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Seeking variety and a good work/life balance
  1. Melanie Dass

Abstract

After honing her skills in mixed practice, Melanie Dass went on to work in small animal practice in London. After 11 years in practice, she moved to industry. Currently senior product manager and part of the marketing team at MSD Animal Health, she explains how her job fits in with family life and her passion for veterinary medicine

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I WANTED to be a vet for as long as I can remember. I had lots of pets growing up and was lucky enough to have cousins who lived on a dairy farm, so animals were a big part of my life. I qualified from Cambridge in 1997 and my masters is in neuroscience. I really enjoyed my time at university and met lots of people doing different courses, not just veterinary medicine. Looking back, I think the degree would have be better if it had included more on the commercial aspects of running a practice, as well as communications skills and special workshops on dealing with difficult situations such as euthanasia.

Working in practice

With my degree in hand, I worked in a mixed practice in my first job. After that, I spent 10 years working in veterinary hospitals in north London specialising in small animals where I obtained my certificate in small animal medicine. It was a real learning curve dealing with such a range of clients and their pets, treating illness and educating them about general animal healthcare. My medical interests included diagnostic imaging, endocrinology and cardiorespiratory and geriatric medicine.

Working in industry

After 11 years in practice, I moved to industry. I have been with MSD Animal Health ever since, although it was Schering-Plough when I joined and transitioned through Intervet Schering-Plough Animal Health. I started as a technical veterinary adviser, but really enjoyed the marketing aspect of my job and completed a professional marketing diploma in 2008. I moved to marketing full time shortly afterwards and am currently senior product manager in the companion animal business unit. I have managed a diverse portfolio of products during my time working in the pharmaceutical group, including Optimmune, Zylkène and Posatex, and most recently have been involved in the launch of the ectoparasiticides Activyl and Activyl Tick Plus.

Launching new products is probably my favourite aspect of my job, as it is really satisfying to see the brands brought to life. For example, with Activyl I started with the usual product data package and worked with a creative agency to design the marketing campaign, which uses a visual metaphor to represent the unique mode of action of Activyl. Activyl is a pro-insecticide and is bioactivated by flea gut enzymes to a highly active insecticide, so ‘switches on’ in the flea rather than on the pet. The adverts use a dog and cat hand drawn around a light switch and are unusual and quirky. The campaign was well received by vets and the marketing industry – in fact, it was the only campaign from animal health globally to be placed in the Rx Awards last year. This is a global marketing award and is unusual in that entries come from animal and human health. The Activyl campaign won a silver award of excellence, which was very satisfying.

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In my role, I am also responsible for product forecasting and preparing support literature and materials for the products I look after. I work closely with our regulatory, technical and sales teams. I enjoy being part of a large team and one of the benefits of my role is that I have interaction with most of the other disciplines in the business. I also work closely with external agencies who provide us with PR, event management and telesales.

Benefits of working in industry for the working mum

I took maternity leave in 2010 and believe that working in industry definitely has advantages compared with practice when it comes to juggling childcare and work. I now work part time, which I think is a good balance. I am able to finish at set times, so there are no worries about the last appointment being a foreign body or an emergency arriving when you have to leave. In this role, it is also possible to make up time in the evenings if you go in late one day, which is not really feasible in practice and gives me a lot more flexibility. I am also very lucky that it's never a problem if I have to leave early or take time off at short notice. I can just switch on the laptop later and catch up.

It's never easy working and having small children and it is vitally important to have childcare that you are 100 per cent happy with. We had a nanny when my son was very small and now he's at nursery. I also find that planning things in advance, like preparing his clothes for the next day, really helps the morning routine run smoothly before I go off to work.

Having been involved in launching Activyl, Melanie has become quite fond of these dogs

Exploring the options

For any newly qualified vet now, I believe that doing some time on-call is essential. I learnt an awful lot that way, and you do see cases out of hours that rarely present themselves in a normal working day, such as gastric dilatation volvulus and caesarean sections. In my experience, these are also incredibly satisfying cases to deal with and some of my best anecdotes and memories from practice have come from being on-call.

Being a vet gives you diverse career options and it is worth exploring other avenues if you feel that practice is not for you, while still using the variety of skills that you worked so hard for at vet school.

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