Flexible working means a better work-life balance

Popular wisdom has it that absence makes the heart grow fonder and familiarity breeds contempt.

But that’s far from the case with husband and wife team Dave and Lucy Leicester, who work together at Vets Now.

The couple, who have two children and met at vet school 27 years ago, play pivotal, albeit very different, roles in the business.

Dave is Vets Now’s head of clinical intelligence while Lucy is an internal auditor and they both work, in the main, from home in a quiet village near Derby.

They are among a growing band of couples who are spending their working, as well as family, lives together.

Image of vets working Vets Now's emergency hospital in Glasgow

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One recent study by FreeAgent, an accounting software provider, estimated that 1.4m couples run businesses together in the UK while thousands more work in close quarters for the same company.

Dave and Lucy said the secret to their success was simply liking each other’s company.

“You do need to be able to get on with each other if you’re going to live and work in the same building 24/7,” said Dave. “I think that’s really, really important.

“We’re fortunate in that we have similar motivations and drive.

“I guess we do spend an awful lot of time together and if there were issues, this would shine a spotlight on them. But that’s not been the case for us. It’s great being part of the same team.”

Dave and Lucy’s career paths have been intertwined since their student days at the Royal Veterinary College in the early 1990s.

After graduating they worked in a variety of small animal practices in London and Derby, including first-opinion and emergency and critical care. In the carefree years before children arrived, they also spent time working as locums to fund a trip to India.

In 2004, Dave joined Vets Now as a senior vet at the Derby clinic, before climbing up the ladder to his current role as head of clinical intelligence.

After a few years in small animal practice, Lucy trained to become an accredited indexer.

She then spent the next few years running an indexing business, creating indexes for scientific and medical publications, while also working part-time as a teacher at the University of Nottingham’s veterinary school.

During this period, Lucy also gained a post-grad certificate in forensics and law.

The couple started working together again in 2016 when Lucy joined Vets Now as an internal auditor.

Image of Dave and Lucy Leicester of Vets Now
Head of clinical intelligence Dave and internal auditor Lucy met at vet school 27 years ago

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Lucy said: “My job involves auditing the whole business for mischarges, professional and clinical standards issues, as well as promoting and organising clinical audit

“It’s an interesting mix of clinical and financial duties. Clinical audit was formally incorporated into the NHS in 1993, to improve patient safety. The veterinary profession is following suit.

“The Code of Professional Conduct requires vets and vet nurses to engage with clinical governance, and clinical audit is an essential part. It’s exciting to be involved at this stage in the journey.

“The most interesting aspect, for me, is the opportunity to analyse large quantities of clinical data, in order to identify opportunities for improving clinical outcomes, and the welfare of our patients.

“The skills gained from indexing and forensics have turned out to be very useful in the auditing role. I also produce the index for our annual ECC Congress.

“The fact I’ve been able to use my veterinary degree without necessarily working as a clinician has been a real bonus for me. It shows there are opportunities at Vets Now to diversify from clinical work.”

Dave has an equally intriguing role. Although he began life at Vets Now as a senior vet, he has since worked as a principal vet, district senior vet, district vet, joint head of clinical operations and assistant head of veterinary standards.

He’s now head of clinical intelligence, and part of a team with responsibility for leading clinical and professional standards across the business, evaluating clinical and operational data to develop clinical business strategy, and overseeing the company’s evidence-based veterinary medicine programme.

He also has an auxiliary IT support role for Vets Now’s nationwide network of clinics, helping to bridge the gap between clinicians and IT.

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Dave, who is also an elected member of the RCVS Council, said: “I have a portfolio role within the business and they all come together under the banner of head of clinical intelligence.

“I’m a clinician at heart, and I’ve a strong desire to continue my clinical work while developing from a management and leadership perspective. About 25% of my work is clinical, and I’m currently working towards my advanced certificate, funded by Vets Now.

“I’m also really passionate about evidence-based medicine. So all of those areas of my role are really important to me. The sum of the whole is what makes me happy on a day-to-day basis.

“I can’t think of any company in the UK that would have provided me with these opportunities.”

There are two other hugely important factors that have helped Vets Now retain Dave and Lucy’s skills — our commitment to CPD and supporting them with flexible working opportunities.

Lucy said: “I’ve been given a huge amount of support since I started. The CPD is amazing and the management are happy to put learning agreements in place to facilitate further study.

“For me, the flexibility the role provides is also massively important. We have two children, aged 11 and eight, so life is busy and unpredictable. As I’m able to work from home and complete auditing tasks at any hour of the evening or weekend, it’s incredibly freeing to know that a sick child or a nativity play isn’t going to send us into a tail-spin.”

“I'm a clinician at heart, and I've a strong desire to continue my clinical work while developing from a management and leadership perspective."

Dave Leicester Head of clinical intelligence

Dave echoed those views.

“My CPD allowance has allowed me to travel the world,” he explained. “I go to internationally-renowned conferences on a regular basis. It’s also allowed me to do my certificate and it’s given me the opportunity to develop management, leadership and media skills.

“When I’m not travelling, I work from home much of the time. There’s some firefighting but most of what I do is long-term strategy stuff, which gives me the opportunity to be very flexible about the hours I work.

“It means I can also spend more time with the kids, attend school functions, find time to go to nativity plays, look after sick children and attend to family matters if and when I need to, which is important for work-life balance.”

Dave said opportunities at Vets Now have increased as the business has grown, especially since the company joined forces with IVC Evidensia.

He added: “I joined Vets Now when there were just a handful of clinics, and a very simple management structure. As Vets Now has grown, new roles have been developed. If you look back at my career progression, for example, most of the roles I’ve been involved in were newly created.

“There are also new and exciting projects that people can get involved in while continuing to use their clinical skills.

“On top of that, lots of doors opened when we joined IVC. In some smaller businesses, there can be a glass ceiling but that’s certainly not the case here. Now there are lots of career development opportunities both horizontally and vertically.”