Katie Ford, Founder and Coach of Vet Empowered, will be delivering a session exploring the topic of workplace culture and impostor syndrome at BVA Live 2024 at the NEC in Birmingham on 6-7 June.

Ahead of the event, Katie sat down with Zuzanna Poslad, Junior Content Producer at BVA Live, to tell us more about her career motivations, the impacts of impostor syndrome and how vet teams can tackle the issue.

Q: Can you share with us the highlights and challenges of your career journey leading up to your role as the Founder and Coach of Vet Empowered, and now as a speaker at BVA Live 2024?

A: In 2012, I graduated from the University of Liverpool, and spent the first few years working in a first opinion small animal practice. Despite the outside suggesting otherwise, I was struggling with feeling like an impostor. Then, in 2014, I made the decision to pursue a certificate in advanced veterinary practice (CertAVP) in small animal internal medicine, eventually passing my synoptic exam in 2017. Reflecting on it now, I learned a lot during my CertAVP, but at the time, I pinned all my hopes on it. I was hoping that achieving this milestone would finally validate my worth as a veterinarian and get rid of my constant self-criticism. I reached the point where I had everything that I thought I should want externally, but internally, it was a different story.

It’s been about eight years since then and now, looking back at my journey, I realise that it wasn’t just the highs that shaped it, the lows played an equally important role. Reaching out for help was a turning point for me. I found support initially in therapy and had a genuinely transformational group coaching experience which changed my life for the better. I reconnected with my inner self and realised that I’ve been looking for the right thing in the wrong places. Integrating newfound insights into my life prompted an unexpected career pivot. I began posting online encouragement for people who might have been struggling with feeling like an impostor too, helping them realise support was out there. That profile gained a lot of traction, even though I was doing it whilst still in practice, and now there’s nearly 15,000 people following @katiefordvet, which I find really cool!

Seeing that interest, led me to want to help more. I trained as a coach in 2018 and have since worked with hundreds of people in the profession and spoken to thousands across the globe. Along the way, I’ve completed my Master’s Degree in Emotional Wellbeing Therapy and a number of additional coaching qualifications. It’s been an absolute honour to be able to speak at many industry events, and more recently outside of the veterinary profession too. I continued to locum throughout much of this, to keep in touch with life in practice.

Vet Empowered was started in 2020 when fellow vet and coach Claire Grigson reached out to me for mentoring support. It was clear from the start that we were very aligned and coached similarly. We created a group programme, and since then the business has expanded rapidly. So really, my highlights came a lot from the low point and reaching out for help, then following my passion and coming to the point that I’m at now with my job at Vet Empowered which I absolutely love. Life has changed so much, and I realised there was a different way I could see things.

Q: Reflecting on your career thus far, what achievements or milestones are you most proud of and why?

A: Receiving the RCVS Inspiration Award last year and starting Vet Empowered are among my biggest achievements. Co-running and working with the team at VetYou is another highlight of my career. However, the most special part of my job is working with individuals and witnessing their breakthroughs and realisations that they’re enough and there is a sustainable way to find a career that they’ll love in this profession. Seeing these transformative moments during our programme, from the initial sign-up to celebrating client’s wins, are the moments that bring me joy. That impact on people is overarching compared to the other things.

Q: Your upcoming lecture at BVA Live 2024, titled ‘From ME to WE – Tackling impostor moments as a collective’ will explore the topic of workplace culture and impostorism. Why do you consider this topic crucial for the veterinary community?

A: Feeling like an impostor is a very common experience in veterinary medicine and beyond, with commonly cited instances from 60-80 per cent of the general population feeling this way at some point. It is really common, and it definitely doesn’t mean we are actually frauds. Most conversations around this topic are focused on strategies for individuals. I believe we are missing a vital part of the conversation here, and the research agrees – we need to look at workplace culture too. As workplaces and as a profession, how can we enable people to feel safe to be themselves, to learn and grow?

Just to give attendees a little taste of the kind of things that we’re going to discuss – one of the biggest drivers of feeling like an impostor is a fear of failure; this has been documented many times in the literature. Often, we worry that if we fail, it will be seen as proof that we don’t actually deserve success. Now, if we’re in a workplace that stigmatises failure, where blame is common and people are criticised for mistakes, where it doesn’t feel safe to admit when something hasn’t gone as planned, the fear of failure increases and intensifies feelings of impostorism. Whereas, creating a workplace culture where it’s safe to discuss mistakes, where we focus on learning from them collectively, fosters an environment where failure feels less scary. That’s just one example but there’s evidence from numerous studies to support how workplaces affect our experiences.

Q: Could you provide a brief summary of your lecture’s content and learning outcomes?

A: We’ll be looking at tackling the impostor phenomenon from a ‘Me to We’ perspective. Handling it as a profession, and as a team. Because at the end of the day, we can’t all be impostors, right? We’re going to give a definition of what the impostor phenomenon is for anyone that’s not heard of it before. We’re then going to talk about some of the evidence around why we need to be considering our workplaces in this context, and then I’m going to be linking that back in with the BVA Good Workplace Guide. I’m going to include actionable steps, tips, and insights for us to tackle (and normalise) this experience not only as teams, but as a profession as well. I really hope that people will join us for an inspiring session that’s going to be really encouraging, very real and actionable as well. I’m looking forward to it!

Q: Finally, what piece of advice would you like to give individuals that are at the start of their veterinary career?

A: Please remember that you are enough, even when you forget. You are valuable beyond your job title. Spend time getting to know yourself, what’s important to you and what helps you – and don’t forget to use your support systems along the way too… And come to Vet Empowered!

View Katie’s session at BVA Live 2024 here: https://bvalive.vetshow.com/conference-programme-2024/from-me-to-we-tackling-imposter-moments-as-a-collective

Attending BVA Live? We hope to see you there!

BVA Live 2024 is a unique event that gives you the CPD you need, in a familiar format that you love, brought to you by the organisers of the London Vet Show and the British Veterinary Association (BVA).

Not only can you earn up to 17 CPD hours, but with two days of jam-packed content, presented by industry leaders and rising stars the 2024 BVA Live programme is filled with an array of topics to choose from and tons of content for all members of your veterinary team.

Tickets can be purchased for £299+VAT with BVA members receiving a 50% discount.

BVA and CloserStill are proud to sponsor 2,000 educational bursaries waiving the full ticket cost of attending BVA Live. To find out if you’re eligible, visit bvalive.vetshow.com/qualify or call +44 (0) 2476 719 687

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