Jessica Windham is a vet at Vets Now’s busy Eastbourne clinic. Jessica fell in love with the emergency side of veterinary life while working at a day practice after graduating. But she tells us how she would never have made the move to ECC medicine if it hadn’t been for Cutting Edge.
Was being a vet always your plan?
Ever since I was about five! I was inspired by TV series like Animal Hospital, and I never wanted to do anything else. I got into the Veterinary Gateway programme in 2014 at RVC and was really lucky as there were only about 60 places and 3000 applicants. The veterinary profession classically has a bit of a reputation of being for those of a Ã¢â‚¬Ëœprivileged background’, and the Veterinary Gateway Programme was designed to help diversify this. I was state school educated from a low-income family, and I’m the first in my family to go to university, so I fitted the criteria. I was there until I graduated in 2020.
Did you have a career path in mind?
I anticipated it’d just be day practice. I think I’d had that James Heriot dream of doing a bit of everything and driving out to the countryside to see the farm animals, which obviously isn’t what happens. So, I went into Companion Care in Eastbourne as part of the Vets4Pets grad scheme and it was a weird time to start as it was during Covid. Consults were in the car park, then we’d take the animal in separately, which gave me privacy to ask my colleagues questions I wasn’t sure about. But being on the coast, the wind could be pretty dire! Eventually we were fully back inside, and things normalised. I was very lucky to have such an incredible team at my first job – a practice that my VetsNow branch covers the out of hours for!
How did the ECC passion come about?
I just fell in love with emergency surgery. I remember a couple of GDVs came in, and I had a couple of patients needing CPR. Obviously when you’re doing it, you are just focusing on the patient, but I really reflected on it afterwards and realised that was the part of general practice I really enjoyed. It seemed silly not to make a career doing the thing I loved most.
So, how did you make the move?
I was realistic in only having a couple of years’ experience and therefore I wanted to come in through some kind of training programme. I thought Cutting Edge would be the best option, but I didn’t get in at first. However, I did some shadow shifts at Vets Now in Eastbourne to get a flavour of it. As it happens, I was there when a nasty neurological case came in and, because neuro is one of my real strong points, I was able to offer some helpful suggestions. The team put in a good word, and I got a call about an Edge interview just a couple of days later and was offered a place. I really feel like it was the universe deciding this was what I should be doing.
How was the Edge experience?
It was a mix of being at the Vets Now headquarters in Dunfermline, at home and in clinic. They focus on teaching all sorts of emergencies and how to deal with them, which as an area can be a bit neglected at vet school, and you don’t get to see them with any intensity in general practice. The teaching really solidified the ECC skills I’d need to manage most emergency presentations sole charge. I was confident enough in the things I could already do, but it gave me those extra skills, both medical and surgical, to go into ECC. It was incredibly useful to be learning from the very best.
I learned so much, especially about the emergency bloods and diagnostic imaging. I can honestly say I wouldn't have been able to succeed here at Vets Now without it.
What about the bond with those other vets also doing Cutting Edge?
Everyone is in the same boat as you and it was a bit like being at vet school again. We got on so well, not just in the professional sense but as friends as well and we have all stayed in touch. We set up two WhatsApp groups, one for work and one for play. The play one is for social stuff and just joking around, with the work one separate so any questions or someone asking for help didn’t get lost. We have a big reunion coming up, but those of us closer to one another have already arranged to meet up, too.
How was the transition from completing Edge to working in clinic?
For the first few weeks I was always on shift with someone as they really wanted to make me feel happy and comfortable. My colleagues are amazing and I’m lucky to be part of such a lovely team. I’ve got say I absolutely love what I’m doing, it’s re-lit that Ã¢â‚¬Ëœspark’ I had for veterinary medicine which I struggled to find in general practice.
And has Edge given you the knowledge and expertise you wanted to make you feel confident?
Every single case I’ve seen seems to have involved something I’ve learned. It’s so rewarding to see you are helping these sick animals and I couldn’t have done that without Vets Now. I had one shift where a GDV came in at the same time as a Labrador with an obstruction through eating something silly. They both needed surgery ASAP, but it was knowing how to manage the two cases, stabilise them and assess which animal could then wait. Because I knew what I was doing, I was able to make calm and sensible clinical decisions which I could never have done in general practice.
What about the work-life balance?
It’s cracking to be working full-time but condensing those hours into three days. I’ve got so much more time to do the things I love and having advance rotas means you can plan ahead. Even if I’m working on a weekday evening, I know I can go and do something like a craft course first in the late afternoon, which would have been impossible in general practice.
Would you recommend Cutting Edge to other vets?
Definitely. Confidence just needn’t be an issue, you can gain that with the mentoring and experience from Cutting Edge. I think there are a lot of vets disheartened with general practice and needing a change. Don’t give up on a veterinary career, there will be something out there for you. ECC was it for me and it could be for you too.