Clinic manager Kelly-Marie Barnard says the flexibility of life in ECC, plus the workplace culture of her clinic in Colchester, is what’s helped her to excel in her role.
After doing a course in emergency and critical care, Kelly-Marie Barnard knew that emergency medicine was the place for her.
Kelly joined Vets Now Colchester in 2018 as a veterinary nurse and recently took on the role of clinic manager.
At the end of 2021, Kelly was awarded a Vets Now Values Award – a quarterly prize awarded to one person within the company who best demonstrates the values of caring, innovation, responsibility and releasing potential.
Among other attributes, Kelly’s teammates recognised her commitment and natural talent for collaboration across multiple clinics, making day-to-day life run smoother for staff.
In this Q&A, Kelly discusses how it feels to have her hard work recognised, her route into the veterinary profession, the role nurses play at Vets Now Colchester, and the work-life balance that comes with her role.
How does it feel to win a Vets Now Values Award?
To be recognised for the work that I do, the time I put into it and the dedication that I have for my clinic has been amazing.
When I took on the role, I wanted to make everything smoother and better for the staff. Ipswich and Witham are both very close to us and I really wanted to improve the relationship between all three clinics so we could help each other out.
I think this has succeeded – I have a good relationship with the principal teams in those clinics.
Describe the role that veterinary nurses play at your clinic.
The running of the clinic and the inpatients is predominantly done by the nursing team. They monitor the patients so the vets can focus predominantly on consults and workups of cases.
Our vet nurses do x-rays, triage, bloods and inpatient care. We’re also developing the nursing team in point of care ultrasonography and simple wound stitch-ups to relieve the pressure on the vets.
When they’re not busy, our nurses will record everything the vets are doing, as they’re doing it. This makes things much smoother, with a quicker flow for the patients when they’re coming through the clinic.
The nurses triage and give hierarchies for which patients need to be seen most urgently. The vets are predominantly guided by the nurses – the nurses steer the vets in what direction they need to go and where they’re needed the most, which frees vets to focus more on the clinical side of their role.
"I needed some diversity in my career to keep me engaged. I needed to find a practice that would push me and make me the best vet nurse I could possibly be. And I found that at Vets Now."
How did you get into veterinary nursing?
First of all, I did a two-year diploma in animal management. I couldn’t get a training position in a veterinary practice right away, so I went to work in a hotel but continued applying to veterinary practices whenever I could.
Eventually, I managed to get a position as a veterinary care assistant in a daytime practice and from there, I’ve worked my way up to where I am now.
After 18 months, I was enrolled to become a trainee vet nurse. After eight years in daytime practice, I decided I wanted a new challenge; I did an introductory course to emergency and critical care and just realized that was where I needed to be.
What is it about ECC that appealed to you?
Mainly the excitement. I needed some diversity in my career to keep me engaged and I needed to find a practice that would push me and make me the best vet nurse I could possibly be. And I found that at Vets Now.
I joined four years ago and when I first started, I didn’t have much experience in emergency work. The team at Colchester have really pushed me and helped me to become not only the nurse I am today, but also a manager.
What do you like about Vets Now as a company?
They’re brilliant at opening the door to courses that you want to do but can’t always afford.
I’m studying the CertVN ECC, which Vets Now has fully funded for me. I’ve just used my CPD budget to do a further course in feline nursing; I’m going to start in March and again, Vets Now has funded that.
They also offer learning agreements for the bigger, more expensive courses that CPD budgets wouldn’t normally cover.
How did you find the transition into a management role?
When I took on a role in management, the support I got was amazing. The support office, people services, the district teams and the contact centre are all there to help, which is brilliant.
They listened to my feedback and made my work-life balance even better so I could still support my team without there being any impact on my home life.
Vets Now do so much for everybody; the client care, customer support and insurance teams all take the pressure off the clinics. They remove a lot of administration work so the vets and vet nurses can purely focus on the clinical side of their role.
At one time for example, we had to spend hours and hours checking insurance claims. Now we can spend that time with the animals, we can hand-feed them, we can groom them – if they need a bath, we can give them a bath without affecting the admin within the clinic.
Do you have a healthy work-life balance?
I haven’t had to pay lots of money in childcare fees, and I get to spend more time with my daughter and my partner because I’m not at work all the time.
I work full-time, but I’m not missing out on my daughter’s childhood because I don’t work five days a week.
Whenever my daughter has been ill and I haven’t been able to make it to a shift, Vets Now have always been supportive – I’ve never been made to feel like I’m letting them down because I’ve had to prioritize my family.
When she starts school, I’ll most likely continue working these shifts because of the freedom. I’ll have more time for myself, to go out and see my friends – to go to the gym during the day and not in the evenings.
It just opens so many doors. You can get your nails done, get a back massage; you get all sorts during weekdays, even if you want to go to a shopping centre.
I worked Monday to Friday plus two in four weekends for eight years and I could never, ever do anything during the week. I never had the chance. Now I do!
"Whenever my daughter has been ill, Vets Now have always been supportive - I've never been made to feel like I'm letting them down because I've had to prioritize my family."
Does that influence the culture of your clinic?
Definitely. I’ve got one person who’s in a knitting club, another in a sewing club; we’ve got people who do lots of different gym activities.
It helps us to have a great relationship outside of work. When one of us starts doing something interesting, the whole team will have a go at it. One of our previous PNMs always did ropes – like dancing with ropes – which we thought sounded cool, then half the team started doing it.
Because the hours are so long and the shifts can be intense, the relationships that build up between us are amazing.
There are people here that I consider to be family – I talk to my principal vet outside of work as much as I talked to her at work!