Tag Archives: practice manager

It Really is Ok Not to Be Ok

I’ve been wanting to write this blog for a while but the timing has never been quite right, until now. …….

Twelve months ago I was down visiting my brother and sister-in-law near Newmarket for the boys’ October holiday and I had just had a breakdown. Some of you might know what I mean when I say that I slid down my bedroom wall sobbing uncontrollably and feeling like I just couldn’t keep going. Today I am down visiting Ed and Sam again with my boys and it feels really good to be here, in a very different place to 12 months ago. 

So now feels like a good time to speak up about my big wobble or breakdown, or whatever else you want to label it. Too many people are afraid to voice how they are feeling, everyone else seems so happy and seems to have their life together, and yet you feel that you are the only person in the world experiencing feelings of sadness, anxiety, panic and helplessness.

It had started three years earlier with a few episodes of feeling more and more anxious and panicky as life threw various challenges our way. My way of dealing with challenges has always been to keep my head down and keep going, keep working hard, keep smiling and it will all be ok. I always believed that I thrived under pressure and my response to people asking if we were ok was always “still standing”. 

Well now I wasn’t still standing, I was a sobbing, snotty mess on my bedroom floor and to make it all so much worse it was my 8 year old son that found me.  I knew I needed to get help but the thought was so daunting. I had a busy vet practice to run and a young family to look after, and yet just doing the basics for the first few days felt like I had a mountain to climb. The practice which had given us so much and yet seemed to have taken so much, felt like a weight around my neck. The thought of walking into the building and facing the normal daily challenges was overwhelming and I wanted to hide away from everything and everyone. I cried every single day for several weeks, little things would set me off and for a while it felt like I would never feel happy again. 

I had headed down to Newmarket with the boys to see Ed and Sam and this gave me some much needed headspace and time away from the pressure of the practice. I spent my days crying, and walking or running, all the time trying to gather the courage to make a doctors appointment. One morning I drove up to the gallops on Newmarket Heath and sat for 3 hours in my car before I finally plucked up the courage to call the Vetlife helpline. The lady on the end of the phone listened as I cried down the phone. She told me that I needed to speak to my doctor, something I knew but didn’t really want to hear. Another half an hour later and I finally plucked up the courage to make an appointment. It felt like a weight had been lifted, I had made that first important and very small step forwards. 

I had a while to wait before I could see the doctor I wanted to see but when I did finally get there I was still crying daily and having to force myself to walk into the practice each day. I explained to the doctor that I was just feeling very sad and anxious and wasn’t sleeping very well, and that we had been under a huge amount of pressure personally and professionally. I didn’t think I was depressed I just didn’t know how to start feeling happy and excited about life again. It was quite hard to hear her list everything I had described as symptoms of depression. We discussed several different options including counselling and medication and although I was convinced I didn’t want to use medication it was again a big wake up call to be told that this was a real possibility if the counselling that I had chosen didn’t help. 

I won’t bore you all with everything that happened over the next few months but gradually after several counselling sessions and enough time with the pressure off I stopped feeling so sad. I wouldn’t say I started feeling happy and excited about life again, it was more of a gradual feeling that I just felt ok, not sad, not happy but ok. A while later I started recognising the signs of excitement again, something good was happening and I was actually looking forward to it. I was starting to look for challenges and I finally started to feel happy again. 

So twelve months on I am back in Newmarket with my boys visiting Ed and Sam, running the same routes I ran 12 months ago but in such a different place mentally. Some of our personal challenges are still here but business is really good. After a turbulent couple of years things are not only back to where we were two years ago but actually so much better. We have a fabulous team who have worked their backsides off and their trust and support over the last little while means so much. 

Apart from my husband, family and friends my biggest thank you must go to Vetlife. Without that nudge to call my doctor I don’t know if I would have gone through with it, or if I would have tried to tough it out and convince myself that I could sort it on my own. It’s really important that everyone working in practice knows that Vetlife is there for everyone and not just vets and nurses. Practice life brings such unique challenges and pressures and these affect the whole team.

So if you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed or sad I want to let you know that you aren’t alone. We may all look like we have our s**t together but the reality is often very different and as I’ve discovered it really is ok not to be ok………..





Vet’s Wife and a Good Practice Manager…?

So what makes a good practice manager……….according to someone on twitter, not a vet’s wife!! 

To say that made my blood boil is a slight under statement, but when I calmed down enough to process the comment and his reasons behind it I can understand why some people may feel that way.

I’m not going to lie, I’ve heard some pretty scary stories about vets’ wives but I have also heard equally bad stories about practice managers (PM) who aren’t married to one of the vets. Thankfully these guys are in the minority and there are many awesome PMs out there, both married and not married, to vets. 

All of this got me thinking about what is it that actually makes a great practice manager. Defining what we do is difficult, as the structure of the individual practice will largely define how much responsibility a PM has. Some partners or directors enjoy the business management and will take an active role on the development of the business whilst others will be quite happy to leave this to their PM.   

It goes without saying that having good administrative and organisational skills are a necessity as well as a good understanding of financial management. The ability to project manage and problem solve are also vital. However it’s the people skills that make up the biggest part of my own job and I suspect that’s where some of us vets’ wives have got our bad reputation! 

I can’t speak for other PMs but for me, my team’s happiness and personal development at work is the most important part of my job. I passionately believe that our team are fundamental to the development and growth of the business and that if we invest time, emotion and resources in them, they will repay us ten fold. I look forward to coming to work each day because of our team and I want them to actively enjoy their time with us. Their support in helping us meet our business goals and their ability to keep smiling through the tougher times is testament to the team culture we have all managed to build over the years. 

So does my relationship with my husband impact on my team? If anything I believe it’s actually the other way around. Our desire to support our team can actually impact on our relationship. It took me a while to work out why. You know when you have had a particularly tough day at work and you walk in the door and your other half asks how your day went. You launch into a rant about how nothing went the way you wanted it to, and someone was completely unreasonable and made your life difficult….? All you really want is for your other half to sympathise, pour you a drink and give you a hug. The problem with working with your other half is that they can always see the other side, they know the individual or the situation and instead of dishing out sympathy start asking whether you could have handled it differently or suggest that there is always another perspective……Yes that’s us!! 

On the plus side we have been together for 18 years now, 13 of those married and running a business together and we are still standing and stronger together. I would be lying if I said we never had a cross word at work but in all honesty it happens no more often than anyone else when people are tired and under pressure. 

So I guess my plea is not to judge a book by it’s cover, some of us vets’ wives work tirelessly for our teams even if that means having to have a difficult conversation with our other half when we get home at the end of the day.  

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Setting Goals and My New Bible!

Do you feel like you are working really hard, achieving nothing and have no spare time to do all of the important things that you love? Do you write endless to do lists, tick off the small easy jobs and end up moving the bigger or more difficult projects from one list to another?

This was me six months ago, my to do lists were legendary! I’d have jobs that had been on my list for so many months they were no longer relevant. I came home from work each day feeling that I had achieved nothing and I became more and more frustrated. To make matters worse I was up working at 5.30am and finishing at 11pm to try and fit more and more in each day.

Then I discovered my bible!! It is called the SELF Journal and is designed so you can set yourself three goals over a three month period. These might be a life-time goal or a short-term goal that is going to help you achieve your bigger life time goals. Goals are pointless though if we don’t have a plan on how we are going to achieve them and the journal allows you to break down your goal into three progress goals. These progress goals are then broken down further into actions and tasks with a ‘commitment page’ where you can make a pledge to complete your goals, identify how your life will improve and choose how you will reward yourself when you achieve your goals.

My day now starts and finishes with my journal and it comes everywhere with me. Each morning I read my goals again and plan my day based on what I need to achieve. I particularly love the gratitude section which forces me to appreciate everything that I have and reminds me just how lucky I am. Every morning and evening I write down three things that I am grateful for before either planning my day or reviewing how it went. At the end of each week there is a section to review the week, celebrate three big wins and assess my progress towards my goals.

It is very easy to fill our days with the routine things, add in the odd urgent job and forget about the important things. Ask yourself does it really matter if the washing is put away every day or the house hovered? With two boys, a husband who is a vet and myself who is happiest mucking out stables our washing machine never stops. I used to spend valuable time every day putting it all away, time that could have been spent on the important things. These are the things that matter, the things that make us happy, the things that get us out of bed each morning and the motivating factors behind our goals. I’ve come to realise I’d rather be doing something that is important to me and as long as we all have clean clothes it doesn’t really matter whether they are hanging up or still in a pile on the floor!

The SELF journal won’t be for everyone and you may prefer to find another way to define your goals and record your progress. Take some time out to work out what your days are made up of and what bits are routine, urgent and important. Set some goals based on what is important to you, write them down and find a way to hold yourself accountable on a daily basis.


An Annual Pilgrimage with a Difference………

Every year for the last 10 years I have made the trip south to the VPMA Congress or as it is now known the SPVS/VMG Congress. It has become an annual pilgrimage for me, time to get away, get some head space and surround myself with other practice managers all keen to learn and network. It’s a bonus that congress has been held at The Celtic Manor in Newport for the last few years which is the most fantastic 5* hotel and the gym, swimming pool and cocktail bar all help to relax the mind.

For the last seven years my best friend and partner in crime has come with me. The seven hour car journey gives us the chance to talk none stop, without our little people interrupting our chat. We usually spend the whole weekend bouncing ideas around, wondering what the hell happened to the last year, setting goals for the new year and drinking rather too many cocktails.  Our return journey is spent chatting non-stop about our plans for the business and what we have learnt from the lectures and importantly from speaking to others I practice. During the 14 hours of driving we have never run out of things to talk about but then that’s pretty normal for us both!

This year for only the second time Hugh came with me. His first visit was years ago when congress was relatively small and it would be fair to say he was not a fan. I can still remember feeling completely deflated as I am so passionate about practice management but for Hugh it was everything he’s not. He still talks about the opening speaker now but for all the wrong reasons which says a lot about the quality of the talk!

So I was slightly nervous setting off with him, I can’t say we chatted non stop the whole way but given we have been together for 18 years (god how did that happen) I think we did pretty well.

Being a 5* hotel the staff are incredibly well trained and nothing is too much trouble. I had spent a lot of time telling Hugh how it is a fantastic example of top class customer service, and I know from a lecture with their HR manager a couple of years ago they invest a huge amount in training their team and it usually shows.

Unfortunately for me when we arrived there had been a cock up with our room that took some time to resolve. As we were sitting in the foyer waiting for them to sort it out Hugh remarked about the ‘not so good customer service’ and suggested that any 5* hotel worth their salt would have taken us to the bar and offered us a complimentary drink. Queue a member of staff who did exactly that…….a free drink will always help smooth things out especially for a Scotsman!

Thankfully SPVS and VMG have seriously upped their game with the opening speakers since Hugh’s last visit and this one didn’t disappoint. We were treated to a fascinating and very funny talk from Benjamin Mee who is the author of the book ‘We bought a Zoo’, which has now been made into a Hollywood blockbuster.  The highlight for me was the story about an escaped Jaguar that jumped into the tiger enclosure clearly fancying his chances against the big cats. The fact that this happened on only day four and involved a work experience student who neglected protocol and decided to crack on with cleaning out the enclosure on their own, in the process forgetting to lock the door, just made it all the more amusing.  But humour aside, his story is one which includes tragedy, hard work, risk and opportunity, and whilst most of us can’t say we have bought a zoo and had Matt Damon play us in a Hollywood movie, we can relate to many of the every day issues that Benjamin and his family have encountered.

So for me this was Congress with a difference, thankfully Hugh came home as inspired and motivated as I did and perhaps the take home message for me is that sometimes change isn’t all bad…….although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss my partner in crime a little bit!


Coach, Mentor or Both?

This question came up on the recent Vet Your Life Webinar and follows on nicely from my last blog. I hadn’t really given it much thought until someone asked the question “what’s the difference between a coach and a mentor?”

Coaching is aimed at getting us to work out what we want and how we’re going to achieve it. The important thing to know is that a coach won’t tell you the answers. I can remember coaching sessions where my coach just kept asking me questions, challenging me to come up with the answers and I sat there blankly, desperate for her to tell me what I should do! Sometimes it would be a week later before I had that light bulb moment and knew what the answer was.

For me coaching was really tough, I hated not having the answers straight away. If I relate this to my riding I have always loved training with instructors who tell me what I need to do, it fills me with confidence and if I am doubting my own ability gives me the kick up the backside to just get on with it. But the very word ‘instructor’ implies there is quite a difference between the ‘coaches’ that we are seeing teaching now, many of whom have come through the UKCC accredited system and the instructors who came through the traditional BHS exams.

A mentor on the other hand by definition is someone who gives a lesser experienced or younger person help and advice over a period of time. Years ago when Hugh was locuming down in the south of England I met his then Practice Manager. We stayed in touch and over the years she has become a both a friend and a mentor to me. What she doesn’t know isn’t worth knowing and no matter how busy she is I can send her an email or pick up the phone and she will always offer me some pearls of wisdom. A couple of years ago I spent a couple of days shadowing her and I can honestly say I learnt more in that two days than I had learnt in the last two years.

I would love to see a proper structured mentoring system in place for those of us working in veterinary management positions. So often it is the time spent over lunch at CPD meetings where we learn the most, discussing our struggles and how we overcome them. I think practice managers can feel quite isolated at times as you are the one member of the team who doesn’t have their own team to fit into. There is usually a vet team, nursing team, an admin team, and probably some directors but it the PM who is responsible for keeping everyone happy.

So in answer to my question, coach, mentor or both I would definitely say both….. BUT be ready to dig deep in finding your own answers with your coach and make sure you are willing to listen and accept some tough love once in a while from your mentor!


Asking for help……

In January 2017 I reached my breaking point. For someone who has often thought she was superwoman the realisation that I wasn’t was pretty bloody tough. There had been wobbles over the last couple of years but the culmination of too many challenging situations to mention, left me feeling anxious, panicky and completely unable to see the woods for the trees.

Having watched others suffer from mental health issues I knew I needed to act before things progressed. I wasn’t depressed but I had completely burnt out and the panicky feelings were starting to scare me. I had been trying to cope on my own for so long, believing I could manage and not wanting to appear weak, and situations that were completely out of my control kept appearing to challenge me.

I now know that autonomy or control over our situation and the support that my family, friends and work colleagues could offer were the most important factors in starting to not just feel like I could cope but actively enjoying life’s challenges again.

I was very lucky to be introduced to a lady called Carolyne Crowe. I would really recommend either having a look at her website www.carolynecrowe.co.uk or contacting her through the VDS Training Services. I signed up to do some personal coaching with Carolyne and spent the first few sessions mostly blubbing down the phone…….sorry Carolyne! We covered far too much to write about in one blog but I thought I would just share a few of her little gems with you:

  •  One of the things I constantly struggle with is balancing work, family time, and my horse. When my boys are sitting in the office after school I feel guilty, when I am at home with the boys and not in the office I feel guilty and when I am riding my horse I feel guilty. Carolyne uses a phrase called ‘being responsibly selfish’ which has completely turned my guilty feelings around. Riding is for me, my time, when for a hour (ish) my head is free from everything but Splash and my ambitions for him. It is so important and I now realise just how important. There is always a balance to be had and as much as I would love to ride all day every day, I am now very content with once a day, six days a week!
  •  I am by nature a worrier and for a while it consumed me. I worried about everything, what happens if another practice does this or what happens if that person leaves………. Carolyne would constantly remind me that some things are completely out of my control and that I should focus my energies on the things I can control.
  • Another saying of Carolyne’s which I have taken to using on a fairly regular basis is “It’s not the problem that is the problem, it’s our attitude to the problem, that’s the problem” So often I found myself being consumed by a problem, it grew bigger and bigger until it felt impossible to overcome. Carolyne taught me to work out what I could do about the issue, break it down into manageable chunks and to stop worrying about the things I couldn’t influence. So by changing my attitude to the problems I have felt far better equipped to deal with the inevitable challenges life throws at us.