What I’ve learnt

Advice from Drs Gollan, Perissinotto, Vella and GrahamWe interviewed successful vets on the lessons they learnt along the way and what they would tell their younger self. By Sarah Norris.

Dr Josie Gollan is a small animal vet, official race day vet for Racing NSW and a media veterinarian.

Dr Josie Gollan graduated from The University of Sydney in 2009 with a bachelor of veterinary science and, after travelling, ended up working with The Melbourne Equine Veterinary Group as a new grad. “That was a great experience,” she says now. “Definitely a baptism of fire and getting thrown in the deep end with leading trainers and racehorses.”

From there she moved into the small animal world and took up a full-time position at Animal Doctors in Surry Hills.

But it’s Dr Gollan’s work outside the surgery that has gotten her attention. She works for Racing NSW as an official race day veterinarian and has been building her media profile. “I have done regular segments for The Today Show, been a guest commentator for racing broadcasts and a contributor to a number of online and print publications,” she says.

“I have also been a guest presenter for The Dog Lovers Show, filmed with Saturday Disney and The Disney Channel, and was a 2015 ATC Ambassador for The Autumn Racing Carnival.”

It hasn’t all been an easy ride—the media world has been “tricky”, she says, “with lots of success mixed with knock-backs, not to mention plenty of live TV with unruly animals.” But, the secret to her success has been “good people skills, I am a genuinely happy person and can laugh at myself. All of these qualities have allowed me to build good relationships. I think having lots of interests outside the vet world also keeps me balanced. I’m passionate about health, fitness, travel
and adventure.”

The thing she’s most proud of? “Giving everything a go—even if it’s been outside my comfort zone. Transitioning into small animal medicine was tough and a bit of a blow to the ego as I felt like I was starting all over again in terms of my skills.”

And as to advice she would have given her younger self? “Keep an open mind and always entertain every opportunity as you never know where you’re going to end up.”

Dr Jeannet Kessels is a veterinary surgeon and owner of award-wining Greater Springfield Veterinary.

“I never expected to have a large business,” says Dr Jeannet Kessels of Greater Springfield Veterinary in Queensland. “My priority has always been my family, so it kind of took me by surprise. I set up Springfield Hospital in 2006 and now we have two cutting-edge clinics that are beautiful, warm and welcoming.

“We’ve picked up a number of accolades along the way, including the 2014 Australian Practice of Excellence Award for customer service by the Australian Vet Association, and the clinic was a small business finalist in the 2014 Telstra Australian Business Awards. The year before I was nominated business manager of the year by the Australian Veterinary Business Association; I’m now a board member of the AVBA.

“Looking back I would say the best decision I made was to study leadership with the Lincoln Institute and develop a broad understanding of leading and growing an effective, integrated, secure and cheerful team. I’m most proud that we have a happy workplace, most of the time, and most days clients feel above and beyond satisfied.

“If I was to give advice to my start-up self, I’d say: If you listen to and learn from the right people, you will eventually know exactly what to do. Follow your gut, look at the big picture, be yourself and be kind.”

Graham Potts is a vet at Three Counties Equine Hospital in the UK and part of Equestrian Australia’s vet support team

Ask British-born and based Graham Potts how he came to be a vet for Australia’s Olympic equestrian team and he says he’s not entirely sure. “I do often wonder how it all happened. I mean, I’m an easy-going guy who simply met a few people and we all just got along.”

It’s a role that has taken Dr Potts to five World Equestrian Games, soon-to-be five Olympics, as well as made him the go-to vet for Australian elite horses based in the UK. “When I first started out in the industry I did a job swap. I came to Australia and joined an equine practice in the Hawkesbury area where I worked with Derek Major for three years. When I went back to the UK I received a call from vet Denis Goulding,” he says.

Goulding was with Equestrian Australia, the peak equestrian body for the sport in Australia, asking if Dr Potts would like to be part of the support team.

Looking back on his career, Dr Potts is deeply honoured to have the role, but says he’s most proud of the friendships he’s built along the way. “My forte is being a good communicator; it’s about chatting and getting to know people and I’ve been able to meet so many great vets from all over the world.”

And his advice for young vets? “While you’re young, travel and get as much overseas vet experience as you can. While you do it, build friendships. It’ll hold you in good stead later on.”

Dr Mark Perissinotto is CEO of online pet supplies and products website VetShopAustralia.

“Looking back, I’d say that starting VetShopAustralia was the best decisions I made,” says Dr Mark Perissinotto. “At the time nobody else was doing what we were—the internet was new and online retail was in its infancy, yet, we believed it was here to stay and would be a game changer.”

He started the online business in the back room of his Sunshine Coast veterinary clinic in 1999. “It was hard work and if I could offer advice to my start-up self I’d say ‘keep the faith—the long hours developing the website after hours and on the weekends will eventually pay off,’” he says. “Of course hindsight is a wonderful thing and if I knew then what I know now, I would have expanded the business a lot quicker between 2003 and 2005 when we were growing by eight to 10 per cent per month. Planning for rapid growth is sometimes just as difficult as planning for lean times.”

In 2009 VetShopAustralia won Australia’s Best Online Retailer award and then in 2011, a Telstra business award. There have been multiple other accolades along the way. “I would say perseverance and hard work are the trick to my success and I believe successful businesses are 10 per cent inspiration, 80 per cent hard work and the rest is luck.”

David Vella is director of Sydney Exotics + Rabbit Vets

Axolotls, ferrets, lizards, turtles and frogs—that’s what David Vella was interested in after he graduated in 1996.  It wasn’t until 2005, however, that he decided he’d set up a practice devoted exclusively to small mammals, reptiles and amphibians. “It was very hard in the beginning and my caseload wasn’t high, but it gave me an opportunity to set strong foundations,” says Dr Vella. “My service was run out of a specialist hospital and being able to work alongside specialists who offered great support has helped me to deliver that high-level of work I desired.”

In fact, it’s his associates that Dr Vella says have been pivotal to his success. “Sydney Exotics and Rabbit Vets, or SERV, has gone from strength-to-strength, and we now employ three full-time and three part-time vets. Their enthusiasm, compassion, hard work and commitment to excellence is professionally rewarding,” he says.

Attaining quality experience in the exotics field is difficult and looking back, he regrets not taking up some opportunities at the beginning of his career, as well as paying more attention to the business administration side of things. On the flip side he is happy he sat for the inaugural American Board of Veterinary Practitioners exam in Exotic Companion Mammal Practice. He passed and became the first Aussie ‘diplomate’, an accreditation that recognises practitioners with exceptional knowledge and skill in exotic animals. “It was an amazing experience that offered me the path to consolidate my main area of veterinary work,” says Dr Vella.

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