Lynne Hill was the first girl from her school to go to vet school and the only female in her year in Dublin. She later became the first female president of BSAVA, giving her a wider view of the veterinary industry that she subsequently joined. She is now chief executive of Langford Veterinary Services
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HAVING been born in the city of Dublin with little or no farming connections, the idea of becoming a vet in the 1970s, for a girl in particular, was thought to be very odd! However, having seen my dog go through heart disease and a traumatic euthanasia (for him and my father), I decided that we, and the dog, had deserved better. I was 14 years old. Putting my mind to work at school I managed to get the grades and apply for vet school, the first girl in my school ever to do so. I entered Trinity College Dublin and started on my career.
Qualifying as the only female in my year (how things have changed!), my first job was as a locum in Northern Ireland where I was left to run a practice for three weeks on my own; it was a baptism of fire. I then worked in a mixed practice in Lancashire. It was great experience, covering small animals as well as farm work throughout each day. Having been used to Irish farms, I had to get used to the tenant farmer system and the fact that many of the farms in this practice were small and the cows still had names. The farmers were delightful and it reminded me very much of James Herriot.
After a year, my husband (also a vet) and I returned to Northern Ireland. I moved to a busy practice doing mainly surgery, which ranged from spays to fractures to foreign bodies. This time was a great learning curve and certainly honed my surgical skills.
After a year of working there, we bought a mixed practice. It was a time when work was plentiful and the practice was able to grow. I worked in farm animal practice for 12 years before deciding – one cold January day while TB testing in the Antrim Hills in horizontal sleet – that the time had come to concentrate on small animal work in our new purpose-built small animal practice. I had three children during this time, taking varying short lengths of maternity leave.
Getting involved with BSAVA
I had become involved in the local BSAVA region, taking on the post of PetSavers coordinator, then becoming secretary and chair of the region and then treasurer of BSAVA itself. I was delighted to take that challenge on. I remember looking at the bank balance when I took over as treasurer; having just bought a property for its headquarters meant the BSAVA only had £58 in the bank! It was an interesting way to start. Two years later, I became junior vice-president and then the first female president of BSAVA, in 1995, which was, of course, a great honour.
Being involved in BSAVA gave me a much wider view of the veterinary industry and what was available to do in it. I had had the opportunity to visit many countries and meet a vast array of vets from around the world. It was a wonderful experience and I would recommend everyone to get involved with such organisations. I had learnt that I had a number of skills besides those technical ones of being a vet and so, after spending 18 years in general practice, I thought it was time to do something rather different.
I was offered a role in Hill's Pet Nutrition and decided it was a challenge I wanted. Initially, I was UK veterinary affairs manager, dealing with university liaison, student sponsorship and professional association contact. I also managed the customer service team for Hill's UK where I learnt what good staff in these areas can achieve and how patient some people are.
When my boss moved over to the European office, I moved as well and became the European marketing manager. I had responsibility for the liaison with the our design and marketing company to deliver the European marketing materials for the company, and the role of introducing the practice management training system called ‘Practice health’ to the European markets. My job involved a lot of travel and working with many nationalities, which brought its own challenges but was most enjoyable. I learnt a great deal about management and organisation while working for Hill's, which proved invaluable for the rest of my career.
With three children just starting the exam period of their lives, I decided on another switch in career and, when an opportunity arose to put my managerial and business skills into action, I joined the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), initially to run the small animal referral hospital, the Queen Mother Hospital for Animals (QMHA), but within a short period took on the Beaumont Animal Hospital as well. This was a time of change for the RVC as we were developing the infrastructure to increase its student numbers. A new non-academic department was formed to run all the RVC's practices, hospitals and diagnostic labs and I became head of it. The aim was to run these enterprises in a more business-like manner to ensure sustainability for the long term in order to support the student experience.
While there I undertook an MBA at the London Business School. It was educationally and personally rewarding, with students of 37 different nationalities on the course.
After 10 years at the RVC and when the final stage of the QMHA was finished, I moved to Langford Veterinary Services (LVS), as chief executive officer. LVS is a company totally owned by the University of Bristol and which runs its clinical enterprises. The company is now five years old and growing strongly.
Following my days with the BSAVA, my interest in veterinary politics has remained. I became an elected member of the RCVS Council a number of years ago and have always thoroughly enjoyed it. I have been involved in a number of its initiatives, including the bringing in of the Practice Standards Scheme and the Professional Development Phase when I was president of the RCVS in 2005.
Having sat on most of the RCVS's committees, I have been lucky enough to chair the Advisory Committee as well as the Preliminary Investigation Committee (PIC), which gives a wonderful insight into the profession as well as the public and shows what a duty we have to safeguard the animals under our care. At present, I chair the Registered Veterinary Nurses PIC, which is in some ways the coming of age of the VN profession with its self-regulation.
I have also become very involved in the accreditation of veterinary schools and have been privileged to undertake visits to schools in Europe, Australia, the UK and the West Indies. This has, of course, been invaluable to my day job as well. I have also enjoyed being able to help other schools in a variety of countries look at the way their hospitals are run and how they can get more out of them.
I have been very lucky that my career has allowed me to work in private practice, industry and education. All have been highly stimulating though often challenging. I am still passionate about the profession and how it will develop over the next few years, which is why I enjoy my work so much. It's amazing to see the progress of the profession from the days of my being the only female in my year at college to seeing a female predominated profession. I would always say to students that life is what you make it, your path is in your hands. The main thing is to make the most of every opportunity out there and you won't ever regret it.
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