It isn’t always easy being a vet.

Working long hours, treating sick animals and sometimes dealing with highly emotional situations can take its toll. It’s no surprise that some vets become disillusioned and occasionally even fall out of love with the profession.

Mum-of-two Laura Playforth, who lives in Castleford, West Yorkshire, was in precisely that position while working in a first-opinion practice. It wasn’t until she joined Vets Now as an out-of-hours ECC vet in 2007 that Laura rediscovered her passion for veterinary medicine.

In this honest Q&A, Laura, who is now Vets Now’s professional standards director and vice-chair of RCVS Quality Improvement Advisory Board, explains what brought her to Vets Now and what has kept her at the forefront of this growing business for more than a decade.

An image of Laura Playforth in a Vets Now clinic for Vets Now article on Mentoring
Laura Playforth is Vets Now's professional standards director

When did working as a vet become an ambition?

When I was about eight. I had pets at home and became really interested in the welfare of pets and wildlife. I was also interested in science at school, particularly in biology, so it was a natural progression going from caring for animals to looking after their medical wellbeing.

I started out in a small animal practice not far from my home in Castleford. From there, I moved to another privately-owned practice before joining a bigger practice owned by a large veterinary group. I moved to Vets Now in 2007.

What caused you to leave first-opinion practice?

There were a lot of responsibilities and pressures that came with my first managerial role and, looking back, I was too young and inexperienced to deal with some of them. As senior vets and managers, we were also expected to hit a lot of targets and I didn’t feel like I had the kind of support I needed. That didn’t fit with the type of company and culture I wanted to be part of. On top of that, first-opinion work wasn’t challenging me as I wanted it to. I considered doing further qualifications but I wasn’t aware of any that did not involve specialising. That posed a problem as I wanted to be involved in a wide variety of cases.

Listen to Laura discuss implementation science on the RCVS Knowledge podcast

How did you find out about Vets Now?

I was part-way through completing a different degree, with the ultimate aim of a move away from the profession, when a colleague told me about Vets Now. The concept of it sounded so interesting that I applied, initially, for a part-time role so that I could continue my studies. I realised straight away that it was the type of company that I wanted to work for. It was, and remains, clinically led and clinically focused, and the fact that clinical and professional standards were a priority really resonated. I wanted to be part of a company that was going to change how the profession worked for the better – to provide a better work-life balance for the veterinary teams and improve out-of-hours care away from the ‘on call’ model. Instead of a part-time role I accepted a full time senior vet role and have never looked back. I ended up abandoning the other degree.

What’s the best thing about working as a frontline vet in ECC?

Although I’m now head of veterinary standards, I worked for a several years as a senior vet and district vet in various clinics. I enjoyed the variety of cases and the challenges that came with never knowing what was going to come through the door. I don’t think there is another specialty like ECC and I’ve seen things that I would never have expected to see. Emergency medicine can be very fast-paced, and the condition of your patients can change quickly. So there’s a real opportunity to have a dramatic influence within the first few hours of a shift. A pet may be at death’s door, but with a few interventions and some diagnostics, you can get a handle on what’s going on and see some very rapid improvements. I found this very satisfying. I also found it rewarding working in small, close-knit teams. The camaraderie you get in ECC is unmatchable anywhere else.

"I don't think there is another specialty like ECC and I've seen things that I would never have expected to see."

Laura Playforth Vets Now Head of Veterinary Standards

Are strong communication skills essential?

This is a vital skill for all members of the out-of-hours emergency team. In emergency cases, clients are often distressed and upset. If the case goes well and it’s a positive result, they will be hugely appreciative. But when this isn’t the case, and it is a difficult and emotional experience for them, you must still be there to offer support and care. Again, this can be very rewarding to feel you have made a real difference to someone at a very distressing time.

What do you enjoy most about your role at Vets Now?

I have the scope to have a significant influence on improving care across a large number of pets. When I joined the veterinary profession, I wanted to help as many animals as I could, which may only be a handful a day as a frontline vet. However, I now help improve the wellbeing of more than 100,000 animals a year. Looking back to when I first started in this role, it’s very satisfying to see the changes that we have made, and the positive impact these have had on patients, clients and staff.

If you could give one piece of advice to veterinary undergraduates what would it be?

Don’t focus on trying to be perfect and getting things right all the time. It’s important to recognise that everybody makes mistakes and you need to be kind to yourself when you do. We are all human, we’re all fallible, and we all make mistakes. We need to recognise this and move on, focusing on the underlying causes rather than beating ourselves up. Make sure you choose a role where you feel supported.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started?

I wish I’d known there were so many opportunities open to me other than just being a first-opinion small-animal practitioner. At that point I hadn’t really thought about where my career was going. I also wish ECC had been more recognised as a specialty when I graduated as I’d probably have studied it at an advanced level a lot earlier in my career. That said, I have no regrets about my career path, although it has come about through seizing opportunities rather than by any careful planning. I am hugely grateful that I remained within the profession. I feel privileged to work for a company where I have such amazing colleagues and I feel supported and challenged in equal measure to be the best I can be.

Are you involved with any projects outside of the business?

I’ve just become involved with the RCVS Knowledge Quality Improvement Advisory Board. This fits in with my interests and also my role in raising clinical and professional standards. I’ve been involved in number of projects that fall under the quality improvement heading at Vets Now so I feel I’ve something to offer in terms of the experience I’ve gained. I’m also hoping to learn from the others in the group as some are very experienced and there are also members from other professions who I’m hoping will offer new perspectives on certain issues. I’m also on the veterinary advisory board for Avacta, which is a company that develops diagnostic testing for animals.

Are you an ambitious and dedicated vet looking for a new challenge? The solution may be AdvantEdge, our fast-track induction programme for vets keen to develop their skills before diving into an exciting career in ECC.

Looking to embark on a career in ECC? Our 10-week induction Cutting Edge could be for you. If you are interested in applying, please call the Vets Now recruitment team for more information on 01383 841181 or click here.