Getting the work-life balance right

Published On: 8 Jan 2015

Gudrun Ravetz with husband Luke and baby Leo.

Gudrun Ravetz with husband Luke and baby Leo

The number of female vets continues to rise, with 2014’s SPVS salaries survey showing 70.7% of respondents were female compared to 68.4% in 2013. Such figures inevitably raise the question of how to reconcile work with starting a family.


Striking the right balance between a successful veterinary career and a happy family life has been the subject of much debate in SPVS’ email discussion group of late. So, to get the inside track, vetsonlinejobs caught up with former SPVS president Gudrun Ravetz.

Gudrun gave birth to her son, Leo, during her time as president and now combines her clinical role at PDSA with working as a consultant veterinary advisor for Pet Health Plans.

She said: “Timing is everything; I had been qualified for 10 years when I had Leo. It was a conscious decision to wait until the time was right – both professionally and personally – to take a step back for a while.

“It meant I felt confident and competent enough in my role to know I would easily pick it up again after I returned from maternity leave, but also that I had managed my own expectations and ambitions in terms of starting a family. This is especially important for vets as, by nature, we tend to be high achievers and put huge expectations on ourselves.”

Adapting

When Leo was born, Gudrun took a year off from her clinical work at PDSA, but her role as SPVS president meant she was able to keep up to speed with the profession, even if it involved replying to emails at three or four in the morning.

“I took Leo to meetings with me, and when he was just three weeks old he accompanied me to a BCVA Congress drinks party dressed in a cow suit,” she added.

“It’s a question of adapting to your environment as much as you can.”

Gudrun adds that, in her opinion, the key to combining a veterinary career with family life is flexibility from all parties – employee and employer.

She said: “Work/life balance has always been very important to me. My husband works as a hospital doctor and when we first started our careers we both worked very long hours, but then realised it wasn’t what we wanted and both took the decision to go part-time years before we started a family. While we are lucky in that we both earn enough to be able to make this choice – it was a question of priorities. Family life was very important to us so we adjusted our ambitions and financial needs accordingly.

The former SPVS president is also a great believer that if you are happy in your personal life, you will be better at your job.

“Those veterinary practices that embrace part-time and flexible working are likely to be successful. However, not all practices will be willing, or able, to do so and that is a valid business model too. As a vet planning on starting a family it’s a question of finding the right sort of practice to work in – one that will be supportive.

“The gender shift in the profession has led to a change in attitudes towards flexible working and supporting employees in whatever they do, which often means the practice gets the most out of them.

“It is vital to assess what you think your ambition is, considering what achievement looks like for you and not feeling as if you have failed if you decide to step back from full-time work to have a family.”

Ambition doesn’t always need to be about running your own practice. “My ambition is to be a good general practitioner and enjoy my family at the same time – and I am proud of what I’ve achieved; it’s definitely right for me.

“I do 19 hours of clinical work at PDSA while Leo is at nursery, and then I’m able to work from home in my consultancy role. I am lucky to work in a family friendly environment and finding a supportive employer was part of my game plan. I remember feeling a little daunted when I first returned to my clinical role after a year’s maternity leave, but I soon got back into the swing of things, and my role as president really helped me to keep my hand in and stay in touch with everything that was happening in the profession."