Time to take a dose of my own medicine - Veterinary Practice
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Time to take a dose of my own medicine

Chris Whipp climbs further up his ladder of lifelong learning and delves into his portfolios of the last ten years, identifying what was really important to him and changing focus…

IT seems incredible to think that it is 10 years now since I sold my practice and became a “portfolio” worker in the truest sense of the word.

I had always assumed I would be an 8.30am to 7pm vet working six days a week and being on call for a goodly proportion of the rest. Selling the practice was the right decision for the practice and my wife and me but it left me with, potentially, 16 years or so doing something for which I had not planned or prepared (not like me at all).

So what have I been doing for the last 10 years and why do I now need a dose of my own medicine? If you just want the answer to the second question, jump to the last few paragraphs.

Portfolio 1: content-free coaching

In 2004 I did a PGC course in Executive and Professional Coaching. Being a cynical scientist it sounded a bit too good to be true so I committed only to work with businessmen where I had little or no understanding of their business. No way could I hide behind the mantle of “expert”: I needed to embrace the generic skills of coaching and I came to realise their potential.

Having worked for several years in the corporate world it is only in the last few months that I have started working with vets  where I have the coaching and the veterinary knowledge.

Portfolio 2: postgraduate learning

Having worked in the early noughties with a dedicated group of GP vets to support the development of a new modular framework for the CertAVP, we realised how much there was still to do to improve educational provision for the profession and, a little reluctantly, Vet Learning Ltd was formed by five of the original eight.

This was the first and remains the only company committed to evidence-based learning provided in the workplace with exceptional candidate support. In addition to providing individual and group routes to the CertAVP, we are able to take more experienced candidates forward to Masters and even Doctorate qualifications, a true “ladder of lifelong learning”.

Portfolio 3: clinical practice

I maintain a continuous part-time presence in small animal primary care. I am blessed that I still gain a great deal of enjoyment from it and it keeps me sharp with regard to both my academic and coaching roles.

Portfolio 4: research

Having developed an interest in research when doing my Masters from 2001 to 2003, it was not surprising that I carried this forward after selling my practice. My interest started with why, sometimes, things just seemed to be so difficult in practice.

You can’t quite get your head round the problem, it seems just too messy, complex and intimidating or implementing the solution just doesn’t seem to work for a multitude of reasons. This took me on an interesting and winding journey though subjects that I had never had any contact with as a vet.

Portfolio 5: neuroscience of leadership

OK, so this one definitely was a little left field. I was approached about six years ago by the head of the Professional Development Foundation in London and asked if I would assess on a “neuroscience of leadership” course.

I did point out to him that I knew nothing about neuroscience but that didn’t faze him for a moment. I felt somewhat like the actor Danny De Vito in the lm The Renaissance Man where his MSc got him into a similar situation with the US Army. Long story short, I agreed, learned what I needed to take on the role and thoroughly enjoyed the work as I continue to learn about a subject that has become central to much of the work I do.

Of course, it wasn’t as easy or as smooth as the above might suggest. It took me a good two years to get the habits of thinking associated with owning a practice out of my head and an acceptance of a more flexible existence with the associated unpredictability. We humans love our habits and modifying them is often very challenging.

That having been said, the last 10 years have been the most intellectually stimulating of my career and I have come to realise that we have greater potential than we realise and the barriers are nothing like as big or difficult as they seem.

So what’s the medicine that I need to take? I often find with owner/managers of start-ups that their business goes through a minimum of four distinct stages:

  1. Simplicity – it begins with a dream and the passion to pursue it.
  2. Complicated – success brings complications and a pressure to move away from the dream.
  3. Complexity – complicated morphs into complex where progressively control is lost.
  4. Change – either to return to the simplicity or embrace the complexity.

For many, if not most, owner/managers, steps 2, 3 and 4 creep up and arrive often uninvited and when there is little time to really think about the issues.

I like things organised and, as you might have guessed, the challenge for me is one of time management with such a diverse range of activities. I have entirely redefined my approach to time management but now is the time for change.

For me, the answer was to go back to the dream, to identify what was really important to me and then to change focus.

Over the last 10 years I have learned that it is my relationship with my clients that is paramount and my new focus is to bring together the coaching (from the corporate sector), the collaborative learning (from the educational sector) and the psychology/neuroscience (from the leadership sector) into a new and very different offering both for vets and small business owners/managers.

To take this forward, I would be very interested in hearing from both potential clients and potential partners who might have skills to share. Please e-mail me on chris.whipp@vetlearning.co.uk or telephone 01223 633381.

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