Nicky Paull is the senior partner of a 13-vet mixed practice in Cornwall, the practice she joined after qualifying. She married one of the dairy farming clients, had two children and bought the then three-and-a-half-vet practice from her boss. She went on to be president of the Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons (SPVS) and President of the BVA. She has been a non-executive director of Centaur Services, is a director on the board of the Veterinary Benevolent Fund, and was recently appointed as an RCVS postgraduate dean.
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How easy was it returning to full-time practice last year having been BVA President in 2008?
Very hard. I have spent my life moving forwards and on as new openings or challenges occurred. Suddenly I found myself trying to go backwards. Everything appeared as before, but the practice had certainly changed, and I am sure I had changed over the three years I spent as an officer of the BVA. Some of the worries and concerns may simply have been in my head, but I think I have had to almost reinvent myself over the past few months. Now, life seems to be gradually getting back to normal.
How did you get to where you are today?
By luck, really! I got a job in an area I love and met a client who I have made my life with. My boss decided that the practice life was not what he wanted at that time, so I was lucky enough to be able to buy the practice I was working in. Because I had no clue how to run a practice it meant I had to learn on the hoof, but also to try to learn from other vets. This encouraged me to join SPVS and attend as many courses and lectures as I could. Through this I made many friends in the profession. From there I seemed to fall into veterinary politics through our local veterinary division here in Cornwall.
If a new door opens I appear to have a habit of walking through just to see what is on the other side.
Describe your job.
Historically, my job was mainly farm work. Over the years I have been gradually increasing my small animal clinical input, and since returning to the practice my ageing bones have pushed me into giving up farm work altogether. The physicality of farm work has simply got too much, although others might say that most of my aches are due to my inability to stand up for long on a pair of skis! On top of the clinical stuff is the day-to-day work involved with being a partner in a busy practice. The role of keeping a large team of vets and support staff happy can never be underestimated, but on the days when all is well there is nothing better then seeing the practice running like a well-oiled machine – but don't ask how many days a year that really happens!
What do you like about your job?
The people – staff and clients – and the animals.
What do you not like?
The pressure sometimes but, as with so many others in the profession, I put a lot of that upon myself. I seem to want to keep everyone happy – staff and customers – and if I don't, it gets to me. George Cooper said that, although we see 39 happy clients in a day, it is the 40th one who wasn't satisfied by our service that we think about when we get home. And, as my accountant told me the other day when I was in a stress over something: ‘Employing people is not a popularity contest.’
Why is your job important?
My job still gives me a buzz and gets me out of bed in the mornings (and also sometimes in the middle of the night). I think we sometimes forget that, for the majority of folk outside our profession, being a vet is something special.
What advice would you give to someone considering a similar career?
For all its ups and downs, I would do the same again. If a chance arrives, take it. I never want to be in a position where I think, ‘I wonder if I had done . . .’. Don't look back and fret for things that might have been
What's the best piece of advice you were ever given?
You will never get 100 per cent of what you would like. Find the 80 per cent, but don't spend the rest of your life grumbling about the 20 per cent you haven't got.
What was your proudest moment?
This may sound a little cheesy, but it's just watching my children. I still wonder how Ed and I managed it, although I was worried that maybe I had not been a very good role model when a member of staff said she wanted to go part-time after her maternity leave as she ‘wanted to bring her children up properly’.
Also, the four years I spent organising the Lancaster final-year student seminar. And, although being BVA President was hard, I have to confess to the odd moments of feeling a bit chuffed and having to pinch myself – such as when the Secretary of State said at a function ‘. . . and, as Nicky Paull has rightly said . . .’.
. . . and your most embarrassing?
On my last day as a board member at Centaur, I was at a trustees' meeting and it was a fellow trustee's birthday. I had bought a cake – plus candles – and proceeded to light them in the corridor outside the meeting room. Unfortunately, I hadn't noticed I was right under a smoke alarm. Suddenly, not only were the entire office and warehouse staff evacuating, but the direct alarm to the fire station meant the firemen were on their way. I thought the CEO was going to strangle me!
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