7 Helpful Tips to Create Your Veterinary Portfolio Career

Welcome! Treat yourself to a coffee in your favourite quiet spot & 20 minutes to reflect and make some notes as you work through these tips and see what it inspires in you!

Some will wonder what a portfolio career is – and that’s ok. A portfolio career is a concept of income that breaks you out of the 9 to 5 model of work (or 7 to 7 plus after-hours in the case of vet practice) and builds an individualised career from interesting pursuits that best suit you.

For a vet currently in full-time practice and wondering what the next step is – it might look like 3 days a week in practice, a day a week working on your paid Board roles, a day a fortnight teaching veterinary nursing students practical skills at TAFE (& don’t forget the necessary 2 hours a week managing your share and investment portfolio – but let’s call that fun not work).

For a vet-dad or vet-mum who now have baby-raising responsibilities, they might choose to drop the practice for a period and take on another day of teaching. That progressive government describe a portfolio career –  is a reflection of how work is changing and people’s expectations along with it, the New Zealand Government has this to say:

Instead of working a single full-time job, a portfolio career is about working multiple jobs – dividing your time between several paid activities. These activities are often, though not always, complementary. For example, someone who enjoys painting, writing, and graphic design may make a living through each of these interests combined. 

A portfolio career can take a variety of structures. For instance, you can be fully independent (freelance, self-employed) or have a combination of self-employment and part-time or temporary jobs. A portfolio career is definitely not about doing several less-than-attractive jobs to make ends meet.” Source: NZ Gov – Plan Your Career

The 7 helpful tips on how vets might do this now follow!:

Tip 1: Are you thinking about a change? … A portfolio career might be just what you are looking for!

A vet degree is an excellent tool that can be used in any number of ways, practice, research, government, and industry of course but there are many options again that a vet degree + the individual YOU might create. This becomes more obvious as you acknowledge who you are and your natural attributes both in and outside of vet work i.e.: the kick-ass practitioner might also be – the meditator, the bookish philosopher, the curious scientist, the artist, the leader, the encourager, the political visionary, the business innovator, the carer, the traveller, the animal welfare advocate, the sportsperson etc. And as this other ‘you’ (or ‘you’s’ ouch that hurt!) gets incorporated in your world along with the skills you have developed and where you have worked to date ~ your vision and plans for what ‘success’ looks like might shift.

A good way to think of it is – if you didn’t need to stay put and earn money (money was covered) how would you choose to spend your time?

Tip 2: Recognise that vets have lots to offer in and out of a practice setting

Getting through the vet degree and surviving then thriving in vet practice takes some pretty significant resources in resilience, scientific writing and reasoning, work ethic, leadership, project management, problem solving, people skills, business acumen and emotional intelligence (although we all have days where we might not feel the expert on one or more of these!). Start to identify what you think your personal strengths are and what traits you would like to develop. Have some chats with people whose career you admire outside of the veterinary world to identify what similarities in skills (other than surgical technique) that your roles might actually hold.

Tip 3: Know where you are headed

Write down what you would like your life to be like in 10 years, the career impact you have had, the money you have (and the more than one way it is flowing into your life), your family makeup, and the way you spend your time. Form a mental image of a ‘Dream life’ and now close your eyes and visualise living it for a minute (yes 60 precious seconds) – what does it feel like? What will success look like? What does success feel like? And how will you recognise that you have it?…

Write down some thoughts about your goal – and some things you might need do to or learn to get there. Record your notes into a career journal and commit to acting on it!

Tip 4: Measure out your most important asset – your time

Each of us gets 168 precious hours a week, how you spend them is up to you. To see your goals happen you will need to invest some of those hours in action that drives momentum & creates them. Balance your time and your money and work out how many hours you need to do in your current role to make ends meet and how many hours you might save to start spending time creating your other goals (a second income stream or contributing to an important cause etc.) and the hours you will invest in that.  Then negotiate for your time and your money equally.

None of us in the vet world are afraid of solid hard work – but make sure that you are both satisfying the ones who pay you a wage and are also investing your time (and in turn your money) in your future and getting where you would like to be.

Tip 5: Self-audit your skills periodically

This means to write out where you are up to in a ‘My skills list’, these can be practical skills (a specific surgery), interpersonal skills and leadership skills. I suggest you do this every 6 months or more to measure what you are achieving and celebrate your progress. A bit like updating your resume – but without a specific job role in mind and keeping your options open. If you are struggling on your own – it can be a great idea to bring in some outside opinion from trusted others within your workplace and from another setting outside the vet world to give you some ideas. Over time build a list that you can use as needed to make one or more resume’s from (ahem – tailored for different roles – not different names and backgrounds!). The list should give the skill a title and provide an example to support each of these… For example:

  1. My time management skills: ‘on a particularly busy week in December 2017 I was able to get surgeries started an hour earlier through reorganising the consult schedule so that all the vaccinations were done first thing in the morning by 2 of the 3 other vets. In this way we fit in the additional 2 surgeries per day that week and everyone was able to go home from work on time. I am currently working on a document with my colleagues as to the pros and cons of this different system that we will present to management’.
  2. My conflict resolution skills: ‘as Captain of the Woodford 1st Grade Football Team in 2016 I was able to resolve an issue causing conflict between two players. Because I held each of their trust I was able to use a technique I was taught at the ‘Team conflict resolution course’ and had an informal meeting at an impartial location to discuss the issue at hand. The end result was that they each could better see the other person’s point of view and decided to shake each other’s hands and move forward as a team.’

Tip 6: Think about work and money in a new way …

Many people think that to get money you have to sit at a workplace and trade hours for money, but this is not always the case. A vet clinic is a specific workplace (run many slightly different ways), but there are heaps of workplaces and work styles out there. Have a think about other ways you could use your skills to earn income, to contribute – or learn something new (whatever your plan is above) – for example:

  • Are you a good writer with a passion for animal welfare? Could you write a weekly piece for a group sitting at a local café on a Sunday afternoon? Some places pay for content.
  • Could you join a Board – goodness knows we need more women on Boards and definitely more scientists. Some Boards pay a Directors fee.
  • Could you teach dog obedience on the side? Or provide a paid seminar event for local horse people monthly?
  • Or could you start an online business in scientific writing or editing, in risk management, problem-solving or project management? There is a lot of State Government support for small business and innovation – check out their websites.
  • If you are a practice owner could you introduce a clinical trial into your workplace? Or provide a biosecurity club to local farming groups?
  • Could you do face painting at kids parties on the weekends (my personal favourite!) or do pencil drawings of people’s beloved pets?

How you spend your time and how you define career success are entirely up to you.

Tip 7: Create a plan for your career & take action TODAY!

They say “A GOAL WITHOUT A PLAN IS JUST A DREAM”. They are wise!

Another wise saying I have taken to heart is when you have a great idea – if you Act on it within 3 minutes of having it – it becomes highly likely to start, and if you delay that it may never happen ~ so GET TO IT!

I recommend using a personal coach to help you create the plan and help you stick to it – My husband and I met our business coach Bridget at a planning session she was running and have now worked closely with Bridget for 2 years, enjoying great success-  culminating in a nomination for small businesses excellence in the 2017 NSW Business Chamber Awards. Think of the money spent on a coach as an investment in you and the future you are about to create!

& Tip 8: (A free tip just for you 😉 ) – ENJOY THE JOURNEY!!

Originally posted 15/1/18

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