Simon is an entrepreneurial veterinary surgeon with an ‘alternative’ career path spanning clinical practice, research, academia, diagnostics, surveillance, business development, innovation, biotechnology and leadership in veterinary politics. He is a husband, dad, son and brother – "my family provide me with balance in my life and I love nothing more than being at home in North Down and relaxing in the kitchen, cooking for family and friends!" #WannabeMasterchef
Tell us about a daily habit or routine you practice that contributes to your productivity and fulfillment?
I have a lot of BAD habits – I drink far too much espresso and probably too much wine, and I spend far too much time preening my social media feeds – so, one of the things I’m trying to do to improve my productivity is to CUT DOWN on coffee, wine and social media… recently I’ve become a bit geeky about using the Calm app to help to improve my relaxation after a busy day but I’ve also found that a set of high quality noise-cancelling headphones is a sound investment to listen to some proper chill-out music before bedtime and to help me to properly ‘switch off’.
What was a major setback that you learnt the most from, or actually turned out to be a success?
I ruptured an intervertebral ligament calving a heifer with a uterine torsion when I was just about 5yrs qualified (at 29yo) - the subsequent work-up indicated that two lumbar discs were in poor shape. I learned a lot about myself and my ability to adapt and change at that stage – although it was REALLY tough at first – it also helped me to understand the importance of networks and identification of some awesome career mentors; some of those career mentors are still actively supporting me today. In turn, I’ve learned so much from mentoring others – vet school applicants, students, qualified vets, scientists and entrepreneurs working in animal sciences, aquaculture and life sciences.
When you start to doubt your own ability, or are having 'a bad day at the office', how do you get back on track?
I have an awesome SVP in John Fishwick and an awesome JVP in Daniella Dos Santos, we are supported by an amazing team at HQ as well as the fantastic support we have from past-presidents and all of our volunteers on Council, committees and working groups… but when we are at the sharp end of criticism on social media or through the columns of the Vet Record, it affects all of us. What keeps us all going are all of the emails, phone calls, letters and social media posts letting us know what a positive difference we’re making to the UK veterinary community. It’s about being able to step back and appreciate the big picture!
What have you got better at saying no to? How did you realise this and how has it benefitted you?
To be honest, I’m still pretty rubbish at saying no… and regularly take more on than I can practically cope with. But the few times I’ve REALLY said no have actually been quite empowering! Having the confidence to say no is something I’ve identified as key to maintaining some balance. Yes, if it’s important, step up… or if it could be quite fun and you have the bandwidth, agree to take it on. But if it’s going to cause you a lot of undue stress, say no! I find that if you can offer an alternative, it often helps to soften the blow.
If you could gift a book to all vets at graduation, what would it be, and why?
I am a big fan of Simon Sinek’s “Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action” – I believe that an understanding of leadership is critical to building a successful career. Not everyone is Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Richard Branson… but we all have something to learn from these guys – it doesn’t matter what you do, it matters WHY you do it – there is something for everyone in the veterinary profession in this book!
Tell us about something you are currently a fan of?
Many people are possibly already aware of my work with the livestock development charity, Send a Cow, which provides training to communities and families in six countries in rural sub-Saharan Africa to help them to create a future for themselves from the land. I initially started as an ambassador and, over the years, provided some technical support – I am currently a member of the Board of Trustees. I am truly passionate about the work we do and the impact it makes. I often describe our work as #OneHealth in action.
What purchase of less the £100 has most positively impacted your life in the last 12 months?
As BVA president, I spend a lot of time travelling – both commuting from Northern Ireland to London and attending events throughout the UK, Europe and occasionally beyond – my MacBook spends a lot of time tethered to my iPhone where I can’t find WiFi, so one of the best purchases I’ve made has been a new powerbank… it allows me to plough on with emails and keep up with social media while I’m travelling, which in theory gives me the opportunity for more quality ‘down time’ with family when I’m actually at home!
What is the worst bit of advice you hear regularly in our profession? Why do you feel it is bad advice?
Unfortunately, there is still a lot of awful veterinary careers advice being delivered in schools throughout the UK – myths about who can / will get vet school places and school-leavers being put off from applying because they “won’t make the grades” or they don’t have the right work experience. That’s why I was passionate about establishing MyVetFuture as a hub where we could start providing reliable and realistic careers information for everyone on their veterinary journey so that newly-formed expectations might be met and retention within the profession improved. We also have a lot of ground to make up in improving inclusion and diversity in the profession.
What advice would you give veterinary graduates about to begin their careers?
Wake up every day and look forward to going to work – if you aren’t, have a really good think about why your expectations aren’t being met… don’t move jobs just for the sake of moving (unless you really have to) – try to work out what is ‘missing’ and when you are looking for a new position, you can specifically check that that attribute is going to be met in the new job. Enjoy making use of your #VeterinaryPassport – by all means have a plan but don’t be afraid if you end up going a little bit off-piste – enjoy the ride!
If you could send a single text to every vet around the world simultaneously, what would it say?
Never ever forget that you are part of #OneVeterinaryCommunity – regardless of your background, your level of experience or stage of career, you are a trusted source of professional services in animal health, animal welfare and public health – your integrity and communication skills are critical to your service delivery, and you are very much a piece of a complex #OneHealth jigsaw.
Have you been inspired by someone in your career? Or know someone in the veterinary profession who has made a positive impact on you?
There are no strict criteria for contributors or mentors, other than that they are positive, supportive members of our profession.
If someone you know springs to mind, or you have any feedback or ideas relating to our Vet Mentors project, please get in touch - firstname.lastname@example.org