IN the back office of a Caernarvon veterinary clinic in north Wales, Jill Hubbard no doubt sits and mulls over the secret to work-life balance and smiles. Having been asked to present her thoughts on its elusive nature at the BSAVA congress, she was clear on one thing: it is not a science.
Newlyqualified vets and eager undergraduates assembled at her “student session” to gather pearls of wisdom and the talk was a mix of aesthetics and common sense.
“In many ways this is vital to how you progress,” said Jill. “If you are the most amazing surgeon on the planet but don’t enjoy life, then frankly it is a bit of a waste of time.”
Keeping responsibilities and conscience in check was the subtitle of Jill’s presentation and the dark art of quieting the inner critic has been a life’s work. “Balance is the critical bit,” she said. “In my view that means enjoying your work. It does not necessarily mean more time off. I am not going to argue for 12 weeks of holiday each year, because that is not necessarily balanced.”
Recounting the tale of an errant farm vet who knocked off at five on the dot, no matter what the farmer’s requests, was a salutary one. Sticking strictly to the scheduled hours meant the work disappeared too. Her advice was to look at the emergency caesarean or the horse in a ditch as an opportunity to dig deep and learn life skills.
On the flip side, a timely escape will also save your bacon. “If you are already booked to play rugby or go to a ceilidh, then do it,” she urged. “I don’t feel guilty about that either. There is somebody else to do the job. Go and do it and forget about work.”
The previous evening had been one to remember. Jill had celebrated 40 years in the profession and all in her first practice. “I really want to inspire you because I still think it is a fantastic job,” she said. “All the things that are difficult or that you worry about, 40 years later you may be saying ‘this is really good fun’.”
Know one thing, she stressed, without knowledge of the rota you are lost. “I am serious. That is one of the big ones. You get there and think you were on one night in seven and then find that you are on first call one in seven and second call two other nights that week. You will feel resentful and won’t be happy with your balance.”
Coping mechanisms will be tested
If being on duty seven nights a week with no back-up works for you, that is fine, but make sure you have gone beyond theory and tested it in practice. Alternatively, those seeking active duty without out-of-hours responsibilities may miss out on life experience.
“Some of you will think it is fantastic to get a job with no out-ofhours work,” said Jill, but what about getting to grips with some of the skills you have learned in theory? “It is worth thinking about this rather than suddenly finding out two years down the road that you have not really got confident in dealing with that road traffic accident.”
There is no absolute wrong or right way, she explained. Everybody has a different breaking point. Throw in difficult clients and the learning curve can be unreasonably steep. But perhaps the biggest shock could be a loss of confidence.
“You will leave college and find all of a sudden that you don’t know as much as you thought you did, because you are making all the decisions,” said Jill. “You have to consolidate what you have learnt and get it clear. Do not put yourself under more pressure than you can handle at that stage.”
Use one of the biggest resources a practice has. Nurses will prove their worth time and again. “Do not think you are too important to ask them,” said Jill. “They are brilliant and know all sorts of stuff. We often ask our nurses about what they think we should do.”
Support for young vets ranges from BVA and SPVS sessions for newlyqualified vets to friends and peer networks. The idea that there is no back-up is misleading, though you may have to make the first move.
Making friends at all levels
Remember to make friends at all levels in the practice – do not be proud, said Jill. “Invite the whole practice round for a pizza. Learn to make chocolate cake. I am quite serious about these things. If you are proactive in making friends, you will be surprised what a difference it makes.
“Go and learn to do something different. Go and meet new people. Have riding lessons, take up a martial art. Remember that this is fun. You will be happy to see clients and their pets and to socialise and have a chat about where they have been on holiday.”
Jill said the only day she had hated in her whole career was spent bleeding pigs in a corrugated iron shed. Not a bad return on four decades. Perhaps the biggest problem the newly-qualified should anticipate is getting over the hurdle of thinking they should be able to do everything instantly.
“You shouldn’t,” she insisted. “Cut yourself some slack. Forty years later I still get things wrong. You may think you are the only one dealing with this. You are not.”
Final words of wisdom? Learn to switch off and relax. “Give yourself that time out, even if it is just walking on the beach,” said Jill. “It is not terribly scientific, but I hope it has given you some thoughts on how to look at setting your life up to succeed.”