Niall Connell qualified from Glasgow in 1982. He worked in mixed practice, then PDSA for a total of 27 years before MS stopped his practice. He is now an instructor with Glasgow Vet School, VetsNow and an elected member of RCVS Council. Here he shares his words and experience with us.
Tell us about a daily habit or routine you practice that contributes to your productivity and fulfillment?
My wife, Colette gave me a Day to a Page diary 5 years ago. Every day, I try to write a daily log of what I’ve done, who I’ve spoken to and what I’ve achieved. My memory isn’t ideal so it allows me to keep track of everything. I make notes, lists of things to do and doodlings of ideas and potential projects. It gets padded out with useful documents and stuff and at the end of the year, I put it on a bookshelf. It has been useful to go back and refer to something I might need.
What was a major setback that you learnt the most from, or actually turned out to be a success?
Multiple Sclerosis did stop me in my tracks for a while. My clinical career was over. It made me determined to look outside the tunnel and examine possibilities and options I could explore in my situation. I have an incredibly rewarding life now helping out at Glasgow Vet School, some teaching at VetsNow and of course my RCVS Council work.I am RCVS Junior Vice President and have met so many wonderful, inspiring and engaging vets and RVNs on my journey. I cannot bring myself to hate my illness because of the experiences I’ve had.
When you start to doubt your own ability, or are having 'a bad day at the office', how do you get back on track?
Like many people, I get feelings of “Imposter Syndrome” With my MS, I can have the Imposter Syndrome dial turned up to 11! I speak to family and to friends. I think of where I’ve come from, what I’ve achieved so far and all the people I’m privileged to work with. I’ve always believed that all we can do is our best and hopefully that is sufficient. If I hit a bump in my life, I will reflect on it and move on. I try not to dwell on it and overthink it. Life is too short for that.
What have you got better at saying no to? How did you realise this and how has it benefitted you?
As you go through life and get more experience, you get better at saying no. I’ve said no to things I’ve felt to be unfair, prejudiced, unreasonable and wrong. Sometimes when you’re young and just starting out, it can be difficult to step up, make a noise and take a stand. Life is too short to live with regrets and any feelings of “Wish I’d said” I’ve said no to things I didn’t care for in my career and been prepared for the consequences. It works out in the end. The big benefit is that I’m at peace with myself.
If you could gift a book to all vets at graduation, what would it be, and why?
I would give The Checklist Manifesto: How to get things right by Atul Gawande. I recently assessed a vet student’s reflection, rejecting the idea of checklists because she found them limiting, preferring to be an individual. I recommended this book to her because it shows that “simple” checklists assist in even the most tense and complex situations. All Gawande’s books are very readable and incredibly insightful. The Checklist Manifesto is a beautiful read, with great stories and shows us how to have a good approach to problems and have the humility to appreciate that we could all use some help
Tell us about something you are currently a fan of?
I admit it. I’m a fan of Social Media. Facebook helps us keep in touch with friends and colleagues across the world. There are superb veterinary platforms on Facebook to discuss things, seek advice and help with professional or health issues or sometimes just vent if you need to. There are other online Vet groups too. I often find out what’s happening in the world first on Twitter. LinkedIn is good for professional profile and seeking opportunities. It a big free contact website for colleagues and can be good for your self esteem when you build up your CV.
What purchase of less the £100 has most positively impacted your life in the last 12 months?
Ability Superstore Wheelchair cup holder for £14.99 and 3 plastic cable ties to attach it to Grond 2, my power chair of Doom. I need one hand to control the chair and holding a coffee, especially at vet conferences, events and train stations when you negotiate a bump or a ramp can be sub optimal when it slops about.
What advice would you give veterinary graduates about to begin their careers?
Be confident, you’ve just completed a tough degree which taught you well and you’re ready to rock. Seek and accept support from experienced staff, Young Vet network and the professional associations you’ve joined. Registered Veterinary Nurses should be your best friends and a vital part of your team. You will learn much from them. Embrace being part of a team. You constantly learn your whole career so expect to make some mistakes because you’re human. Take advice but remember you are the master of your own professionalism. Remember to have fun, socialise and don’t neglect your hobbies, sports and interests.
What is the worst bit of advice you hear regularly in our profession? Why do you feel it is bad advice?
I’ve heard recently from students and new graduates who hear folks saying if they don’t do the right thing, or make a mistake or don’t refer something when needed, they will be struck off the RCVS register. This saddens me. It’s pretty much an urban myth that gets touted around and causes fear and stress. Get struck off? You would really need to go some, really genuinely deliberately go for it to be in that situation. Read the cases if you want. This is damaging and we need to always spread the word to reassure and set the record straight.
If you could send a single text to every vet around the world simultaneously, what would it say?
“This is a truly amazing profession. We are all in it together. Communicate with each other, look out for, support and reach out for each other. If you need a hand, ask. If you see someone one struggling, help. Be kind!”
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