someone (or a group of people) out there that has been in your position. And they want to help you. If just one vet or vet nurse walks out of a Vet Show feeling reinvigorated with the tools they need to better treat animals – then my job has been worth it.

You’ve been a strong supporter of Veterinary Woman and Veterinary Women In Leadership. How do innovations in your events support women in the veterinary professions?

To be honest, it started a bit grass roots. I had loads of mums calling me saying they couldn’t make it to LVS one year because they couldn’t bring their baby. So, one of the first things I introduced was a Family Room to make life a little easier for vet parents to get their CPD. I also got the verbiage updated to be more welcoming and inclusive. We now have Family Room at every Vet Show here in the UK, which is something I’m really proud of.

Since then, I’ve been using any way I can to get women’s issues in particular on the stages. The Community Masterminds, launched in 2019, gave an in-person platform for groups like VetMums and VetMINDS. These have been growing in momentum every year and now we are starting to see loads more content in the non-clinical conference programme which discusses women specifically in the vet profession. With over 60% of the profession being female, it only makes sense our programmes reflect this.

What are you most proud of in your career?

We have won a few awards in my time and I’m really proud of delivering the vet industry the UK’s best exhibition in 2017 and 2019. But it has been about incremental gains for me. When I started, LVS was already well attended and very popular, so it was hard for me to add value. But over the years I’ve helped introduce a great sustainability policy, the family room has been a big hit and I’ve helped map out variety in our education formats. Both our events have become more accessible to more people. Important cross-sections of the veterinary community get a platform. The Vet Show Team are the best in the business when it comes to events and I’m so proud of every single one of us every time the doors close on a show.  

What are the greatest challenges you’ve faced in your career and how have you overcome them?

Like many of us, 2020 is a not a year I care to repeat. I am the first to acknowledge that I had a roof over my head, a supportive partner, beautiful dog and a steady income. But for context – after most London Vet Shows, I go back to Australia to see my family – take stock, reset, find inspiration, and get ready for the year ahead. I didn’t go after our 2019 event and then I couldn’t go back for a long time. Not knowing when I could next have a beer with my dad, cuddle my niece or dive into an Aussie ocean hung over me like a fog in the working week. I suffered from chronic anxiety, and it was inhibited my ability to adapt to “the new normal” of a full-time desk job and new digital systems.

Photo © 2022 – ASV Photography Ltd.

I overcame this by doing what I do best – by being open and honest with my team about my mental health. My boss (our formidable CMO – Alexia Maycock) was incredibly supportive and day by day the fog lifted. I ripped up my to do list and started again by connecting with passionate vet professionals who inspired me – and charities and community groups. I created a monthly newsletter where I collated positive news, profiled fabulous vet people and wrote original content I feel would help vet professionals. I helped get some great corporate sponsors onboard which meant we could start hosting webinars. Then I threw myself into organising an online event called Vet Show Autumn Series which hosted a tonne of webinars in the space of 3 days. By early in 2021, we started a contingency plan to bring LVS back live-in person by November and I was back to organising live events.

I learnt a lot that year and from it has come many great initiatives. We started a Mental Health Committee at CloserStill, which is still in action today. I also trained as a Mental Health First Aider. You may have also noticed that any mental health sessions or support activities get a huge profile at the Vet Shows. And long may it continue.

Tell us about BVA Live 2023 – what can practice teams look forward to at the event?

BVA Live is a conference and exhibition at the Birmingham NEC, on 11-12 May 2023. Like the London Vet Show – the theatres are dotted around the exhibition hall and we are short course – just two days long. However, we are keeping attendance capped at 1500 to ensure those who do attend get the best possible experience. We are also keeping the costs on tickets surprisingly low for the quality of CPD as we want it to be accessible to as many as possible. There are some unique features at BVA Live that veterinary professionals won’t see at other CPD events (some I can talk about, some will remain a surprise!). But all in all, if you want a CPD experience where you learn some great tips and tricks, mingle with great people and go back to practice actually refreshed – than BVA Live is for you.

What characteristics make BVA Live so unique?

BVA Live has a laid-back and uplifting atmosphere I’ve never experienced at an event. It’s big enough to have an exciting buzz, but intimate enough to host really great conversations without being overwhelming. It’s really hard to describe without seeing it for yourself. But put simply – you have more time to talk to people and everyone is there with the same goal. This makes the social event special – Vet Show Spring Social. It’s a “venue” crawl around the NEC and we have a lot of free drinks to give away – so do come and enjoy!  

What sessions are you most excited about at BVA Live 2023?

It’s really hard to narrow down to just a few! As a non-clinician, I won’t choose a favourite clinical session. The BVA, BVNA and Central CPD have put together a world-standard programme and every speaker/instructor is brilliant. But the following would make it into my “Editor’s Picks” for non-clinical CPD:

  • There’s a session on day 1 in the non-clinical stream called “Myth busting RCVS complaints”. I know it’s a massive fear for a lot of vets, so this session will walk you through how to tackle a complaint effectively with an expert panel.
  • Another non-clinical session which will be awesome is “Tips and Guidance: discussing salary, because you’re worth it” with Ebony Escalona and Laura Haycock. Most of us have an allergy to discussing pay, so come and get some tips on how to fight for yourself.
  • Anything going on in the BVA Interactive Zone. There’s a host of pop-up discussions in there which are fantastically interactive as the name suggests. But you can also come along and just listen to a huge variety of opinions too.
  • The Exhibitor Showcase Theatres are awesome with some brilliant sessions. Some of the best R&D, new ideas and case studies are presented here – so if you’re wondering past, jump into a session and I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

What’s the most unusual problem or request you’ve encountered at a veterinary event?

To be honest we take all feedback and requests seriously (so do fill in the surveys we send around!). I did have a delegate yell at me because we offered vegan options in the catering, which I thought was very bizarre! Who said dinosaurs were extinct…?

Could you share your vision for veterinary CPD events of the future?

I’m really happy with BVA Live and LVS in 2023. I’ve done everything I can to influence change and set up new ways of learning for the vet sector. So, this seems like a good opportunity to announce I’ll be moving away from the day-to-day organisation of the Vet Shows. I’m moving into the centralised CloserStill team and diversifying to be doing more corporate communications. I will still consult with the Vet Show team, but I know both events are in incredibly safe hands of my brilliant colleagues, specifically of Charlotte Ellicott, Gemma Mitchell and Jasmin Mathans. Please link up with these women for any reason relating to the Vet Shows (speakers, exhibitors, attendees, partners). They are not only fun and friendly, but very impassioned and want to put on the very best events they can.

My vision for the future is that events continue to grow and evolve with the tides of the veterinary industry. I know these women, who have loads of experience in the veterinary realm, will bring fresh ideas and energy to the hall. I can’t wait to see you all at the Vet Shows soon!

BVA Live – The Vet Show in Birmingham takes place on 11-12 May at the NEC. For more information and to get your ticket, visit the BVA Live 2023 website.

For exclusive access to more stories like this, subscribe to our monthly newsletter

You may also like:

How to hit your CPD target alongside flexible working

Menopause interventions in veterinary practice

Motherhood and maintaining your role as a vet professional

Leave a Reply