Elise, Dave and Ashleigh talk passionately about their new roles doing video consults
For pet owners across the country, our video consultation service has become an essential way to ensure their animal’s wellbeing.
But it’s also opened up a host of opportunities for vets.
So far eight experienced clinicians have taken on roles as video vets at Vets Now and they’re now the first point of contact for many people seeking peace of mind for their pets.
This has provided each of them with valuable, first-hand experience of delivering veterinary advice remotely while, at the same time, improving their work-life balance.
Here, three of our vets, Elise, Dave and Ashleigh, tell how exciting it is to be at the forefront of the online revolution in veterinary medicine.
Elise Bardsley-Anderson’s veterinary life has taken her all over the country and halfway round the world.
But now the animal world comes to her as one of Vets Now’s video vets.
And, as the mum of a lockdown baby, American-born Elise is thrilled to be combining the job she adores with the unrivalled pleasures of looking after baby Freya.
Elise, who is originally from North Carolina, came to the UK to study at the Dick Veterinary School in Edinburgh.
“My dad actually helped choose it because he’d been to Scotland in the 1960s,” said Elise, who’s 33.
“I originally saw myself being a large animal vet out in the countryside, but after graduating I had followed my boyfriend, now husband, Rob, to London, so that didn’t really fit in.”
Elise gained experience at several practices and clinics before what she calls her “itch to travel” kicked in and she and Rob moved to India where she worked for an Animal Aid sanctuary.
It couldn’t have been more different to the small animal work she’d been doing.
“They took in stray injured animals, including monkeys, donkeys and cows,” said Elise. “A camel even showed up one day.
“Most of the work was trauma surgery, so you really felt like a doctor on the front line. And there were diseases like distemper and rabies which I’d never dealt with before.
“Also, you were working alongside people who had dedicated their lives to picking up stray animals.
“So, you were just doing what you’d promised to do, looking after animals, which was very freeing. It was an amazing experience.”
When Elise returned to the UK, she worked for a busy London hospital before starting locum work and then moved back to Edinburgh and joined Vets Now at their clinic in Kirkcaldy.
“When I was in London, I’d developed a taste for out-of-hours work because you saw such fascinating stuff coming through,” said Elise.
“And the trauma work in India had set me up for dealing with more interesting cases that were away from the routine.
“I’d heard great things about Vets Now and I’ve been there since the start of 2019. It’s a small, close-knit team in the clinic and the workload and cases are always varied.”
Elise was working an average of three shifts-a-week which gave her a great work-life balance.
But big changes came when baby Freya arrived at the end of March 2020, just as lockdown began.
As a first-time mum, Elise was more than happy to take up the video vet role, which she has been able to do from home.
“It’s wonderful being able to be there and spend the time with Freya, just being mum,” said Elise. “And when she went to bed, I’d start my video shifts and do what I also love, which is caring for animals.”
For Elise, video vet lets her savour every moment of being a new parent while providing invaluable patient care.
“I feel it’s a bit like the NHS 111 service – except that you’re dealing with a highly trained vet and not someone reading from a script.”
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Video vet may be a new idea but putting owners and their pets in the picture is anything but new to Dave Hollinshead.
And the experienced vet reckons video consults are here to stay as part of the future of veterinary medicine.
“This has long been a passion for me,” said Dave, who’s 36 and senior vet at Vets Now in Sheffield. “I’m part of the North of England Veterinary Association and there had been discussions about how we might cope with a pandemic way before Covid hit.
“I thought at the time that video consultations could make such a difference as to how we might practice. And the benefits would be for owners and animals as well as vets.
“It can be really difficult sometimes to assess an animal in a clinic when it us such an abnormal environment.
“You see quite a few cases in out-of-hours clinics when the owner says they’re really worried about something their pet is doing at home. But in the clinic, they seem absolutely fine.
“Does that mean he is okay or is he really poorly and just hiding it when he gets to the clinic? It’s helpful to see them in their own environment, so I jumped at the chance to get involved.”
Dave had a varied background before starting his shifts at the end of a video camera.
“I worked in Cumbria dealing with small herds up to large dairy and also looked after a hobby zoo with everything from reindeer to guinea pigs,” said Dave.
“Then my locum work took me literally all over the country before coming to Vets Now in Sheffield.
“There are just so many opportunities to do different things professionally here. It’s such a forward-thinking company that really does live the values it has.
“And it’s perfect from a family perspective, too.”
In fact, Vets Now is a real family affair for Dave and wife Jacqui, who have two young sons, Danny, six, and Ali, four.
Jacqui is a district vet, covering a number of different clinics.
“It works really well for childcare as we’re both professional jugglers,” smiled Dave.
“But while working from home can be nice, the main thing for me is that I really do believe in this and want to be involved and steer it in the right direction.”
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The calls may be remote, but Ashleigh Wilson says that, strange as it might sound, video vet has actually brought her closer to pet owners.
She’s not only helping those who need urgent assistance but aiding those who just need some reassurance. And that’s bringing back that priceless connection.
“When I was doing day practice you have a bit more time to have a relationship with your clients than you do with out-of-hours,” said Ashleigh, who is based at Vets Now Warrington
“That’s nice and fun and people will ask to see you because they like you. In out-of-hours, though, you are often seeing people in dire straits when they are at their worst.
“Dealing with the cases you see and treating often-sick animals is really rewarding, but you can miss those nice relationships.
“What I’ve found with video vet is that in many cases you are just giving much-needed peace of mind. And feeling like you’re giving the reassurance while just having what seems like a nice chat, feels really good.”
Ashleigh, who is 36, graduated from Liverpool Vet school in 2008 and worked in mixed practice and then small animal practice in Stoke before being attracted to Vets Now.
“When you’re seeing routine stuff all the time, you can fall into a certain mindset, but with ECC you have to think and work out diagnosis constantly,” said Ashleigh.
“It’s so much more stimulating and you can come away from shifts knowing you’ve made a real difference. I’ve always liked teaching as well and on one occasion I actually had the chance to scrub-up and help save a dog while doing that, which is brilliant.”
Ashleigh found her out-of-hours shifts gave her a much better work-life balance. And the supportive culture within the company came to the fore even more when she became a mum.
She now has five-year-old Hugh and two-year-old Iris with husband Gareth.
“A lot of my friends in small and independently-owned practices have had problems coming back from maternity leave and getting employers to be reasonable about adjustments,” said Northern Ireland-born Ashleigh.
“But Vets Now have been very supportive and understanding the whole way through.”
Ashleigh went back part-time after Hugh and returned to clinic after Iris, too, until some ongoing health issues made that difficult.
And being away from animals and their owners was tough.
“I’ve been graduated for 12 years, there was five years of vet school before that and at school I spent every holiday in practices getting experience,” said Ashleigh.
“So, this has been my life for longer than I can remember and I felt quite lost when I wasn’t able to be in clinic.”
The opportunity to become one of the video vets happily changed all that.
And while many of the consultations have, as she explained, involved giving reassurance, the video calls have also picked up more concerning issues.
“You can definitely see things that you’re not happy about,” says Ashleigh.
“I’ve seen some older dogs I didn’t like the look of and there was a little kitten the owners had just taken on.
“When they showed me her, I was able to count the respiratory rate. She was taking about 60 breaths a minute, which is quite a lot for a cat, so I said I wanted them to see a vet and get her examined.”
Ashleigh says getting involved again – and being able to do it from home – was wonderful. But there was just one issue during lockdown.
“Gareth’s a teacher so when he was doing remote lessons and I was doing remote consultations, we were kind of tag-teaming looking after the kids,” laughed Ashleigh.
“Whoever got into the front room was working and the other one was chasing around after the little ones!”