Julie Davis is Hospital Director at the Blaise Veterinary Referral Hospital, opening November 2023. Coming from a non-veterinary background in journalism and the NHS, as well as being a World Champion powerlifter, she shares her experiences of innovating through the Covid-19 pandemic and how she has been motivated to take opportunities to make a difference and bring her healthcare experience into the veterinary sector.

Please summarise your journey / biography:

All I ever wanted at school was to be a sports journalist, so when I came out of sixth form I went to college, got my qualifications and worked on local newspapers. I did that for six years, moving into newspaper design and relaunches, but I needed a change and wanted to do something where I felt I was making a difference.

I moved to a research job in the NHS, working my way up to setting up research networks across the West Midlands. I then spent the next 15 years establishing teams and processes, including setting up a Covid vaccination and research hub in 2020. Some of that was working with local businesses and community groups, thinking of creative ways to encourage people who don’t want to come into a healthcare setting to access research opportunities. Improving patient care and pathways was at the heart of what we did, and the changes we made during Covid enabled us to create a culture of learning and sharing among the staff.

At the start of this year, I jumped at the chance to make the move to become Hospital Director at IVC Evidensia’s £10million Blaise Veterinary Referral Hospital, which opens its doors in November. It’s the first purpose-built, multi-disciplinary hospital for the group, creating 100 jobs and expected to treat up to 10,000 pets every year.

I think there are a lot of similarities between the healthcare and veterinary professions. I felt I could bring all my human healthcare experience into a different healthcare setting. The challenge is learning about new areas in a new business, but I relish that. Helping build a new team of people in a new building on the site of the old Longbridge car plant in Birmingham – and with animals – makes this a dream job. I’m so excited about what lies ahead. 

Describe your typical day from waking to sleeping:

I’ll get up early and walk my two rescue dogs, Riley and Lucas. I’m a bit of a planner, so at the weekend I tend to review what I have for the week ahead and check back in with that schedule each morning. There will always be time built in for things that come up, but I like to have a plan of what I want to achieve and tick things off the list.

Naturally there have been a lot of meetings about setting up the hospital and I’ve been visiting other amazing IVC Evidensia sites, like the Vets Now Hospital in Glasgow, to see how they work. From a wellbeing standpoint I try and get out at some point in the day and want to lead by example, encouraging others to take their breaks. I’m an early-to-bed person – who then scrolls through Tik Tok for far too long watching dog videos! 

How would you describe yourself in a sentence?

Committed to the cause and always wanting to do the best job, although I do give myself a bit of a hard time over that sometimes. 

How would others describe you in a sentence?

People always talk about the level of willpower I have because I’m so determined to achieve what I want. 

What has been your top success and what have you learned from this?

During Covid, our staff were burnt out and all our wellbeing physical activities had to stop. With gyms shut, I came up with the idea for the Doing Our Bit fitness platform, initially just for the 180 staff in our organisation. It’s now open in 140 NHS and social care organisations with a reach of 750,000 staff.

My husband Steve and I worked on setting it up and Steve gave live PT sessions from our Worcestershire kitchen during lockdown. With some leading industry partners, we’ve developed an app which not only gives people access to 400 online workouts, but also in-person sessions. It’s won several awards, been discussed by UKActive with the government advisors, and everyone involved has done it free of charge. I saw it as my chance to make a difference to a really overworked workforce and is a passion project I’ve done in my spare time. I’m inspired to see if we can take it to the next level. 

What has been your biggest challenge, setback or failure and how have you overcome it? How did you grow or change as a result?

We all had to work at pace during Covid, and I helped to set up a vaccination research centre that taught me so much. We worked alongside national and regional experts and the level of detail required to keep people safe was incredible.  We got it ready in just six weeks, but the type of vaccinations that were fast tracked in the meantime meant our centre never actually opened. So, although it was one of my achievements, you could view it as a setback. But we learned so much, so quickly that it wasn’t a failure and things were put in place that could be used in a future pandemic – hopefully not in our lifetime! I built relationships and I see that as an opportunity as everyone you meet can bring something. In my new role it’s been remarked that I always seem to know someone who might help. 

What compromises have you had to make and what, if anything, could have helped?

The big compromise I’ve made since moving to Blaise is giving up my powerlifting. I was a British, European and World Champion and it was a huge part of my life since taking it up in 2015. But it was a massive commitment, and I gave up so much to dedicate myself to it. I was very strict with what food I ate, hardly socialised and you pretty much had to give up the nice side of life to compete. At the start of this year, I decided to give it up to devote everything to my new role. It may not be a permanent retirement, but for the moment it’s time to focus on my career. 

“Don’t be afraid to try. It’s better to try and regret it than regret not trying at all.”

What advice would you have given to your younger self, that you would now give to others wanting to follow your path?

The big thing I’d say is don’t be afraid to try. I think it’s better to try and regret it than regret not trying at all. I’ve had two career changes, moving from journalism to the NHS and then into veterinary. You just need to go for it and be open to fresh opportunities. 

 I couldn’t have got where I am today without…

Inspiring leaders. I went to work experience when I was 15 and I still keep in contact with the editor who took me on. He was so inspirational and there have probably been another four people since who have made a huge difference to my life both personally and professionally. I’m still in touch with them all and it was lovely when I left my last role to have people say I inspired them in ways I probably didn’t appreciate.

What are your three top likes?

Being outdoors, still training a bit and appreciating a “normal” life since I stopped competing. 

What are your three top dislikes?

Olives, being cold, doing burpees. 

What is the most helpful book you’ve read and why?

Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds by David Goggins. It talks about self-discipline and mental strength and encourages you to live outside your comfort zone.  

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