"We focused on empowering the nursing team because they have amazing skills and knowledge, and we wanted to ensure they felt supported and able to use them"

- Lubos Kustra, Clinical Director at Eastbourne Vets
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Could you tell us about yourself and how you came to work at Eastbourne Vets?

I worked as a co-clinical Director at Sussex Coast Veterinary Hospital in Bexhill, towards the end of the summer of 2021, right after lockdown. During that time, I had a conversation with IVC Evidensia about my goals for professional growth and job satisfaction. They introduced me to a project at Eastbourne Vets, where there was a struggle in terms of veterinary staffing. They wanted to see if we could turn things around, and I found it to be an exciting opportunity for a challenge. I felt we had a lot of opportunities to improve things so. I accepted the role. It has been almost two years since I became the clinical director, and we now have a full team of vets and nurses.

How was the situation when you joined Eastbourne Vets?

When I started, the team morale wasn’t where we wanted it to be, and we all wanted to turn towards a more positive direction. We focused on empowering the nursing team because they have amazing skills and knowledge, and we wanted to ensure they felt supported and able to use them. We started with nursing days at the branches, instilling a culture that recognized nurses' abilities. This approach worked well for us, and we managed to regain the trust of clients, and since May 2022, we have been consistently seeing more patients, and even previous patients started returning to us!

It was a challenge to recruit more team members because of the general recruitment climate across the country, but I feel fortunate that we now have a fully established team who are dedicated to our patients.
Overall, things are going very well. We focused on supporting and enabling our nurses to succeed, and we continue to focus on empowering them. This philosophy has been well-received by colleagues and even veterinary professionals who were initially sceptical but see now that it works.

It sounds like you've made some significant changes. Can you describe the feeling of the practice now?

I feel the vibe here is really good, not just when I'm in the room - I often hear my colleagues chatting and enjoying each other’s company. So it's not an overly serious atmosphere all the time. Of course, when something serious happens, like an emergency, everyone switches into gear and we deliver the perfect service. It's actually amazing to see that move into total focus. Everyone is capable, and the contribution is balanced among the team members.

That's great to hear. Earlier, you mentioned the importance of supporting the nurses and helping them reach their full potential. Could you tell us more about this process?

I started implementing this approach at Sussex Coast Vets during lockdown when everyone was struggling due to self-isolation and other challenges. Together with my colleagues, we thoroughly studied Schedule 3. We identified the areas where our nurses could be supported to excel and utilise all the skills and knowledge they have from their training and experience working in practice.

I brought this approach with me to Eastbourne Vets. Of course, there were concerns and discussions during meetings, and I welcomed these challenging questions because they showed that people were thinking critically and felt comfortable engaging in the discussion.

We knew that the nurses should be given the opportunity to utilize all their skills and training, without expecting them to be veterinarians. As part of this, they recorded everything, and if they noticed anything out of the ordinary with a patient, they would highlight that to the vet. If a client's record indicated something abnormal, they would advise a consult with a vet. We didn't expect the nurses to diagnose patients, but to conduct examinations and document their findings. If anything needed further attention, they would be able to flag that to the vet. And if everything they recorded was within normal limits, we were happy.

This approach works well, and one case stands out in my mind. During a six-month health check performed by a nurse, she detected a potentially blocked bladder in a male cat, which is an emergency situation. She ensured that the cat was seen by a vet immediately, and it was operated on the same day.

Nurses have the same senses and critical thinking abilities as surgeons, so they can flag issues even if they can't diagnose them. That's my philosophy when working with our incredible nursing team, they’re the true backbone of our clinic.

You've clearly invested a lot of time into building and developing this team. What do you think makes your team special or different from other practices? And what's it like working with them?

What I feel is that there is trust within the team. When I first took over, team meetings were not common, and I received little input before the meetings. It was like a one-man show with me speaking! However, two years down the line, when I invite people for a team meeting and ask for their input, I receive a lot of feedback. It's amazing how people have become more willing to speak up and trust each other.

Our culture is good, and in terms of vets, we have a diverse mix of experience levels, ranging from over 15 years to fresh graduates. I support them in learning, encouraging them to try new things and be prepared. I emphasize that they shouldn't aim for perfectionism from day one, as it can hinder their progress. Being open, transparent, and relevant is crucial to my approach to the team.

That makes a lot of sense. What aspect of improving the practice are you most proud of?

I was incredibly proud when we achieved a fully dedicated team. It was a significant milestone that I hadn't experienced elsewhere in my time working in the UK. I remember during our Christmas seeing everyone dancing and having a great time, which filled me with genuine pride. It was a special moment for me. Looking at them, I thought, "you rock!" They had delivered some amazing animal care over the year and were enjoying themselves. So, I was very proud at that time.

You won a Brilliant People ‘we share’ award at the IVC Evidensia leadership forum. How did that feel?

Well, it was a surprise because I would have wanted the entire Eastbourne team to be nominated. Nonetheless, I felt it was nice to be recognized. I know that everyone across the IVC Evidensia network is striving to do their best, so being nominated and awarded felt fantastic, it was an enjoyable experience. But without the team, none of this would have been possible. It's all thanks to them.

Outside of work, what do you like to do to relax and unwind?

I'm a team member of a 4th division club called Hastings Commons, and I'm officially registered as an FA player. It's a completely different environment which is good for my mental health,  and it’s a fun experience.
My daughter is the centre of my universe. We do random family activities together, whether it's going to the fair or the cinema—whatever she wants to do.

This job isn't a walk in the park. Every client we see comes with worries and asks us for help, which we’re ready to provide. And as the clinical director, I usually handle the most complicated cases, diagnostics, or surgeries, so it can be mentally draining. Afterwards, I just want to run around, kick the ball, and shout with the boys!