Combining weekend shifts with a Masters degree is an ideal combination


It’s an age-old problem — being too busy working to learn the things you feel will make you even better at work.

But vet Harriet McHale-Owen has found the perfect study-life balance.

She is doing a Masters degree while still learning on the job through the flexibility offered by Vets Now. And she gets the thrill of saving sick animals needing urgent out-of-hours care.

Harriet, from Rugby, graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in London in 2016 and then did a year in general practice before joining Vets Now. That was through our 10-week residential Cutting Edge programme which provides a comprehensive route into an ECC career.

The innovative induction course combines lectures and interactive seminars to equip vets with the skills and knowledge needed for starting a full-time role in one of the nationwide networks of emergency clinics and hospitals.

“I’ve been working at the Sheffield clinic for almost three years now and I’ve really enjoyed it,” said Harriet, who’s 27.

“The Cutting Edge team were all really supportive in the beginning. And since then everyone in Sheffield, from reception to the nurses to the senior vets, all work together as a team. That helps you get through each shift.”

With sick animals coming in through the night and at weekends, it’s life in the ER of veterinary medicine and Harriet says she couldn’t be happier about that.

“I love emergency work,” said Harriet, who lives in Sheffield. “I love that thrill of not knowing what’s going to come through the door.

“You really do feel like you’re making a difference.”

Harriet’s thirst for knowledge led to her deciding to go back to studying and last autumn she started a full-time Masters course in transitional neuropathology at the University of Sheffield.

Just as she enjoyed support from the team around her at the Vets Now clinic, Harriet was delighted to get the same positive backing when sought to balance work and studies.

“I’ve gone part-time, so my hours are just over half a full-time rota,” explained Harriet.

“The way it works for me is that I’m doing the same number of weekends, but fewer shifts during the week. And that gives me the week free to do my course at university.

“My boss is really flexible. If I need, very occasionally, a shift off because it’s a bit awkward for me with university, they’ve been really good at moving those around to work with me.

“So, that makes it possible to do both. It’s great that I’ve got a consistent income and regular shifts so I can plan ahead.

“The only other alternative would have been trying to fit things around locum shifts.”

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The additional beauty for Harriet is that she is still very much a part of the Vets Now set-up, with all of the advantages that brings.

“It gives you benefits like your CPD training, and our ticket for the Vets Now ECC Congress is also paid for from that budget,” said Harriet. “And you get access to a pension, healthcare, sick pay, holiday pay. It really is a lot.

“I’m also still involved in the clinical discussions with the wider district vet group. I feel like I’ve got a lot of support, whereas if I was a locum, I’d be worried I’d be a bit more by myself.

“It’s good to remember that although you may be the only vet in the clinic at a given time, there are vets working in other clinics at the same time. They are there to help and support you and you can always ask something or get another opinion when you need it.”

Harriet was on nights full-time for her initial two years and she says she was aware that many of those taking to nocturnal working start with energy and enthusiasm before having a dip a few months in.

But she found herself adapting more easily than she might have feared.

“Your body does get more used to them and you get better at recovery,” said Harriet. “Some people prefer to do three or four in a row, get them done and have a week or two off.

“Whereas I find it works better for my body clock to do one or two and then have a short period off. That’s easier for me get back to more normal life quicker.

“It’s just a case of finding something that works for you.”

While she makes sure she has time for studying, Harriet says it’s just as important to ensure there’s time – and freshness – to enjoy life, too.

“Make sure that you have got plans outside of work that you do get out of the house for,” she advises.

As well as being given support for her Masters, Harriet is also working her way through her ECC certificate.

“Vets Now have been great,” she says. “I’ve had hours of time to work on it and lots of offers of help from senior colleague to discuss cases.

“So, I found it quite easy to get started and to feel motivated to do it.”

With all the studying Harriet has committed to, finding the motivation to learn even more and better herself obviously isn’t difficult.

But, as a young vet, she says the support she has had from Vets Now has been invaluable.

“When you’re starting out, you need to find an environment that boosts your confidence as much as possible,” added Harriet. “In your first couple of years, you need to get the basics right and to feel confident in them. Don’t let your confidence get ruined in the first couple of jobs you get.

“I love clinical work, but I also really enjoy research, which is why I’m doing the Masters. I’m interested in neurological diseases well as emergency work.

“I’m not sure where the journey is going to take me and I’m keeping doors open – I like a bit of both worlds.”