Dr Emma Barrett, Practice Owner & Veterinarian at Coral Coast Veterinary Hospital returned to her hometown of Carnarvon where she was born and raised after studying veterinary science at Murdoch University, and gained years of experience working across a range of veterinary practices.
When the opportunity arose to purchase Coral Coast Veterinary Hospital in 2015, Emma decided to take the scary and exciting leap to business ownership and bought the practice. With a ‘fear free’ policy and a philosophy that all animals deserve an exceptional life, Dr Emma leads a thriving business and proudly serves her local community.
How have you changed as a leader in the vet industry to ensure you prioritise mental health?
There has been a recent shift within the veterinary industry to ensure a greater focus is placed on mental health. Recent studies have shown that 70% of vets have lost a colleague to suicide and there are many more leaving the industry altogether, unable to cope with the myriad of pressures placed on vets.
Gone are the days where we can expect vets to be available 24 hours a day, every day of the year and then be able to perform optimally the next morning.
I have incorporated a number of measures to ensure mental sustainability in my hospital.
To reduce the pressure of providing after hours care, I have engaged a 3rd party to assist in triaging cases and providing professional advice where required. This has greatly reduced the hours spent at the clinic out of hours and our clients are confident that they will be able to seek professional care in an emergency.
By shortening our business hours and providing regular RDO’s and flexible leave arrangements, our staff are able to enjoy a more balanced work life schedule.
A huge passion of mine is ensuring new graduates are well supported and feel safe to develop their skills at a rate they are comfortable with. I had a terrible start to my career, with no support, long hours and dismal pay. Sadly not an isolated experience for new graduate veterinarians today. This introduction to practice very nearly saw me leave the profession completely after only 6 months. To ensure our new grads do not suffer burnout and overwhelm, they are inducted with a step by step program, with regular check ins and continual support.
In addition, a veterinary liaison officer is appointed to each consult to not only assist and support the vets, but to provide a more comprehensive care experience for the client and patient.
I am proud of the workplace culture we have developed at Coral Coast Vets and will continue to work with my staff to maintain optimal mental health amongst my team.
Tell us about the journey in a regional area from staff member to business owner, and what support mechanisms did you have to seek out?
The biggest challenge of small business ownership in a regional area is isolation, not just in a physical sense, but also in the ability to network with like minded individuals.
Business ownership was not originally part of my life plan, but when the opportunity presented itself, I (nervously) grasped it with both hands.
I am a born and bred Gascoyne girl and wanted to give back to the community that had given me so much. I quickly learnt that the only way I was going to survive, let alone thrive as a business owner, was to reach out for support from those that were successful in business. Not generally being one to ask for help, I had to let go and accept that I didn’t have all the answers.
In 2020, amidst the uncertainty of the pandemic, I enrolled in a 2 year program called the Accelerate Mastermind Group (AMG), which was developed to take veterinary practices to the next level. Being able to tap into the expertise of other successful vets and business coaches has been the turning point in the growth of my business.
I no longer feel alone and like I am just ‘winging it’. I now have clarity about where I am headed and the support and resources to get there, with the added bonus of like minded friends and colleagues all over Australia!
We’d love to hear your story around the juggle of growing the business and family. What were some of the challenges you experienced?
Looking back over the past 5 years of business ownership, I don’t know whether to smile or shake my head and wonder just how I managed! I feel a massive sense of pride that I was able to navigate the hurdles I faced to reach the position I am in!
When I purchased the practice in 2015, I became the sole practitioner at Coral Coast Vets. At the time there was another practice in town that was able to share the case load.
In 2017, I had my first baby and relied on locum help, only to have to return to work when my beautiful first born was only 9 days old. Fast forward 14 months and I had my second baby, who was only 3 weeks old when the other practice closed their doors.
By 2020, I was a single mum of 2 under 2, with a full time business with a heavy after hours component and now the only veterinarian in a 400km radius.
The juggle and the struggle was real! Those early days are a bit of a blur, but I am eternally grateful for my family, my team and all the support that I received from friends and clients over these years.
Apart from the obvious challenge of fatigue, mum guilt and managing my time, my biggest hurdle was placing confidence in myself to make the changes I needed to do to achieve the lifestyle I was longing for.
I now employ another amazing vet and am surrounded by a fabulous team an I can now proudly say I have another vet on board and we are looking to put on a third vet, allowing me to be more present for my young children.
How have you attracted and retained staff in your business in the Coral Coast region?
We live in a beautiful part of the world, right on the door step to the Ningaloo reef and in the middle of the Gascoyne Food Bowl where a number of industries culminate.
Like many others across Australia, the veterinary industry has reached a crux point with shortages of qualified staff. There are a number of contributing factors, but it has meant we have had to be creative with how we attract and retain suitable staff.
The support and environment we provide has definitely set us apart from some other practices. I also offer incentives that may include accommodation subsidies, support for further education and development, travel bonuses, flexible work rosters and RDO’s.
It is vital that staff feel valued and a part of something bigger, which leads to more satisfaction in the workplace.
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