"It means even more to me because my route to becoming a veterinary surgeon in the first place was challenging"

- Lara Dempsey, Head of Soft Tissue Surgery at Blaise Referrals
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Can you tell us about yourself and how you came to join Blaise Referrals?

My career began after graduating from the Royal Veterinary College in 2000. I initially worked in mixed practice, dealing with a range of animals including farm animals, horses, dogs, and cats – a bit like James Herriot.  

After a few years, I found myself drawn to small animal surgery and I achieved several further qualifications in small animal surgery whilst working in practice. I knew I wanted to be the best that I could be which would enable me to provide the highest standard of patient care. These were my motives to pursue specialisation in small animal surgery.

To become a specialist, which is the equivalent of a consultant in human medicine, I completed a year-long internship, a three-year surgery residency at the University of Liverpool and studying alongside working for one year in preparation for the diploma exams. In 2019 I finally achieved my diploma examination in order to practice as a specialist.

Since then, I have continued to work in specialist referral hospitals. I spent some time at Chester Gates Veterinary Specialists near Chester and then worked at Willows Referral service in Solihull. This journey has brought me to where I am now, the Head of the Soft Tissue service at Blaise.

My decision to join Blaise Referrals stems from the point I've reached in my career and the unique opportunity it offers to be part of a new hospital and team from the outset. The veterinary industry has faced substantial challenges over the past few years and the landscape is evolving, with shifting demands in referral practice. What drew me to IVC Evidensia was the genuine focus on their employees and creating a positive working environment for all our staff.

Another incentive for me to join Blaise is the prospect of establishing a healthy and supportive working culture in a brand-new hospital and a newly established team. My goal is to lead a team who look forward to coming to work, knowing that their happiness will translate into excellent patient care and performance. I want my team to want to stay with us, progress here, and enjoy their work.

The other aspect that attracted me to joining Blaise, is how IVC Evidensia places significant emphasis on sustainability, something we should not disregard in today’s world. IVC Evidensia is actively seeking out green alternatives to promote a healthy environment, for example, solar panels have been installed to reduce our reliance on fossil fuel-generated electricity and our outside green spaces will be designed to encourage wildlife diversity.

You mentioned the importance of ensuring the happiness of the team you work with. Could you tell us more about your vision for your team at Blaise?

Absolutely, I believe from a team perspective in fostering collaboration and support. Ward rounds hold great value for building teamwork. Initiating the day with a roundtable discussion enables us to fully understand patient cases, align on patient management and communicate effectively. This cohesion is essential for team harmony, where each member supports one another, identifies potential issues, and addresses them collectively. At the day's end, another round helps recap challenges and pinpoint areas for improvement. This practice will be pivotal, particularly when establishing a new service and hospital.  Continued professional development involving in-house and external training for all members in my team will be key to maintaining staff through job satisfaction, team cohesion and delivering the utmost standards in patient care.

I am confident that my staff will feel valued in our team, be fulfilled in their work and have a great sense of purpose. I also want us to have fun and participate in team-building initiatives such as fundraising events and away days.

My focus on cultivating a harmonious environment is deeply rooted in my experiences. I've encountered poor management in the past, a sentiment that resonates with many. I’ve decided to take on a leadership role because I want to do better than that, and for my approach to be based on compassion and fairness. I see compassionate leadership as a crucial element in achieving success, especially with the challenges in the industry.

What are you most excited about with Blaise on the clinical front?

All the amazing new equipment is of course exciting. I've been actively engaged in the process of ordering instruments and equipment, which adds to the anticipation.

Collectively as a hospital, we are engaged in advancing minimally invasive procedures (colloquially known as "keyhole surgery”) and interventional techniques which also encompasses the “minimally invasive approach” to cases.

These techniques reduce patient morbidity and minimise hospital stays. The interdisciplinary collaboration for these minimally invasive surgeries and interventions extends across the hospital involving many of the specialists and aligns with a broader perspective of engaging and training other team members and nurturing their skills and interest in this area. The underlying focus, of course, remains patient care; providing the best treatment options for the best possible outcome.

What are you proudest of in your career so far?

Probably achieving my European diploma to become a specialist in small animal surgery. It was undeniably a challenging journey, marked by demanding training, arduous hours, and a full-time commitment to studying. The process to become a specialist demands substantial sacrifices on a personal level as well.

Obtaining my diploma was the culmination of that hard work and sacrifice, and I was very relieved to pass the exam on my first attempt. Only around 30-40% of candidates pass the exam on their first attempt, and I count myself fortunate to be in that category.

It means even more to me because my route to becoming a veterinary surgeon in the first place was challenging. Earning a place at veterinary college has become extremely competitive. I had to resit my A-level exams to achieve the ‘A’ grades that were required to secure a place in veterinary college, and this did impact my confidence.

Becoming a specialist has paved the way for me to fulfil my aspirations, facilitating the delivery of top-tier patient care through advanced and complex surgical techniques along with intricate case management.

Even with specialist status achieved, I continue to be committed to learning, development and teaching. Keeping up to date with literature and new techniques and engaging in activities such as clinical research and reviewing scientific papers are all part of this ongoing journey. To remain a specialist, you have to maintain accreditation through various contributions.

In essence, the journey doesn't conclude with specialist status, it’s a continued commitment to learning and advancement for your patients.

How do you like to relax after work?

I am a firm believer in downtime and a chance to recharge your batteries.

One of the simplest pleasures for me is reading a good (non-veterinary) book. It’s a nice way to immerse myself and escape into a different world.

I have a keen interest in the arts. I enjoy visiting art galleries and going to the theatre as well visiting historical buildings.

I’m an outdoorsy person and have an affinity with nature. My husband and I, along with our four rescue dogs enjoy mountain and countryside walking.

Regarding my love for travel, some of my absolute favourite destinations are the Highlands and islands of Scotland.

Tell us more about your dogs!

I have four rescue dogs, many of whom I’ve acquired through my job. The eldest one is Coco who’s a poodle cross. She's 14 and going on 2 years old because she's absolutely crazy. You wouldn't think she was 14. Then there's Cookie who’s a cockapoo, Buddy who is a Sprocker and Tess a Chihuahua x Jack Russell, all of whom are around 7 years old. They all have their individual personalities but get on very well. I have promised my husband that four little dogs are the limit now!

If you could offer a single piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

I think it would be to persevere with what you are passionate about and live your life without regrets. I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason, even though we might not comprehend it at the time.

Sometimes life events take a turn for the worse and you cannot see how it could possibly work out. For instance, when I didn't achieve my A-level grades on the first attempt, I was overwhelmed with feelings of disappointment and failure. My dream of becoming a vet faded in an instant. I had no backup plan because I couldn’t see myself doing any other job because veterinary medicine perfectly combined my love of animals and science. Another major setback was when my surgery residency training was nearly terminated in my second year due to senior surgeons involved in my training leaving and I had to work even harder in my final year to make up for this and achieve the requirements to become a specialist.

Despite these setbacks, I persevered and became more resilient, with the outcome that my career path has opened up a lot of opportunities, including my new role with Blaise!