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Welcome to Vet Mentors, Nikki Bentley!

Nikki graduated from the RVC in 2007, having also intercalated at Bristol with a Zoology BSc. Keen to escape to a rural mixed lifestyle she spent three years working in North Wales which provided a hugely valuable foundation of experience that she still draws upon now. Feeling the need to broaden horizons, Nikki spent a couple of years travelling and locuming and then joined Pilgrims on the New Forest/Dorset border, mostly for the draw of the annual WVS trips, which took her to India, Sierra Leone and the Caribbean amongst other places. She joined the Pilgrims partnership in 2012 and sold to IVC in February 2020, staying on as joint clinical director. Nikki is currently on maternity leave with her second child.

Tell us about a daily habit or routine you practice that contributes to your productivity and fulfilment?

My work colleagues will laugh at this given the amount of sugar they see me consume at work but I think a good diet is key to both of these things. I enjoy food and cooking (though the standard can be variable) and cook from fresh 6 out of 7 nights a week, ensuring my diet includes plenty of fruit and veg and only eat meat a couple of nights a week which makes it a real treat and means I can afford to buy better quality. I know what I eat affects how I feel and think profoundly.

What was a major setback that you learnt the most from, or actually turned out to be a success?

Selling our independent practice was a huge blow for me. I loved the autonomy to make big strategic decisions about the business based on my own values of what service we should provide, my own clinical interests and my own analysis of its performance, alongside the varied subjects (accountancy, marketing, HR etc) you are forced to dip into. Now we have been hit with a pandemic and likely global recession and I have a new baby and toddler to challenge me, I realise how fortunate I am that this happened. It’s a new chapter and I’ve learnt that sometimes you cannot be in control of when or how they come about, it's how you adapt that counts.

When you start to doubt your own ability, or are having 'a bad day at the office', how do you get back on track? Can you give us an example?

It’s a cliché but I find sleeping it off with an early night helps most. Of course you need a good wind down routine to help switch off and break that cycle of over-analysis which makes everything seem a lot worse. A new day after a good night’s sleep is as restorative as it gets (other than a swim in a cold sea, but that’s not always practical). It gives a whole new perspective and I think I often solve a lot of problems in a dozy REM.

What have you got better at saying no to? How did you realise this and how has it benefitted you?

Pre-lockdown, it would be travelling for weekend social engagements. Working a heavy on call rota makes you really value weekends off but juggling that with family life is exhausting and when it starts to affect how you manage Monday to Friday it just became less worth the effort. As everyone has probably appreciated to some degree since lockdown, being at home more and being less tired has benefitted quality family time, a tidier and better decorated house and garden and more exercise!

If you could gift a book to all vets at graduation, what would it be, and why? (It doesn't have to be specific to animal health!)

‘The Organised Mind’ by Daniel Levitan.

I get the impression that graduates of recent times are of a more organised personality but it was a trait I had to work at developing and this book was a game changer from that perspective. It helps you understand how your brain works to remember things and use that to be more efficient at work and getting things done. Did you know our brains can fatigue of decision making? (that’s why I can never decide what to have for supper or watch on TV in the evening). I have only lost my keys a handful of times since!

Tell us about something you are currently a fan of? This could be anything; a person, trend, hypothesis, mindset, diet, activity, tech, hobby etc.

Breastfeeding and the microbiome. Of course, breastfeeding is taking up rather a lot of my time right now but prior to having my second baby I did some breastfeeding support training to help new mums in hospital get to grips with it and learned even more amazing facts. As well as containing immune cells/mediators/enzymes, hormones to aid bonding, pain relief, satiety and brain development, human milk contains 800 species of bacteria and oligosaccharide prebiotics to add to baby’s gut microbiome. More and more research shows how the lack of diversity in our microbiomes over the last century compared to previous may have contributed to the rise in non-communicable disease (obesity, diabetes, allergies) and this could be linked to the introduction of milk formula and high c-section rates.

There are also huge social, cultural and political factors involved in how babies are fed which I find crazy and fascinating.

What purchase of less the £100 has most positively impacted your life in the last 12 months?

Anything bought for the toddler which has kept him independently occupied for more than 5 minutes.

What is the worst bit of advice you hear regularly in our profession? Why do you feel it is bad advice?

Vets telling owners that they’ll “know when it’s the right time” to euthanase their pets.

I think a lot of vets underestimate their role in assessing the welfare of animals close to euthanasia, at a time when arguably it can impact it more than any other time during the pet’s life. Owners obviously spend the most time with their animals and are best placed to appreciate declines in their behaviour, but they are emotionally involved, cannot assess for disease and empathise what effect it’s having on the animal’s welfare. All too often how an owner feels about the timing with a previous pet will cause them to rebound in their feelings of timing with the next, usually requesting it too soon in my experience.

What advice would you give veterinary graduates about to begin their careers?

First year – you will be the most tired you have ever been, and you will make mistakes – just try to ensure the mistakes you make are mild.

Second year up – continued professional development is not just an RCVS requirement, it's key to your personal fulfilment with your career and life. You cannot depend on your colleagues to develop you, it has to be self-motivated and researched and should include non-veterinary topics preferably from outside the profession. Leadership is a key skill for every member of the team. Without a structured development system for the first time since pre-school, it's easy to feel stagnant and specialising isn't a path for the majority - though I think its super important to develop specialisms in advanced first opinion practice (I have yet to achieve this!).

If you could send a single text to every vet around the world simultaneously, what would it say? This can be one word, a message or an entire paragraph.

Breathe and just be.

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