From The Netherlands to South Wales – vet Rolf’s journey of commitment to care

Clinical director Rolf Koenen has found his professional home at Victoria Veterinary Practice in South Wales. Driven by a passion for animal care and the ever-evolving field of veterinary medicine, Rolf has thrived in this supportive environment. Enjoying the diversity of cases, and the close-knit team and advanced facilities. He tells us about saving a tiny chihuahua puppy who is now the heart of his busy household, and his love of motorbiking.

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Can you tell us about yourself and how you came to join the team at Victoria Vets?

I’m 31 years old and originally from The Netherlands. I studied veterinary medicine at Ghent University in Belgium and graduated in July 2017. I moved to the UK straight after graduation because the opportunities for new graduates looked better here. I ended up doing interviews at a few places in the South-Wales area. I chose Victoria Veterinary Practice and have been here ever since! I'm now the clinical director. The practice has given me excellent opportunities to develop my skills, career progression and on-going support for further training.

What motivates you to work in the veterinary industry?

There are endless reasons that motivate me to work in this industry, I believe we have the best job there is. The gratitude we get from the animals and their owners when we are able to help them is a big part of it for me.

The rapidly evolving surgical techniques, instruments and medication are another factor, it’s so fascinating and rewarding to always be learning and developing. The teamwork you find in the veterinary world is also really important to me, that support and connection between support staff, nurses and vets - because we all have the same goal; to deliver the best possible care for every patient.

What is it like working at Victoria Vets?

We have a main site in Merthyr Tydfil and a branch site in Aberdare. The main site is a great building with lots of space in the four consult rooms and in the prep and theatre area. It’s very well kitted out, we have separate dog and cat kennels, two operating theatres, x-ray and a brand-new ultrasound machine including a cardiac probe, a dental suite and a lab with in-house blood machines.

The Aberdare branch practice was newly built in 2016 and has two consulting rooms, a prep area, an operating theatre, a dental suite, separate dog and cat kennels, x-ray and ultrasound.

We have a great team at Victoria Vets, we’re a good mix of newly qualified and more experienced. There is a great atmosphere and a very good supportive mindset amongst everyone here which enables us to share all the good things, but also offers support. One of the main reasons I chose to start my career here and then never left is because of the people here.

We structure the practice to ensure that the work load for our vets is manageable and that we get enough time to catch up on our notes, phone calls etc even when unsuspected emergencies come through the door. We want to be able to offer excellent patient care at all times.

Tell us about the different cases you see

We see a great variety of cases at Victoria Veterinary Practice. The vast majority is cats and dogs, but we get the occasional small animals, birds, exotics and wild animals. Because of the area we are in, we are sometimes both the first and last contact point for a portion of our clientele. Also, because we are well equipped, we are able to help a lot of our clients for both medical as surgical cases, including orthopaedics, to a very high standard.

What do you like most about working at Victoria Vets?

Apart from the great relationships I’ve built with my colleagues, I really enjoy the variety our practice offers. My niche is surgery, and especially orthopaedic surgery. This practice has given me the tools and cases to achieve a lot in this area and has given me the chance to do a postgraduate qualification in small animal surgery.  Whatever your particular interest in the field of veterinary medicine you’ll be able to find plenty of cases.

What do you feel the practice has to offer that someone thinking of joining might not know about?

The practice as a whole is very supportive, no matter what your background, interests or dreams are, as long as your heart is in the right place. Everybody here is passionate about their job and what we are trying to achieve for our patients and clients.

Can you share a memorable story from your time at the practice?

One of our big wins was when a 12-week-old Chihuahua pup weighing 800 grams was brought in with a corneal ulcer. Initial treatment unfortunately was unsuccessful and she suffered a corneal rupture. Her original owner was sadly unable to afford surgery but luckily, we were able to convince her to sign her over to the practice instead of putting her to sleep. Little Olive has been a fantastic addition to our family ever since.

What advice would you give to aspiring veterinarians or vet nurses?

There are going to be stressful and emotional times, this is part of the job when you deal with beloved pets and their owners, but never lose sight of what an amazing job this is and what you can mean to the animal and its owner.

What is a common misconception people have about working in the veterinary field?

I believe that some people aren’t aware of how quickly veterinary medicine has developed over the last decades. Lots of people will have read the books of James Herriot and all vets and nurses still care greatly about animals like in those stories, but the quality of care, skillset and equipment most first opinion practices now offer has vastly improved. And the possibilities now available in larger referral centres are amazing. We have moved very far away from the old stories but in a good way!

What is there to enjoy in the local area?

I love being outdoors for exercise, with the family and dogs or on my motorbike, so having the Brecon Beacons on our doorstep is amazing. Coming from The Netherlands where the only hills you see are speedbumps, being this close to such a beautiful area is great. We have a big variety in our clientele, ranging from no financial restraints whatsoever to working on a budget which I believe has its charm. We are a recognised part of the local community and are very appreciated for our efforts.

What do you get up to outside of work?

Myself and my partner love taking our newborn daughter and dogs out on adventures and day trips where we try and find new areas to discover. I enjoy my exercise, but should probably hang up my rugby boots after getting injured again and stick to the gym and my occasional runs! Apart from that I like to take my motorbike out for a drive when I get a spare moment.

What are you proudest of in your veterinary career so far?

My general development of all my skills as a first opinion practitioner. However, I am most proud of starting my postgraduate certificate in small animal surgery which has always been one of my dreams. And perhaps it will give me the opportunity to continue to develop myself and progress even further.

Tell us about your pets!

Our household is a bit of a madhouse! Over the years my partner and I have collected 12 dogs of all shapes and sizes that somehow all manage to fit onto our sofa! Luckily my partner is not just an RVN but also a canine behaviourist who spends most of her spare time training them and taking them to different kinds of competitions like scent work, rally and obedience, so they are all very well-behaved and all get along.