Vet is much like working in a Startup

This week has made me realise something that I had long suspected: being a vet is very much like being a start-up entrepreneur, or certainly an employee of one. This idea crystallized in my mind after watching the fascinating and very motivating documentary “The Startup Kids,” which takes a look at a number of tech start-ups and their founders, a subject that I have always been utterly fascinated by.

What characteristics or features of working as a vet do I consider to be in parallel to being involved in a start-up? I reckon the following merit mention….

  1. Multiple Simultaneous Roles – I have oft advised potential new vets that a career as a veterinarian is not simply a matter of wearing the “fixer of sick and maintainer of healthy animals” hat. The truth is that most days involve us having to swap our various hats more often than a lady at Ladies Day at Royal Ascot. In any given day we could act as doctor, negotiator, team-leader, social worker, financial planner, debt collector, psychologist, gymnast, electrician/ mechanic, inventor, problem-solver extraordinaire, confidante, sprinter, weight-lifter, endurance athlete, receptionist, diplomat, surgeon, clairvoyant, magician and, at times we are also expected to be both super heroes and miracle workers! Only the other day I found myself spending a good hour taking on the unexpected role of financial problem solver, empathetic negotiator and fiscal planner whilst carefully navigating the options for a possible payment plan structure for a client who clearly could not afford the required treatment for their pet but didn’t wish to consider euthanasia of said injured animal. I am no financial planner but found myself having to assume the role, liasing between various members of the clinic team and the client in the process. Fixing the animals, it seems, tends to be the easiest bit of being a vet.
  2. Small Dynamic Team Players – Most vets work in relatively small clinics as members of small, focused teams, with de-lineated roles such as vets, nurses and reception team. Working so closely with so few people in what is often a high pressure and rapidly changing environment is very akin to that seen in most start-ups and whilst highly stressful at times can lead to superb examples of team-work and extraordinary results. I think back to the example I had when a rabbit we were anaesthetising suddenly went into cardiac arrest (ie died!) and as a direct result of superb teamwork involving skilled, focused and motivated professionals we were able to resurrect said bunny!
  3. Cope with Caos & Rapid Growth – Think that your vet spends their day floating along from one kitten consult to the next puppy on a cloud of serene tranquility? Think again. In many busy clinics the hectic schedule kicks off the second you arrive (usually early) to the minute you finally exit the building (usually late), with the spectre of the unexpected always lurking around the corner and with every phone call. This level of (organised?) chaos is amplified if you happen to be in a rapidly growing clinic, with new clients and their new and newer animals rolling in. Embrace the chaos! We do.
  4. Work to Tough Deadlines & Multi-task like a Juggler – Can you spay a cat quicker than it takes to spell cat? No? Well you’ll quickly learn. Especially when you cop a look at the ops list for the day as it spills off the board and starts streaming down the wall. But no worries as you can just keep going as there are no consults in the afternoo….. oh, wait… yes, there are. Vets work to deadlines all day long and swap out roles as mentioned above like a juggler on a Red Bull infusion.
  5. Lunch? What lunch?! – One really cool feature of most tech start-ups that I frequently read about is that many place real value on taking breaks, especially lunch, to catch their collective breath and hang out with colleagues, with many of their best ideas often coming out of this time. I make no secret of the fact that I value my lunch highly and can become a tad grumpy if and when I am denied it. The most productive people I know are those who are actively encouraged to tune out and re-fuel, even if it’s not for very long. Ironman races see athletes encouraged to re-fuel – in fact, not refueling would quickly lead to poor performance and probably failure. So I don’t see why it should be any different in our industry which has unfortunately seemed to collectively hold on to this “lunch/ breaks are optional” mentality. Start-ups know that rested, fueled team members usually perform awesomely and I am convinced that vets, nurses and the rest of the team are no different. When it does happen then I have seen how awesome team spirit and performance can be.
  6. Super Flexible – Part of the excitement of being involved in a start-up is that it’s never always possible to predict exactly what is going to happen. Vet clinics are the same, as previously mentioned, with a new emergency or challenge literally a phone call or walk-in away. We have all been in situations where our manageable consult or surgical list has suddenly been thrown into disarray by an unexpected event and the ability to be super-adaptable and flexible to a dynamic work environment is key to being a successful vet, as it is to being a start-up team member.

I daresay that there are many other examples and feel free to add any you can think of. In the meantime I am off to grab some lunch.

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