Images: Julia Davis
For most of her working life, human health has been the big concern for Julie Davis.
Now, after two decades as a senior figure within the NHS, she has made the leap into the veterinary world as hospital director at newly opened Blaise Veterinary Referral Hospital.
The hospital, which officially opened its doors in Longbridge in the south of Birmingham this month, is the first purpose-built, multi-disciplinary hospital for IVC Evidensia.
Creating 100 jobs and expected to treat up to 10,000 pets every year, it will be a template for other state-of-the-art hospitals as the group extends its influence in the referral world.
While the patients will be different, it is a challenge the former world champion powerlifter is tackling with typically powerful intent.
Ms Davis, 47, said: “Obviously, there are major differences, but I think there are also a lot of similarities between the health care and veterinary professions.
“I felt I could bring all my human health care experience into a different health care setting. The challenge is learning about new areas in a new business, but I relish that.
“Right from the day I joined, seeing the culture and meeting the people here, I knew I’d made the right decision.
“Helping to build a new team of people in a new building – and with animals – on the site of the old Longbridge car plant in Birmingham makes this a dream job.
“Blaise is on the West Works, and I used to live on the East Works site. So, being part of the Longbridge regeneration, and having this great hospital for people and their pets, means a lot.”
Having started her working life in journalism, a move to the NHS beckoned as she felt she wanted to make a difference.
After working in clinical research for five years across complex health care settings, she spent the next 15 years setting up research networks across the west midlands, establishing new teams and processes.
Towards the end of her health service career, COVID-19 hit and she was involved in setting up a vaccination research hub in just six weeks.
Such was the fluid picture, vaccinations were fast-tracked in the meantime, which meant the centre never actually opened. Far from viewing it as a failure, she saw the relationships she built and lessons the NHS learned as invaluable for the future.
Human health care
Ms Davis’ network of relationships is far from the only thing from the NHS days that have been brought across to Blaise, with the successful #hellomynameis campaign in operation from day one.
Originally created by clinician and patient Kate Granger, it is about ensuring you introduce yourself, so you begin to develop a relationship.
Ms Davis said: “This had already been mentioned by one of our senior clinicians, so it’s nice to see it has reached beyond human health care.
“It’s the very first element of our induction here at Blaise. There’s a unique opportunity to establish the culture and our values from the start, as we’re opening a completely new centre.
“We want all our staff to follow four points every time they interact with others: start with an introduction, put the patient at the heart of all decisions, remember the little things really matter and see people as individuals.”
Seeing the well-being toll COVID was taking on her NHS team, the new Blaise Referrals boss came up with the idea for a fitness platform called Doing Our Bit.
It is now open in 140 NHS and social care organisations with a reach of 750,000 staff, and an app gives access to 400 online workouts, as well as in-person sessions.
She developed it in her spare time and having helped look after an overworked workforce through what she describes as a “passion project”, it is hardly surprising the well-being of Blaise staff is of critical concern.
Ms Davis said: “In my previous role, I was also the national well-being lead, so that’s always high on my agenda.
“The concept of well-being was quite new in the NHS when I started doing it the year before COVID, and the results and feedback from our programmes showed it must be central.
“It’s not just physical health, it’s mental wellness and strength, and now that package needs to include financial well-being, too.
“We really need to look after our staff and keep them happy and healthy. Part of that is listening, and we want to make sure we get every little detail right to make someone feel special, recognised and rewarded.
“There’s an old sign on the Longbridge site that says it wasn’t about the cars, it was about the people. We always need to remember that.”
The past few months have been a whirlwind of strategy meetings, interviewing and visits to see best practice at other IVC Evidensia sites.
Taking on such a major role has resulted in one major life change for Ms Davis: giving up the powerlifting that put her on top of the world.
She took up the sport seven years ago and had almost instant success at the highest level, winning eight world and European titles, as well as four British titles.
Ms Davis said: “It’s an emotional moment when you win as getting the medal is all you picture when you train.
“My mum loved lifting and I lost her just before I started competing, so that first world title was all for her.”
Competing took her to Serbia, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and she trained hard at least four times a week at either her garage gym or a specialist gym which was a two-hour round trip away.
Ms Davis, who lives in Worcestershire with husband Steve and their two rescue dogs, Riley and Lucas, added: “It was a massive commitment, and I gave up so much to dedicate myself to it.
“I was very strict with what food I ate, hardly socialised and you pretty much had to give up the nice side of life to compete.
“Stepping away from it is a huge deal for me, but this new hospital is so exciting. When I go into something I need to give it my all, so something had to go.”
But with other powerlifters competing into their 60s and beyond, she said she has not fully shut the door on a return in the future.