Family-friendly veterinary practices and staff retention

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family-friendly veterinary practice
Dr Sarah Golding, vet, Gowrie Vet Clinic

A vet clinic in rural NSW has found the key to retaining quality staff is all about running a family-friendly practice. By Lynne Testoni

Every veterinary practice owner knows that we have a crisis when it comes to finding qualified staff. From vets to veterinary nurses and ancillary staff, many clinics are struggling to find the right people to service their patients.

For Dr Gundi Rhoades, the solution is clear—offer flexibility and family-friendly working conditions and you will secure and retain qualified staff for years. 

Dr Rhoades is a vet and the practice owner at Gowrie Vet Clinic in Inverell NSW. She originally started the clinic in 2002 on her rural property, moving into town in 2010 as she expanded. 

She was a mother when she first established the clinic, juggling veterinary work with caring for two young children—then just 12 months and two years old—so she knows how hard it is to balance work and family life and therefore wanted to support her staff going through the same life stages.

The practice has grown over the years “not by design, it just happened”, she says, and coincidentally all of her staff are women. “We are an all-female team with five vets, but not full time. We probably provide the equivalent of three full-time vets, and about seven or eight support staff.”

Offering flexibility, part-time work and even support with childcare, she has created an unusual, yet highly successful practice. 

With 13 children between them—and another two babies on the way—staff are able to bring their children to work if they need days off school or day care. A couple of staff members even bring their kids to work each morning before they catch the school bus.

Women need to be supported in the workplace. I wanted to be able to have my sick kids in the workplace or even my healthy kids in the workplace. I wanted to take days off to go and watch them at soccer. So I made a conscious decision to open my own clinic, so that I could be a parent and set my own hours.

Dr Gundi Rhoades, practice owner, Gowrie Vet Clinic

One of her vets, Dr Sarah Golding, is the parent of two children and she says the support offered by Dr Rhoades has made a huge difference to her remaining in the workplace while raising a family. 

Dr Golding grew up in Inverell and says she has known Dr Rhoades for many years. Indeed, Dr Rhoades was her family’s vet while she was growing up. 

“I never really intended to come back to Inverell, but I’ve known Gundi forever and I did some locum work with her when I was pregnant with my first child,” she says. “Basically, Gundi rang me after my daughter was born because, she said, she needed a vet the next day. And I said, ‘Yes, but what am I going to do with Stella?’ She was eight months old. And Gundi said, ‘Well, just bring her with you.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, okay.’ So I did.

“It was supposed to be short term and then we stayed here and so much of that was because of the support. I’d worked in a lot of different places because I’d been a locum. After having my first child, I knew how hard it would be to return to that sort of work.

“I said to my husband, when we were looking at making a move, that I would not get a job like this anywhere else. And it’s the difference in me staying in my profession or not. It’s certainly not easy, but it works for me.

“It’s allowed me to have another child. I live up the road. It’s difficult with the after-hours work, but it’s manageable because of the particular workplace that I’m in.” 

Dr Rhoades says that offering support with childcare and family-friendly policies is not just a nice thing to do, it’s a smart business decision. 

“Vets are very rare nowadays,” she explains. “I also knew that Sarah is a damn good vet.” 

Basically, Gundi rang me after my daughter was born because, she said, she needed a vet the next day. And I said, ‘Yes, but what am I going to do with Stella?’ She was eight months old. And Gundi said, ‘Well, just bring her with you.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, okay.’ So I did.

Dr Sarah Golding, vet, Gowrie Vet Clinic

An overwhelming number of veterinary graduates are women. Dr Rhoades says that many of them are also entering their childbearing years, and by offering them support and flexibility in the early years while they raise their families, she can retain good staff.

She says that having a female-only workplace in her clinic was not planned—she’s had a number of males working there over the years—but rather that’s just how it has evolved.

“It wasn’t a conscious decision to only work with women,” she says. “It’s just there are hardly any men available in our industry now. And we make it work for us.

“I did the single mother-life working as a vet for a long, long time. So I have a lot of sympathy and I know what the reality is like. Women need to be supported in the workplace. 

“I wanted to be able to have my sick kids in the workplace or even my healthy kids in the workplace. I wanted to take days off to go and watch them at soccer. So I made a conscious decision to open my own clinic, so that I could be a parent and set my own hours.

“I did not want ever to be in a situation that my children were frowned upon. I wanted them to be welcome. My children grew up with me working and with me in the clinic, and I think it has served them well. They see that women are empowered.

“And I like children.”

Dr Golding laughs and agrees. “She does genuinely like children. You can see they bring Gundi some joy and she’s so much about regeneration and succession. They are the next generation, and it’s really important. Fewer and fewer people want to work in mixed practice where there’s a lot more after-hours demands. If we can show our kids that it’s fun, they are potentially the next generation of country women vets.”.

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