Janny De Grauw is a Senior Lecturer in Veterinary Anaesthesia and Analgesia at the RVC. She reflects on her career, including the challenges of balancing work aspirations, personal life and unexpected events, and on the circumstances that can act as barriers or enablers to women in the veterinary professions.

Janny De Grauw

Please summarise your journey / biography:

  • How clichéd! Fond of animals ever since little, uncle became a vet when I was 11 and I saw the light!
  • Moved to Jakarta aged 15, graduated international school aged 18, moved back to the Netherlands
  • 1997-1998 – Pharmacology minor Utrecht (wanted to do vet med, but lottery system for admission meant I was unlucky – in fact, three times in a row! – so did different minor in meantime)
  • 2000 – passed Dutch national secondary school exams cum laude to directly qualify for Vet Med entry that year
  • 2004-2005 – One-year independent Honours Programme research project, resulting in two publications
  • Graduated as DVM from Utrecht University in 2007, cum laude
  • 2008-2010 – PhD project carrying on from previous Honours Programme on inflammation, pain and tissue breakdown in joint disease, awarded PhD title cum laude
  • 2010-2011 – Post-doc in osteoarthritis research consortium (IA drug release)
  • 2011-2012 – Internship anaesthesia, birth of first child April 2012
  • sept 2012-2016 – Anaesthesia residency
  • Second child born July 2014
  • Nov 2016 – Sat and passed board exams ECVAA; assistant professor Vet Anaesthesia at Utrecht University
  • Jan 2017 – BRCA1 gene mutation discovered, had two preventive surgeries (Sept and Dec)
  • 2020 – Head of anaesthesia service in Utrecht
  • 2021 – Faculty lecturer of the year award
  • 2022 – Senior Lecturer Vet Anaesthesia and Analgesia at Royal Veterinary College, UK

Describe your typical day from waking to sleeping:

  • 6:30 alarm – or basically, my son coming up to our room; early riser! (He knows we will pay him back when he’s a teenager by barging into his room full blast at 6AM!)
  • 7:10-7:30 breakfast with family
  • 7:30 off to work, hubby usually does school run (he works remotely)
  • 8:00 – 17:30 at work, either small animal clinics or equine clinics. On off-clinics, days can start slightly later and do the school run (can usually work remote those days)
  • 18:00 home, make/have dinner with family
  • After dinner – Summer: play some sports with kids outside. Winter: have a drink, watch telly together
  • 20:00-21:00 bedtime kids
  • 21:00-22:30 work on laptop (email, research, teaching, admin), then tune out with Jasper
  • ~23:00 bedtime

How would you describe yourself in a sentence?

Energetic, passionate, positive, empathetic – sorry not a sentence, but you catch my drift.

How would others describe you in a sentence?

Hopefully the same!

Full of life, determined, bubbly, loud (sorry guys!), authentic, a hopeless optimist, genuinely caring, and ever so slightly chaotic and workaholic – but definitely knowing what really matters most in life.

“If you can be that inspiration even for just one… that is a huge thing.”

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

On an ‘external success scale’ I guess the cum laude PhD ranks high – as it was a largely self-run project, I did feel extra proud of what I achieved.

But in a way, I may be even more proud of the faculty lecturer prize – It is an award where students vote to select the nominees, and fellow lecturers vote to confirm the winner. It just felt so great to know that your efforts to bring across some of your enthusiasm and passion for your profession and specialism are being appreciated! I have come to think that probably anyone can teach students, interns or residents a bunch of anaesthesia facts, but I hope to somehow inspire them beyond the factual. If you can be that inspiration even for just one of them, that is a huge thing to me.

Janny De Grauw

Also, I’m not sure it’s a top success, but having two kids during my residency in the first place, and making it out alive, passing board exams on the first attempt, is something I am actually quite proud of too, even if just show that it can be done or ‘pave the way’. We really need to show that having a (specialist) career in Vet Med and having a personal (family) life are not mutually exclusive, if we are to retain female talent in our profession! So here’s to that.

In fact, maybe the biggest success has been combining my busy job in clinics, lecturing and research with a wonderful family, and somehow making that work.

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

Biggest setbacks were probably medical actually (the things that happen outside of your working life, but are more important in the end). My father at 58 being diagnosed with a brain tumour out of the blue as I was finishing my PhD, and myself being diagnosed with a BRCA1 gene mutation just two months after becoming a diplomate (just when I was hoping for some years of smooth sailing after the internship and residency – during which I lost my dad and had two kids. I guess I don’t do quiet!

After my PhD, I reached out to the vet med faculty HR department to ask if I could do a time management course as I felt I wasn’t efficient enough. Instead, they suggested I talk to a coach, as they felt the last thing I should do was to get even more done in the same time – I needed to do less! I still think that HR manager was stellar. I wasn’t stuck at all, except in top gear and finding it hard to slow down. Taking the time to reflect in that period, in the end coinciding with my first pregnancy, was perhaps the best thing I could have done for myself.

As for the BRCA1 mutation: we need to be more open about cancer risk and its impacts I think. Sadly, almost everyone has their experiences with the disease, either personal or in their family or friend circle.  For me, the gene mutation was discovered via a distant family member undergoing genetic screening and testing positive. Thank god for the Dutch health care system, otherwise I’d never have gone to get tested, as there was only one breast cancer case on our side of the family and I had zero suspicion.

Janny De Grauw

As BRCA1 gives a staggering 50% risk of ovarian cancer and 60-80% risk of breast cancer, I had a preventive double ovariectomy and double mastectomy within three months of each other, as basically, I just wanted to see my children grow up. The recovery period after the initial intense six weeks was the first time I ever worked part-time in my life – three days a week; I took part medical and part parental leave – and it was actually very, very healthy. It gave me time to slow down, and to acknowledge that sometimes it’s totally OK not to feel good or radiate positivity 24/7! Friends and colleagues were so supportive, it still warms me to this day some of the things they did or said or wrote. It showed me I actually needed to be a bit kinder to myself maybe (as in: do some self-care), and that your friends will be there for you on the bad days too.

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

I feel that when I graduated as a vet and started my PhD and residency, that was still in a day and age of some pretty overt sexism actually – and anyone can still see the inequity in academia to this day (just look at student body gender breakdown, and senior roles breakdown – it’s staring you in the face). I always called out sexism whenever I came across it (I’m vocal, can’t help it) but if you think about how inappropriate some of that was, we all could definitely have done with more female representation in senior clinical and leadership roles, and more people challenging the status quo. I don’t know if I 100 per cent believe in ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ (you can – you will just have to imagine it and go for it!) but let’s not kid anyone that it’s infinitely harder if a workplace feels like it’s not made for the likes of you, and caters much more to others.

The home situation I have been incredibly lucky with – my husband does most school runs, he does the laundry and I cook, and we moved countries for my job, not his. You don’t want to know how many people are astonished when they hear that, as if it’s completely unthinkable. And yes, I think he is amazing in so many ways, but surely, he doesn’t need a medal for doing the laundry and school run – I don’t see any mums getting any! It just saddens me that this is so in 2024, and we should call it out much more.

So many women these days leave the veterinary work force either disillusioned or burnt out because they are overlooked for some positions or because they cannot see themselves balancing family life with their career. I fear that much of that also has to do with being much less supported on the home front than the generation of male vets that went before them were. It’s not true that ‘this generation’ are simply unwilling to work hard and want to sacrifice less. I think much also comes down to society’s expectations of men vs women and the amount of support men and women get to organize their lives so it works for them. We really need this to change as it hugely impacts on veterinary job satisfaction – and the lack of change is hugely unhelpful at a time of massive staff shortages!

“Play big, whatever ‘big’ is to you. Success should be measured on your own scale, nobody else’s.”

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

In the words of Tanya Mohr – Play big, whatever ‘big’ is to you. Success should be measured on your own scale, nobody else’s. In the end of the day, only you know the difference YOU want to make – and so only you will know what you are willing to do (or give up) to get there. Very few people on their death bed wish they spent more hours in the office or in the clinic … a good thing to keep in mind if you’re slightly over-dedicated to work (as I can definitely also be at times).

And I tell anyone who sets out in their career that your goals may change along the way – no career path is ever really a straight line. I can make mine sound like a glorious logical sequence I bet, but much of it is also serendipity in a way. It is more likely to be a winding road and may take you from A to K, then back to C, then on to R to return at F. It’s all good.

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

The support of my husband, family and friends. And my sense of humour. And coffee.

What are your three top likes?

Passionate people (whatever they’re passionate about really – I simply cannot deal with disinterest or indifference!), sports (SUP-ing, horse riding, running if my knees allow it), time in the countryside or at the beach with my family.

What are your three top dislikes?

The computer saying no, sexism, and littering (really – who would choose to throw their rubbish in the park they’ve just had a picnic in or toss it out the car window?!)

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

Janny De Grauw

Aside from many professional texts (which non-anaesthesiologists will find frightfully boring!) I found Playing Big by Tanya Mohr and The Power of Vulnerability by Brene Brown quite helpful in reflecting on things like ambition, core values, courage, perfectionism, etc. They also made me realise that so many (women) are prone to overpreparing because deep down we think we need to do three times better than objectively is needed (although sadly, to overcome bias, we do need to do much better sometimes). It helped me realize that perfect sometimes is the enemy of good enough, and that we – and our work – are more than fine as we are. But my all-time favourite and tip for others: The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy. In those gorgeous illustrations and captions, Charlie Mackesy in very few words brings some really powerful messages across – some favourites are “Asking for help isn’t giving up, said the horse, it’s refusing to give up,” or “You may be small, but you make a big difference,” (which is what we say of our miniature dachshund Frenkie daily!) I have advised and gifted this book to students, residents, friends, even my daughter’s primary school teacher (and she read from it in class). It’s just lovely and soothing.

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

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