Millions of working mums balance the demands of a career with bringing up children
But just how many manage to do it while working nights, managing a team and running a busy pet emergency clinic?
Step forward senior vet and mother-of-two pre-school children Rachel Black.
Since joining Vets Now in 2014, she has become living proof that women can successfully juggle a career, marriage and motherhood.
“I love the work,” Rachel explains. “We see some cases that you’d see in general practice, but we also see a lot of cases that are time-critical, where you’ve got a real chance to make a difference.
“It does mean that it can be more stressful, but the rewards are greater as well.
“In a way, having children has made it easier because I’ve had to draw a line under what I can and can’t do. And I think that in some ways, as a vet, it’s quite healthy to have a reason to switch off.”
Rachel’s veterinary career journey started early. After leaving school at 17, she went straight to university in Glasgow, where she studied veterinary medicine for five years, before taking on a job in a small, family-run practice in Motherwell.
She had been working there for five years when she spotted an advert for a senior vet role at Vets Now in her home city of Edinburgh.
Although unsure whether she’d reached such a senior level in her career, the mentorship she had received in her first job had equipped her with the skills and confidence to take on the challenge.
Rachel admits that the move to ECC and out-of-hours work was initially a shock to the system.
“The first few night shifts were definitely very tough”, Rachel says, “But I think you’ve got to expect that. It’s a complete change to your working pattern.
“There’s a gradual process of adjusting, finding things that work, things that don’t work, getting used to a new team and starting to integrate and work together.
“I think it probably took a couple of months for me to fully adjust.”
Following this settling in period, Rachel really began to enjoy her new role and, particularly, working alongside other dedicated colleagues.
“Having such a small team means you form a really close bond with everyone,” she explains. “All of our nurses have been here for five or six years and the vets are similar.
“It’s a lot nicer coming to work when everybody gets on.”
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The senior vet role also involves management responsibilities and Rachel is positive about the support she received when taking this on.
“I’d say that you don’t need to have any special training or necessarily any expertise when starting a management position at Vets Now. You just need to have the drive and the interest in it, they’ll provide you with everything else.
“The training’s there, the mentoring is there, and there are so many great role models who you can learn from.”
Now, as mother to four-year-old Reuben and one-year-old Isaac, the benefits of her job are clear.
“When I moved to Vets Now, it was just my husband and me. We had no children, so it was easy to be selfish and sleep for as long as I needed to sleep between shifts and take the time I needed.
“But looking back at my first year, there were definitely times when I probably pushed myself too hard when I didn’t need to.”
Motherhood has also influenced the way Rachel feels about her career in general.
She adds: “It gives you a massive sense of perspective on life as well, what’s important and what’s not. I also feel very proud knowing that the children know I’m doing an important job.”
And while the shift pattern initially took some getting used to, how does she feel about it now?
“The great thing is, although the shifts are long, it means that you can really compress and compact your working week into just a couple of nights.
“To get the same equivalent number of hours in a day job, you would be working four or five days a week. You find you’ve got more spare time for hobbies or other activities outside of work.”
Given the opportunities her job at Vets Now has offered her, Rachel has some advice for other ambitious vets looking to balance their career prospects with their family commitments, but who may be wary of working nights.
“If you’re trying to balance work with bringing up a family then out of hours emergency work is definitely worthy of consideration,” she says. “From a childcare point of view, I think working nights is amazing. I try to sell it to everyone I possibly can.
“I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t had to use a nursery or any formal childcare, apart from my mum and my husband’s mum, who have looked after the children in the morning so I can get a little sleep.
“Some days I look after the kids all day and then go to work at night, which, yes, is tiring, but it is manageable and it means that you miss out on very little.
“Having done it this way, the thought of having to do a day job and miss out on all the little things that they do and say during the day is just not for me.
“You don’t know what your body is capable of until you give it a go. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.”