Isabelle Resch

Isabelle Resch Interview

“All of the animals except for man know that the principle business of life is to enjoy it.” ~ Samuel Butler

DIEDERIK: Hi! I’m here today with Isabelle Resch from Inner South Veterinary Centre in Canberra. How are you Isabelle?

ISABELLE: Hi. I’m very well. Thank you Diederik. How are you?

DIEDERIK: What ignited your passion to become a vet, and at what age did that start?

ISABELLE: I was quite passionate about becoming a vet from quite a young age, about sort of 12 years old.

It was a slightly bizarre choice. My parents don’t like animals. They’re not on the science field. There’s no family history of vets, animals, doctors, nothing, and I just had decided I wanted to be a vet and kept on pursuing that passion and here I am.

DIEDERIK: What didn’t they teach you at vet school that looking back, you think that it is important, would have helped your career development and someone else’s career development?

ISABELLE: I think they didn’t teach us a lot about resilience. I think to be a professional but particularly a veterinary professional in today’s world you need to be resilient. There are a lot challenges that change us all the time. I think the other thing that they didn’t emphasize enough is you need to find that motivation within yourself. You can’t always look to others around you to spoon feed you the answers to all the difficult questions.

So I really think probably resilience and self-motivation are the two big things that I wish we’d been taught more of.

DIEDERIK: And the other side of that coin, what did they tell you or teach you or show you that once you got out, turned out to be totally untrue?

ISABELLE: I think there is a very big emphasis on technical skills. I’m a Sydney University graduate, and really, there was a very big emphasis on technically knowing everything there was to know about Cushing’s disease, diabetes, etc. And then, at the end of the day, that’s not what gets you through your career as a vet. I think there are far more important skills. You can learn your technical skills as you evolve, but there are others: your client skills, your rapport building skills, getting on with the people around you, your staff, the people you work with. You’ve got your clients or your staff, that’s a far more important skill. And I think the universities did not prepare us well, or at least in Sydney, they certainly didn’t prepare me well in that way.

DIEDERIK: I concur. I’m a Sydney graduate also.

And then you may already have answered this question with your previous answers. You’ve got a big practice, you have new graduates coming and starting with you regularly. If one of those ladies or gentlemen were sitting across the table from us here now, what are three or four things you’d tell them that they must do to turbocharge their career?

ISABELLE: They need to learn how to connect with people. They need to realize that being a vet is dealing with people all the time. They’re dealing with people as in no animal comes in without a person attach to them. So they really need to learn to deal with people. They need to be able to deal with the people within the practice as well, they need to build rapport with them.

When you start developing good relationships with people, it takes money out of the equation, so it makes that sort of whole client transaction thing far less awkward because you don’t…at the end, your clients believe what you say and listen to only what you say. I think when you have a really good rapport with the client and sort of relationship with people, you can really use that wealth of knowledge that they’ve got.

DIEDERIK: And the other side of that coin again. What are two or three or four things that a new graduate should avoid doing to make sure that their career takes off?

ISABELLE: This is quite a difficult question for me to sort answer initially, but I really did think about it.  The three things that I really came up is avoid inertia, that “I’m sure it’s too hard” type mentality. Avoid being “I’m too busy, I’m too stressed, I’m too tired to…” and you go on and on. This is a really good time, particularly as a new graduate, those first few years, they’re amazing years. They’re the hardest few years. For me, it was definitely the hardest years of my life, those first couple of years out of Uni, but they were also, in retrospect they were some of the most rewarding. But you need to avoid saying, “I’m so tired, I’m so busy. I’m stressed.” You just need to keep on getting out there and utilizing the resources that are there, the people that are there, and just don’t sink in to being “It’s too hard. I’m not good enough”. You need to motivate yourself and avoid inertia.

DIEDERIK: If you were back at the career decision-making stage, would you, in fact, choose to be a vet again retrospectively?

ISABELLE: Maybe. Maybe. That’s a hard question. If I knew everything I’d be now and I’d knew where I’d end up, yes. I think yes is the simple answer.

It’s been an interesting journey, but that’s what makes life interesting. I had a pretty amazing trip along my journey in my career of being a vet. I’ve done a lot of interesting things, and I value what I’ve seen along the way. But, there are other careers that I would probably explore, but really, I think I would still be a vet.

DIEDERIK: What were two or three challenges, major challenges that you faced?

ISABELLE: I think the biggest thing is practice ownership, the biggest challenges I think is balancing your work-life balance. Not working too hard, trying to make sure you have time for your family and friends, the passions that you have in life that are non-vet.

Also, one of the difficulties that we really encountered was finding the right partnership. When you’re in a practice, you’re often in a partnership. I’ve been in partnership with other people. You need to be on the same page, you need to have the same work ethic, you need to be driving in the same direction, and that is not always easy to find and not always easy to maintain because you’re spending more time with your business partner than your real life partner.

DIEDERIK: So, how did you manage to balance family, career and motherhood?

ISABELLE: With difficulty at times. I have a very, very supportive, and understanding husband, who picks up a lot of my pieces.

I also outsource. I have a cleaner, I have a gardener, and I had a nanny who helps me. I outsource a lot of the things, particularly the cleaning and things like that. It’s just not that important, I think you need to prioritize, and I’ve certainly had to prioritize the little things. I use quite a lot of outsourcing.

It’s been a struggle sometimes to balance it, but I think you need to have it balanced towards your family. But the other thing we did from the very first day within the Inner South Veterinary Centre was, we decided that work-life balance was a priority, and from the very first day we started the vet practice, we put in place certain guidelines that would be our priority. We only work eight hour shifts, we don’t do the twelve hours shifts. We don’t do after hours. We’re closed on Sundays. We rotate regularly through weekends. We just make sure that we’re not working too hard. And for the other mothers at work, or for everyone in the practice who needs to…they can work half the time, but they have to just work out the roster.

DIEDERIK: That’s good, start with the end in mind when you started the practice so you build your practice around your life and not your life around your practice.

ISABELLE: Well it’s not always been that balanced. We have gone through a few ups and downs in our times when the practice takes a bigger chunk of my life than I would like it too. But there are other times where I would walk away for four weeks, go away on holidays, and my business partner looks after the place and I can walk away happily not get any involvement whatsoever.

DIEDERIK: In vet, in general, as a woman, do you face more challenges than the guys? Is it harder to ‘make it’?

ISABELLE: I think there quite a lot of unconscious biases here, but I also think that some of the vets finding it harder make it so themselves to a degree. I think they not always ready to ignite themselves as much and sort of just go, “I can’t do this. I’ve got too many balls to juggle.”

I don’t, for a minute, deny that there are some biases there and there are some gender biases that people…they might not even be conscious of and I think there are a lot of unconscious biases. But I also feel that as a woman, sometimes, you tend to always sort of be looking at “God, I need to be doing this, and I haven’t done that very well,” as supposed to sometimes thinking “Okay. Well, look at what we have achieved. Let’s celebrate what we’ve actually done.” And I think, the obvious, the finding the balance between kids. But I spoke to my kids quite a lot about “Mom why are you always at work?” Well, I’m not always at work, but… “Why do you work so hard? Well, so the it gives us opportunities and things that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.” And the future for them is that they’re moving into their career, into the workforce in a matter of years I think it’s important for them to have all of those so it can be done.

DIEDERIK: You’re one of the new breed of successful practice owners as I see it. What is success to you? What’s your definition? Paint us a picture of success.

ISABELLE: Success to me is personal.

Success, what it is? It’s not about dollars, it’s not about degrees, it’s not about letters behind my name. I stay invisible, well in most of those things.

And success for is about feeling fulfilled as a person and as a professional. Feeling that I’ve developed, grown as a vet, as a mother, as a wife, as a colleague, as a business partner, as everything. That I’m growing and developing…that really is what success is to me, is growing and developing with the people around me.

DIEDERIK: And what have been the keys to those successes or to making those successes happen for you?

ISABELLE: I think some of the biggest keys for me have been getting mentors in my life, getting people to help me. I think that’s probably going back to the earlier question, “What would you say to a new graduate?” Get a mentor, and then changing mentors over. As you develop and as you grow in different directions, you need different mentors. That would be one of the biggest things I would say.

But also, I’m really, really feel very strongly that continuing education is one of the most important professional development tools, but that doesn’t necessarily have to mean going to conferences all the time. It can be going to workshops, it’s talking to people and not just vets. I think we need to look far more broadly outside of that little paradigm… We’re not just talking to or about vet schools, I’m talking about the life schools, and I think that’s what mentors are for… And going outside of the profession, going to things about leadership, business management, personal development. I think that’s really helped me be on the pathway to success. I mean I don’t think you would go and ever attain it, I think the goal is to keep on moving, the goal is… not stopping, you need to keep on moving.

DIEDERIK: Every time I see you, you’re always up and motivated and focused. What’s kept you like that?

ISABELLE: I passionately believe you need to look after your physical and mental health. You’ve caught me sure, I’m in my gym gear today. I didn’t realize we were on camera. I exercise a lot, I eat very well, I try and get regular sleep. I tried to take timeout, sometimes I too would go “Yeah… Well, let’s have some time with the family.” I take really long holidays. I have lots of interests outside of work. I’m a passionate skier, so I make sure I really do spend time doing the things I love and especially non-work related. Because I find that when I spend the weekend skiing, I’m recharged for the next week. Life is a new slate again, so all the stuff that may have happened last week that, “Ugh, that’s all gone.”

DIEDERIK: That’s very interesting. It’s about making the time that you need to look after yourself, I guess it makes sense, and we’ll touch on that at the end a little bit later.

If you were doing it again, what would you do differently? Is there anything you’d do differently?

ISABELLE: It’s very heavy. The retrospect scope is a cracked thing where you look back and you look back and you go, “What do I change?” I don’t want to change a lot. I really enjoyed the journey, it’s an on-going journey, it’s still got lots of challenges. I wouldn’t change much.

DIEDERIK: A lot of vets don’t achieve their goals, and they certainly don’t achieve what you’ve achieved. What do you think holds most of those people back?

ISABELLE: I think self-doubt. “I can’t do it. I’m not good enough. I don’t have the skills.” And inertia. “I couldn’t quite evolve many of my skills,” or “I couldn’t quite…” You can lead a horse to water and all that…. And I think a lot of people are held back by their own self-doubts, and then they won’t actually seek the main tools in the gardens that are there available to help them move forward.

DIEDERIK: Has luck or tragedy had any part in what you’ve achieved, in what you’ve done?

ISABELLE: The simple answer is, “I was just chatting to my butcher this morning, and had a little bit of chat about ‘gosh, I’ve been lucky.” And he said, ‘Actually, you know it’s not about luck, it’s about what we’ve done with our lives.”

So I would actually say no, I don’t think luck, I’ve made my own luck. I plotted…well I haven’t actually plotted it. It’s often I go in different directions than I expected, but every time things take a little turn and you really evaluate where you’re at, and you take a new direction. You don’t let the circumstance dictate where you end up, you decide where you want to be and move towards it.

DIEDERIK: From a big picture perspective, what pitfalls that you haven’t mentioned before, or what pitfalls are there that you think someone that wants to be successful should avoid?

ISABELLE: I think this depends a little bit as to where you’re at in your career.

For me, right now, probably one of the biggest issues I’ve seen in the veterinary profession is dealing with stress and anxiety, mental health issues. And I think about the things I’ve seen quite a bit are all these people putting their heads in the sand and saying, “Oh, it’s not a big issue. It will be okay. I’ll just keep on working it out.” And then that’s been their process.

So, I think one of the biggest pitfalls is be honest to yourself, be honest with yourself, realize that you’re not invulnerable. It’s okay to actually get a bit of professional help, or whatever help that might be needed, reach out. There are so many resources out there, and if you don’t reach out and actually take a hold of them, being honest to yourself so you… To me, the mental side of it is a really big part and hand in hand with that, because you need to look after yourself. You really need to take time to say, “I’m going to look after myself physically and mentally. I’m going to put steps in place. I am going to do these things.” It takes discipline and you need to keep moving to work at it. Things will work out.

DIEDERIK: I’ll skip ahead to a question that’s coming up later, but I think you’ve just eluded to where I’m heading. Our industry, as everyone know, has a bit of ‘reputation’, what’s kept you sane?

ISABELLE: Having fun in the work place. I really enjoy the people I work with. I really enjoy the team I work with. I spend a lot of time developing myself. I’ve done a lot of interesting things. I’ve taken animal behaviour as a new interest. I’ve done the distance education course, I’ve done memberships. I’ve challenged myself regularly. And as I said earlier, I do look after myself. I do try very hard to physically and mentally look after myself. But I think one of the other things that really came to mind is to celebrate the little successes. Don’t dwell on the cranky client, the complaining client, the staff who has something to moan about. Success is sometimes when you sit back, you want to look at you’ve created and look at what you’ve achieved and celebrate.

And if you do get ‘beaten’, it’s not a failure, it’s feedback. It’s okay. Don’t let a little knock back stop you dead, just go, “Okay. Let me try a different technique.”

In my experience, one of the biggest roadblocks I’ve had, ended up opening the biggest doors. Sometimes, I ended up looking back and going, “Nah that seemed really bad at the time and it ended up working out fine.” 

DIEDERIK: That’s interesting. That’ll give people that are facing roadblocks a lot of help.

In practice, what are you passionate about?

ISABELLE: I’m passionate about seeing people grow and develop. Seeing my staff enjoy themselves, but also seeing them develop their careers, develop personally. My Staff understand they’re working for the clients. And I also really enjoy seeing my clients feel very rewarded. I’m doing a lot of that “Hey, you’re working on for them,” and sometimes they say, “Thank you, you’re really get what’s going on, and you’ve helped me understand what’s going on and provided a pathway for the future.” 

So, seeing that sort of…you’re providing… it’s a hard thing to put in to words. “Helping people” but that’s such a cliché thing to say. You can sometimes really feel good people go, “She’s really opened my eyes. You’ve helped me understand the situation better, and I feel better for it.” Making people feel better after an interaction with you is what I’m passionate about.

DIEDERIK: Great. Obviously you’ve differentiated the clinical side of practice from the business side of practice. When did you do that and what is the story behind it?

ISABELLE: I had been in practice for 15 years, and that was about seven or eight years ago, and thought “Okay. We need to do something here.” We had developed to a size where we really needed to plan for our future. We needed to manage the business. We had always practiced with an attitude of good medicine, “Do your best,” and with that, we were financially successful because if you do your best medical job, if you do all the tests that you need to be doing, then finances work out. But we got to a size that we thought “It’s such a changing place, we are, and we need to plan for the future. We need to have a direction and we need to be a lot more up to speed. This is a changing industry. We need to learn to how to evolve and we need to do it with a plan.”

And so, to me, my clinical work and my practice manager work are really entirely separate things. I actually find it incredibly rewarding doing the practice management stuff … I’m proud of the position and the great knowledge, that I’ve now worked very hard and we’ve spent a lot of time and continuing our education. It’s inherent to see what you decided to put into place, see it happening, see your practice grow and develop. It’s very apparent.

DIEDERIK: What do you think are the biggest things you’ve given back, and then by ‘you’, I mean the hospital, or ‘you’ personally—whatever way you want to take it—to the community?

ISABELLE: It’s a good question, but not that easy.

I think we have really created a family type of practice where we give a lot back – there was a Facebook post from a client yesterday whose cat had come in, and she just said, “I had no appointment, I rolled up and I was seen immediately. And God, I just felt so taken care of. I felt great.” And that to me actually embodies what we’ve give back, we make people feel better. We take their anxiety away. I feel we’ve created a practice where people feel like they’re cared for, looked after and that we’ve take some of their anxiety and stress away when their pet is sick, or even if it’s not sick.

We also do quite a lot of charitable work, but we do it in a very low-key way. We do rescue foundation work. We do multiple fundraisers, we have a quota of fund raising schedule, and that gives that… But it’s in a very low-key way, we don’t do a lot of gloating or boasting or any of that sort of stuff. But I think we try to make people feel better about themselves and their pets.

DIEDERIK: If there were three success takeaways or success secrets or success keys, what would they be you were sharing them with someone else? What are the three drivers for you?

ISABELLE: I think the three takeaways for me about being successful is I had fun. You need to smile. You need to laugh with the people around you, that you’re enjoy it.

I think you need to keep on learning. We sort of think, “Oh, thank God, I finished Uni. All right, that’s it. I’ll never ever do exams again.” I’ll keep on doing exams, even though I say I’m never going to do. Keep on learning and keep on challenging yourself, not just within the veterinary world, but within general directions.

And I think the big one for me is also celebrating wins. Just don’t always sort of dwell on the things that didn’t go so well, or the unhappy clients, or the strategies that didn’t work. Dwell on the things that did.

DIEDERIK: Big picture question, what do you see as the future of the veterinary industry?

ISABELLE: I see it as a…it’s an interesting place we’re at right now. I think the veterinary industry needs to stay very much on its toes and be very open for change and evolution.

We’re seeing intergenerational change speed up dramatically. We’re employing people from…we have people across three to four different generations that we’re employing. We need to figure out how to motivate them, how to engage, how to engage every single person.

I think as vets, we need to realize that we need to keep evolving and changing, and what worked 10, 15 years ago isn’t going to keep on working. You need to just be open to new ideas, and you need to implement and be prepared when you come to work.

I think ‘IT’ is a big part. If you don’t have a decent website and Facebook and whatever all those future things are, you need to keep on developing those.

So change management, evolution. Realizing our market place, our clients, our staff, are changing all the time.

DIEDERIK: Last question, and the reason I’m asking you this is because a number of people have told me that they’ve had ‘this’. Was there ever for you a defining moment, a snap point, a line in the sand, in which you said, “I won’t take it anymore and things are going to change”?

ISABELLE: Yes, in a slightly ‘wow’ sort of a way. Yeah, there was a point about 16 years ago, before I bought in to Inner South, where I was working in a very busy practice doing afterhours and working all over the UK. And I just got to a point where I thought, “This is not what I want to do. I don’t want to be a vet…I don’t want to work like this for the rest of my life.” I had never thought that I would become a practice owner. It just wasn’t in my mind. And so I started doing an MBA, because I thought, “How do I keep earning and manage well? How do I keep out of this profession cycle?” So I started doing an MBA, which was a really interesting experience. I learned a lot about marketing, etc. But then the opportunity came up to actually buy Inner South, and we did, and I think that’s one of the reasons we started that off, with the start and with the end in mind; we are not going to work like this. If I’m going to be a vet in 20 years-time, I need to actually set it up so that the hours are good, and then I had a balance in my work life.

So that was a bit of a line in the sand where I really went “Okay. I can’t keep on doing this,” and then the opportunity arose. It’s sort of one of those absolutely things that I never thought it would come, but I think it’s because I had mentally started exploring the options. The opportunity became an opportunity because I broadened my horizons and broadened my mind.

DIEDERIK: Cool. Thank you very much. I think that’s a really good point to end, I think that says it all. Thank you very much for joining us.

ISABELLE: Thank you. My pleasure.

Key Take-Aways

  • You won’t be spoon fed the answers – you need to go looking yourself
  • Communication and ‘getting on with other people’ skills are equally if not more important than technical skills
  • Avoid the “I’m too busy, I’m too stressed, I’m not good enough, I’m too tired to…” mentality.
  • Build your practice around your life and not your life around your practice
  • “Look at what we have achieved. Let’s celebrate what we’ve actually done.”

“Concentrate on the core aspects of your business that can never be taken away from you, consulting, diagnosing, prescribing, imaging and surgery.”

Diederik Gelderman