Rebecca Robinson is a vet and full-time business development consultant for Vet Dynamics.  She is also a Director of the Veterinary Management Group (VMG). She shares her insights about how building courage and self-belief as a result of challenge can lead to success.

Please summarise your journey / biography:

I qualified from Cambridge in 1999 and started in mixed practice in Yorkshire.  After two years, I changed tack and moved to small animal practice.  This was partly because it was at the time of the foot and mouth disease outbreak and I wanted to reduce my out-of-hours on-call work.

I started becoming interested in management when I was appointed lead vet in a practice that was well managed. The owner then became very stressed and led the practice much less well. I witnessed the stark contrast.

I studied management mostly with Vet Dynamics, while taking on roles with increasing managerial responsibilities, and then tried but failed to buy two practices within a year of each other. As a result, I stepped back and considered why I actually wanted to own a practice. It was because I wanted to make colleagues’ lives better in practice. I decided I could equally well do this by becoming a manager and leader and by supporting others in management.

At this point, I started coaching and running a modular course for Vet Dynamics. The course focussed on the non-clinical aspects of a vet’s role.

At the same time, I took on the Practice Manager role at Lynwood Vets in Dorset. Today I am Practice Director and have built a leadership team. Lynwood is a six-branch small animal practice but, having a strong leadership team in place has also enabled me to volunteer as a Director of the Veterinary Management Group (VMG), which is working to further improve standards of leadership and management in the veterinary sector. It has also given me the time to study – I am a qualified NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) Practitioner and am working towards a Diploma in performance coaching.

I have also built a coaching business which extends to all leaders in practices, as well as bosses.  I particularly love coaching team members to build their confidence. I’ve recently also started coaching individuals from outside the veterinary industry.

Describe your typical day from waking to sleeping:

There is no typical day!

It could be:  Wake up, exercise, get my son Theo ready for school, out to work, fit in a coaching call on my lunch break or go for a walk along the river, get home, have dinner with everyone, spend time with Theo (reading, playing games, gardening or talking) get him to bed, phone my Dad, do some chores, do some more work on the computer, read or watch tv, bath, bed.

Or it could be: Wake up, get Theo off to school, go for a five mile walk on the Heath, breakfast, shower, coaching calls or work on projects for Vet Dynamics or the VMG, chores, cooking (I do batch cooking and plan meals for two weeks according to the veg box which is delivered), more work or study, spend time with Theo, dinner, band practice/ work/ relax, collapse into bed.

I should add re my ‘band practice’ comment above, that I play the baritone saxophone in a semi-professional 18- piece Big Band, which plays music from the 1920s right up to the present at parties, in theatres and anywhere else we’re asked to. We are called the Swing Unlimited Big Band because our repertoire is so varied from movie themes to traditional swing music and lots of disco classics.

How would you describe yourself in a sentence?

I am determined and driven, thrive on variety and learning and love people and fun.  I live by the mantra ‘treat others as you would like to be treated’.

How would others describe you in a sentence?

I asked – they said:

Rebecca is kind and thoughtful towards others, fun to be around, very determined in a slightly mad way, inspiring, confident, has lots of interests, loves doing new things and makes the most of opportunities, sociable and friendly, likes to talk, honest, trustworthy, pragmatic and gets stuff done.

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

Deciding to change my career direction when I failed to buy the second practice is my greatest success to date. I learnt to believe in myself more, to be courageous and to step out of my comfort zone. I also learnt that frustration or struggle can lead to good things, if you ask yourself the right questions. By asking myself why I wanted to buy a practice I found another career route that has actually suited me better than owning a practice.  I can impact more working lives in my current role than I could have as a practice owner and that’s what I really wanted to do.

I had to step out of the comfort zone of being a vet, ask for a practice management role and start learning a new skill – coaching. I will always remember the fear and lack of self-belief on the first day I ran a workshop and the elation at the end of the day when I could see I’d made a difference and received positive feedback. I often remind myself of that time when I need to act as if I know I can do it!

“Frustration or struggle can lead to good things, if you ask yourself the right questions.”

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

My biggest challenge has always been self-doubt, especially when I failed some exams and, later, failed to buy the practices. Self-doubt has led me to ignore opportunities and has increased my stress levels. I work at overcoming it as every new challenge presents itself. I have used a combination of supporters, coaches and mentors to help increase my confidence, and have learnt to act as if I can do something as I start a new venture – sort of “fake it ‘til you make it”. This helps my brain to believe I can be successful, which improves the outcomes. I have used some NLP techniques, such as anchors to help with this. And I prepare well for new things.

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

I have moved from the Midlands to the South Coast away from many friends and my husband’s family – I now have new friends and we stay in contact with those in the Midlands mostly using zoom and stays away.

I have reduced my clinical hours and so, in theory, could become out of practice, but I still step in and help in all areas and so have managed to keep my clinical skills at a reasonable level.

Time with my family has been a big compromise and the most significant for me. What could have helped was the level of understanding I now have on how to manage all my commitments and look after myself – time management, the art of assertiveness and delegation. I also found it really helpful to understand some of the research around the psychology of children, particularly the idea that the quality of time spent with them is more important than the quantity.

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

Get a mentor/ coach or at least copy role models. Find a way of being comfortable with stepping outside of your comfort zone. Go for what makes you happy – if you don’t know how, then find ways to learn more about yourself – e.g. through coaching, profiles, values quizzes.

Be ‘responsibly selfish’ – you need to look after yourself in order to help others and so taking some time for yourself is not selfish.

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

My champions, mentors and friends, many of whom are all three, and my husband and family who have given me unconditional support.

“Be ‘responsibly selfish’ – you need to look after yourself in order to help others and so taking some time for yourself is not selfish.”

What are your three top likes?

Learning about new people and new things

Fun and variety

Chocolate especially dark

What are your three top dislikes?

Lateness at meetings – it wastes too many other people’s time

Rules and restrictions – rules are necessary but not in every situation

Inconsiderate behaviour/ selfishness

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

There are so many!

The Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters– was a revelation for helping me work on my self-doubt, and the children’s version ‘My Hidden Chimp’ has been invaluable in handling the complex emotional reactions of my son, both for me as a mum and for him too. It also helps me understand and believe that the emotional reaction of somebody else happening in front of me is not personal.

The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey by Kenneth H. Blanchard – for delegation to empower others and free up my time

7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey – for many things but particularly ‘sharpening your saw’: looking after yourself

Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy – for prioritisation and to reduce procrastination.

Many thanks to Rebecca for sharing her story to inspire veterinary women to aspire and grow into their full career potential.

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