Nick thriving in his temporary veterinary receptionist role

A grounded pilot has swapped passengers for pets during the coronavirus lockdown.

Nick Hibbert, 29, usually spends his days at 35,000ft flying holidaymakers and business travellers. But now he’s using his furlough time to join his vet partner Steph Timmons in helping look after the nation’s sick animals.

Rather than take-offs and landings, he’s taking care of poorly pets by working as a temporary receptionist at our busy clinic in Farnham, Surrey, which, like most businesses during the pandemic, has been affected by sickness and staff needing to self-isolate.

Image of Nick Hibbert for Vets Now article on pilot becomes vet receptionist during lockdown
Pilot Nick is spending his furlough time as a receptionist at Vets Now's clinic in Farnham

Nick trained with Virgin Atlantic before being seconded as a first officer to easyJet out of London Gatwick. He’d routinely be flying throughout Europe and further afield to Turkey and Tel Aviv but, with passenger numbers plummeting, he was put on furlough in March.

“I think it’s going to be a while before the furlough is reassessed, so I was looking to find something to do,” said Nick. “You can find yourself going a bit stir crazy at home and I wanted to try and help out somewhere.

“I know Steph loves what she does at Vets Now and she is always so positive about what goes on there that it seemed a perfect option when she asked.”

Coronavirus restrictions forced veterinary practices to reduce face-to-face contact and primarily offer only urgent and essential care. But at Vets Now, our network of clinics and state-of-the-art hospitals across the country have continued to be available for worried owners, providing critical out-of-hours care.

“It’s obviously completely different from what I normally do, showing up and flying an Airbus full of passengers somewhere,” said Nick. “So being a receptionist is a real new world to me. But I’m an animal lover anyway and I’ve loved getting stuck in since day one.

Image of Nick Hibbert for Vets Now article on pilot becomes vet receptionist during lockdown
Pilot becomes vet receptionist during coronavirus lockdown

“The clinic sees all sorts of pets, not just dogs and cats, and I’m the point of contact for the owners who are naturally often really worried. With the current restrictions it’s usually on the phone and I’m not able to see many face-to-face, but it’s nice to be able to reassure them and put them at ease.

“I’ve had some amazing feedback from many afterwards saying how professional the vets and the whole team have been. I know they are so grateful that there is still this vital help there for their animals.”

Nick expects that it may be the end of June at least before he’s back in the air and is aiming to keep up his receptionist duties.

“It’s nice to feel that I’m being useful in some way while I’m furloughed,” said Nick. “In fact, I’m enjoying it so much that I’d like to continue to do some shifts if I can even when I get back to flying.

“It’s nice to see Steph in her working environment. And I don’t have any problem with her being the boss at work as she’s the boss at home anyway!”

Steph, who is a senior vet at Vet Now’s Farnham clinic, said: “We had quite a few staff having to self-isolate when the coronavirus crisis started and I thought Nick might be ideal to lend a hand in the clinic whilst he was no longer flying.

“He has great communication skills as a pilot, and he’s been brilliant at dealing with clients who are often quite upset.”