By Silvia Janska 

A couple of years ago I posted a poll on the Vets: Stay, Go, Diversify Facebook group about portfolio careers and I was surprised how many people commented asking what a portfolio career is. So, let’s start with that. According to The Portfolio Collective, “A portfolio career involves monetising your skills in many ways and having multiple income sources, rather than a single job at one company.” Historically these kind of career paths were mostly viable only for the more senior executives. In the vet profession that might have been a veterinary practice owner who is also a board member of one of the vet organisations, who reviews articles for a peer-reviewed vet journal, and who might run a non-related side business such as making cider or renting out holiday homes. Nowadays a portfolio career is available to almost anyone whose skills are in demand. And the vet industry is starting to see more and more of this behaviour as well. Many younger vets seem to want to do some clinical work as well as ‘other’ type of work. There are of course many positives of having a portfolio career, but also many cons and it’s good to do some background research before diving into a portfolio career. 

I have a portfolio career and love it, but I too started with learning more about the lifestyle. I networked and started looking for vets with various career paths to see what resonated with me, how they got to where they are and what they felt were the challenges. It is the challenges that we need to be prepared for so that we are not disappointed if our expectations are not matched. For this article, I was fortunate to get insight and opinion from two vets – one vet employer and one vet employee, who are in practice but have a portfolio career in some way.

Chris Tufnell is a veterinarian who owns a beautiful first opinion independent veterinary practice, Coach House Vets. It is set in the beautiful Berkshire countryside and employs equine and companion animal vets. Alice Moore is a small animal vet employee at Garston Vets in Wiltshire. I asked them three questions, and here is what they share with us:

What does or has your portfolio career consisted of?

Chris:

Since the start of the pandemic I’ve been back in full time clinical work.  I currently continue to be a trustee of World Horse Welfare and will look for one other relatively low input role (one day a month max) when my commitments with the RCVS come to an end.

Until 2006 I was 100% involved in clinical work and managing the practice.  I became a member of the Greenham & Crookham Commons Commission in 2006 and in 2012 became its chair until 2018 when I stood down.  I joined RCVS Council in 2009 and served for 12 years. The commitment started at 7 days a year, peaked at 3 days a week when I was President, and has reduced back to around 7 days a year in recent years.  The role, as part of a Royal College and regulator, involved taking part in committees looking at regulation, taking part in the running of the RCVS (I was on the Board for five years and chaired it for one) and representing the RCVS externally.

Other roles I had over that time included being trustee and chair of the Royal Agricultural Society of England for three years, trustee of Innovation for Agriculture for three years, I was a NED for Cat Dog Fish for four years and Affordable Petcare for three years. I continue to be an advisor for Chordata sporadically.

So I’ve been involved in governance as a member of a Commission, a Regulatory Body and as a charity trustee and in an advisory and oversight role as a NED.

Alice:

I think of myself as having two main jobs – one with XLVets and one with Garston Veterinary Group (GVG). I do three days of clinical work per week as a small animal vet at GVG and one day per week working from home as a project manager for XLVets. Within this role I manage a project on flexible working with Flexee and support the Veterinary Women in Leadership project, which is a collaboration between XLVets and Veterinary Woman. I also regularly write the Young Vet Network column in Vet Record and I have a voluntary role with the BVA’s policy committee.

 

What are the pros for you?

Chris:

Once you’ve mastered your craft (I think it’s wrong to take up external roles until you’ve been working for five years. That way you can happily continue the day job whilst coping with the distractions of other roles) then it adds a huge amount of interest to your life. It allows you to have a better perspective on what you do because you start to see the bigger picture and appreciate all the challenges there are in almost every sphere.  It broadens your network of friends so that you have some highly influential people that you can ask advice and assistance from and, in time, it allows you to mentor younger people in their roles.  It provides a huge amount of satisfaction from taking part in work that has a wider impact than what you do from day to day. In time it raises your profile allowing you to attract further interesting roles. 

 

Alice:

For me, the main advantage is the flexibility it offers me. I love making new connections with others in the industry, as well as the variety that a portfolio career brings me, through learning new skills and experiencing the constant challenges that come with that. I also like the ability to work in different environments and the opportunity to travel and engage in various events. Another perk is that my portfolio career provides me with a higher salary than if I worked for just one veterinary employer.  

What are the cons for you?

Chris:

It is always difficult to balance the time and effort that you put into external roles with that that you need to put into your day to day role.  It’s almost impossible to create the perfect five day week.  Just when you think you’ve achieved a perfect balance one of the roles will end or another one will come up that you really want to do but wish that it started at another time!  It’s really easy to spread yourself too thinly and end up not doing a very good job for anyone so I’m now more in favour of having a big role and a small, side role that you contribute to occasionally that understands that it is second fiddle to your main, mortgage paying role.  Finally, I think that portfolio careers lengthen the time that it takes people to get experience and removes some very useful individuals from the clinically working profession (in the case of our profession).  Someone who only works two days a week clinically will take twice as long to gain experience in a particular area than someone who works full time, it’s like flying hours.

Alice:

Everything has its own challenges and with a portfolio of things to do, time management can be challenging.   Sometimes I feel like I have a lot of plates to keep spinning! Also, it can be harder to feel truly embedded in a team when you are not with them full time and it can potentially make career progression in the traditional, hierarchical sense a little bit harder.  And mortgage applications are more complicated when you have multiple incomes!

Conclusion

Each portfolio career is different. It is great to hear examples of how others are making it work and what they find challenging so that we can learn from them. Some professionals prefer to focus on one key job or career, others like more variety, and some try a few different things before finding out what suits them best.