From locum to leader: how I achieved my career dream

RVN Helen Russell shares her journey to becoming a practice owner and how, if they wish, fellow veterinary nurses can do the same.
From locum to leader: how I achieved my career dream

Progressing further in your career is not only important for your professional growth, but for personal development, too. In the veterinary profession, we are lucky to have numerous opportunities to learn skills, specialise in different areas and progress from role to role.

Helen and cheetah

Helen has had a varied career, including a stint in Dubai working with exotic animals.

For some, owning and running their own veterinary practice is the ultimate professional goal, but this can sometimes feel unattainable. In fact, this was exactly how I felt, but only until I spoke with my employer at the time, as well as Vets4Pets’ partnership team.

I have been working in the veterinary profession since 1998. After I completed my three-year veterinary nursing course, I worked at many different practices throughout the UK – from first opinion to referral and designated emergency out-of-hours.

I was also incredibly fortunate to be offered a year placement in Dubai working with exotic animals, such as reptiles, falcons, cheetahs and lions, which, until last year, I would probably have said was the highlight of my nursing career.

But, come 2016, I opened my practice and became Petplan VN of the Year. I am now head VN and a joint venture partner (JVP) at Vets4Pets Byfleet in Surrey, alongside vet Steve Brawley.

Here is the story of my journey to veterinary practice ownership…


I first started with Vets4Pets in September 2014 as a locum nurse for Steve at his practice in Woking, Surrey. After two months of being a locum, I was offered a full-time RVN role and, within five months, was promoted to head nurse.

The team at Byfleet was amazing – dedicated and hard-working, with a real drive and passion, which is something I fully appreciated.

In October 2015, Steve and I were approached by the Vets4Pets partnership team and asked if we would be interested in going into partnership at the practice.

Initially, this was not something either of us was looking to do, but after a lot of thought, meetings and discussions, it did seem to make sense. Not only do we have a great friendship and mutual respect for one another, but we also work incredibly well as a team.


Helen with the Byfleet team

Helen with the Byfleet team.

I did not rush into the partnership decision, however. First off, I attended Vets4Pets’ Discovery Day – an event structured to give attendees an insight into what Vets4Pets and The Pets at Home Vet Group are and how they link together.

I was given an overview on the JVP business model and met some of the colleagues who would work behind the scenes to support me, my team and my business.

Come January 2016, Steve and I were given the approval to become JVPs of Byfleet. In February, we signed our contracts – and I have never looked back.

Owning a practice was always in the back of my mind, but I didn’t think I would ever have the financial resources or business experience to make my dream a reality.

Being a VN was everything I had ever hoped for – and more – but once I had achieved all of the goals I had set out to do, I knew I needed a new challenge and to progress further with my career; it was being part of the Pets at Home Veterinary Group that gave me access to the JVP model.


The JVP model offers people from any background or skill set the opportunity to open their own practice with a vet. It allows me to have clinical freedom to run the practice how I see fit, but also offers me constant support in areas such as business and finance.

I have the feeling of owning my own business, but with a great network of support around to assist me.


Helen and bunny

There’s no such thing as a “routine day” for Helen.

I am always asked what my routine day is now I’m a business owner, and whether I do nursing anymore. I can honestly say I never have a “routine day” and, as the only full-time veterinary nurse in my practice, I still have plenty of “hands-on” nursing.

My week consists of three days as a consulting nurse, with appointments from 9am to 11am and 3:30pm to 6pm. These can range from second vaccinations to nail clipping, weight checks, postoperative checks and more.

As nurses, we place all IV catheters into our surgical patients, so I do this as well as premedicating patients ready for surgery. I then assist the vet with surgeries from 11am to 3pm.

I am off work one day a week, but this can be occupied with clinical meetings/emails and general admin from home. Another day is allocated to admin in practice, where I will:

  • complete financial management accounts
  • look at my business turnover
  • look at ways to increase practice marketing
  • meet with reps/suppliers to discuss products
  • complete my team’s payroll
  • hold one-to-one meetings with colleagues
  • complete client claim forms
  • work on the vet and VN rotas

I work two-and-a-half out of four weekends a month at the practice, which is open seven days a week (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm; Saturday 9am to 6pm; and Sunday 10am to 4pm), so in no way do I shirk my responsibilities as either head nurse or practice owner.

I am also one of the colleagues heading up the clinical advisory board for Vets4Pets, where we offer support and advice to improve clinical standards across the whole group. Then there’s finding the time to write articles for VN Times, as I am an editorial board member.

No change

Helen emergency

Helen says being a business owner has “not changed me in any way”.

Being a business owner has not changed me in any way – I have always worked hard and strive to be the best I can be. I worked hard for other people for nearly 20 years, so now I am finally working hard for myself.

I am extremely driven and immensely passionate about the profession, and now I have the freedom within my own practice, I hope to bring that passion to my clients, as well as my team.

I have a truly incredible team at Vets4Pets Byfleet, consisting of:

  • a reception manager
  • two receptionists
  • a veterinary nursing assistant
  • a part-time RVN
  • two vets

They all have the same work ethic as I do and I am proud to work alongside them.


My advice to anyone looking to go into practice ownership is, if it is your dream, go for it. Do your research by speaking to the partnership teams at the JVPs available.

Helen and wolf

Helen is also a handler at the UK Wolf Conservation Trust.

It is not always plain sailing, but it is a very rewarding job and I have not lost any of my drive or enthusiasm as a VN. I still get to be a nurse on a daily basis, and this will never change, but you do need to be extremely organised and manage your time accordingly.

With the network of support you have at your fingertips, you never have the feeling of being alone and, together, you will get the most out of your business.

One thing I always say, however, is do not think you can go into a partnership and expect others to build your business for you. It is your business, so work hard, build it up and, most importantly, be proud of it.

I went into partnership with someone who is a) my friend and b) someone I trust implicitly, and I think this is a wonderful building block for a successful business.

If my story has inspired you to look further into becoming a JVP at Vets4Pets, email [email protected] for more information.

Posted 1 year ago


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