Vet surgeon’s career goes from strength-to-strength since ECC move

At Vets Now, we’re hugely proud of our Cutting Edgers.

That’s the term of affection we give to vets who embark on our 10-week induction programme in emergency and critical care.

Since it was established in 2010, more than 230 people have successfully completed Cutting Edge — all vets who have been equipped with the skills and knowledge to save the lives of critically-ill pets.

Fran Blake, 31, a veterinary surgeon in our Bournemouth clinic, is among them. Fran, who is from Aberystwyth in Wales, completed her Cutting Edge journey in early 2017 and says it remains one of the best experiences of her life.

In this Q&A, she explains how Cutting Edge prepared her for a life on the front line of emergency and critical care.

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When did working as a vet become an ambition?

It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I wavered a little bit when I was in school and thought about other careers but I always kept coming back to veterinary medicine. I did quite a lot of work experience, as everyone does before vet school, and it just confirmed it was what I wanted to do.

Tell me about your career journey?

I went straight from school to Cambridge University and then, once I graduated, I went into small animal general practice. After a couple of years of doing that I spent a short time locuming. While I was quite comfortable with where I was at, I wanted to challenge myself more. I was leaning between surgery or emergency when I came across the Vets Now Cutting Edge programme and it all blossomed from there.

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

The variety. One of the frustrations of working in general practice is it can become a bit monotonous and it can be stressful for different reasons. It was a strange combination of having a lot of very routine work to do but not feeling very challenged. At Vets Now, you can never predict what your shift is going to be like, and while it might seem counterintuitive, that takes an aspect of the stress away.

Would you consider a return to general practice?

I really enjoy emergency work and I definitely think it gives you a better work-life balance than I was able to achieve in general practice. I know everywhere is different, but I’ve found that since I’ve been working nights I’ve got more time off in reasonable chunks, so I can divide my life more easily between my work and my friends and hobbies.

Did you adapt to working nights fairly quickly?

It takes a few months for your body to adjust to shift work. Before then, you definitely go through a dip where you’re really tired all the time and you think, ‘Oh god, maybe this wasn’t a brilliant idea’. But I think most people come through that and then you just find your natural balance.

I got used to working out of hours quite quickly. I’m lucky in that I’m naturally gifted at sleeping anytime, anywhere. It’s much more of a challenge for people who struggle to sleep because you do need to get a decent rest in between shifts. It helps that our rota is flexible so we can adjust our shifts to suit our lifestyles.

Any tips for vet or vet nurses moving to an out-of-hours role?

Try to make sure you sleep well in between shifts and make sleep a priority. It can be hard sometimes, especially initially, explaining to friends and family that you can’t meet them during the day or between shifts because that’s the time for rest. It takes a bit of adjusting to, but it’s definitely worth it.

How do you achieve work-life balance?

Keep doing things you enjoy outside of work and get some sunlight in when you’re able to. It’s easy to spend all of your spare time thinking about work. But try to avoid it as it’s really unproductive.

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

Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know the answer to something, and talk to other vets and colleagues openly and ask their advice. Newer, less experienced vets may feel like they’re hassling more experienced colleagues by asking their opinion or what they would do in certain situations. But if you get into that mindset it can become quite isolating, and it puts a lot of pressure on you. You feel like you have to know everything and be able to do everything straight away, which is impossible.

Just remember, even experienced vets who have been practising for decades still encounter difficult cases where they need to talk to other colleagues and get other opinions.

An image of the January 2017 Cutting Edge intake for Vets Now article on Cutting Edge reunion
The Cutting Edge programme is designed to give less experienced vets the confidence to work in ECC

How did Cutting Edge prepare you for a life as an ECC vet?

The biggest thing for me was confidence because emergency is such a dramatic change from working in daytime, first-opinion practice. You expect to be working on high-level, dramatic emergencies all the time, and while that isn’t actually the reality, Cutting Edge gave me the skills to go into that environment and manage those cases confidently and competently.

Would you recommend Cutting Edge to others?

Yes, the quality of the training on the Edge programmes is amazing, particularly for less-experienced vets. Some of the biggest names and experts in emergency and critical care are involved, giving you small group learning and interaction on such important topics.

How has Vets Now supported you to make the most of your potential?

They’ve been really good. Having previously worked in general practice for a corporate, and had a less than positive experience, I was a little bit sceptical about joining Vets Now. But I have to say they are very different. Everything that I’ve wanted to do has been really easy. I haven’t had to argue my case to go to CPD and it’s just been a case of mentioning that I was interested in something and then before I know it, I’m doing it, which is amazing.

Are you doing any CPD at the moment?

I’m doing my certificate in ECC. It’s fully funded by Vets Now which is important because most of these courses cost a lot of money. In all honesty, if I wasn’t getting this financial help, I wouldn’t be able to do it.

It takes a few months for your body to adjust to shift work. But I think most people come through that and then you just find your natural balance with it

Fran Blake Emergency vet Bournemouth

What do you like most about working for Vets Now?

While high clinical standards and providing a really good service to both clients and patients comes above all else, they’re also really supportive of their staff, and they genuinely want to make things as good as possible to retain them.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you’d known when you started?

You’re never as alone as you think you are, even in the middle of a night shift. There are so many out-of-hours clinics at Vets Now, and you get to know a lot of your colleagues quite quickly. There have been times when I’ve spoken to another vet in another clinic at 2 am, just to discuss a case, or to ask them to have a look at some X-rays. Having that backup is important because it takes an element of stress away and gives you a bit more confidence when you’re dealing with some of the more challenging cases.

Is there mentoring in place to help you?

Yes, and I think that’s really important. When I was a new graduate in my first job, at times it felt as though I didn’t have too many people to go to. It’s a stressful job being a vet so having a good support network is really important. This is especially the case when you’re new to a role. It can be daunting so having someone in your team that’s approachable, that you can talk to and who is available is really important.

The next intake for Cutting Edge is filling up fast. If you, or any vets you know, are interested in applying, please call the Vets Now recruitment team for more information on 01383 841181.