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A can-do attitude: the secret of my life

Melissa Donald - RCVS President 2022-23

As I grab the blogging baton from our President, Kate Richards, whose blog last month started this year’s all female Presidential team’s musings, I’ll share with you my story.

I originally come from central London with a garden little bigger than a postage stamp, but this did not stop me from entering the WH Smith ‘Win A Pony’ competition every year (yes, this was a real thing back in the 70s).

I have a dream

As the youngest child of three, I was described as precocious, loud and the fun child, and I was incredibly fortunate to have parents who encouraged individualism. By seven years old, I had decided I wanted to be a vet. Despite this being a totally novel career option, I was encouraged to follow my dreams, but always have a Plan B, just in case.

From 11 years of age, my gerbils, rabbits, guinea pigs and I travelled to and from Staffordshire to a progressive mixed boarding school that actively encouraged children of all backgrounds to be the best they could be and demonstrate self-leadership from the start.

The immediate neighbour to the school was a small traditional dairy farm and this is where my love of farming came from. The farmers’ son and daughter took me under their wing and introduced me to cows, sheep and pigs and, by the time I left the school, I could be left to do the milking while they were making the silage.

All this made my application to vet school a little bit different and although I was rejected by a couple (their loss!), Glasgow took a chance, and the rest is history.

In the final year of my studies, I needed to apply for jobs, so thought I’d apply for a US internship, thinking I had no chance but would do it for the experience. Six months later, I found myself the sheep ‘expert’ as a food animal intern at Iowa State University (there are, incidentally, not many sheep in Iowa).

The name of the game

Once back in the UK, up to my eyes in debt (where a special treat was a cream apple turnover for 99p), with two children and taking on a hill farm tenancy in the West of Scotland with my husband, I knocked on the door of the local vet and asked for a job.

I got to travel overseas (well, the Isle of Cumbrae anyway!) and, partly as I was married to a farmer, I was accepted into the local community very quickly. There was little spare time and I suppose this was the start of my portfolio career, if that’s a description of juggling many balls in the air at the same time.

Most of these next few years passed in a blur. There were times, due to a lack of vets available, where I was sole charge in what was a three-vet practice.

Fast forward 25 years, it was time for a change. I was ready to leave clinical work, but not ready to leave the profession. Within a year of hanging up my stethoscope, I found myself on the Red Tractor Farm Assurance Board (I saw an ad on Facebook, really!), had been elected on to RCVS Council and was on my way to being BVA Scottish Branch President.

When all is said and done

My career (and my life) has been a continual case of grabbing opportunities. I haven’t succeeded at every one and, to be honest, two or three knockbacks in a row are hard, but if something appears that interests me, I’ll give it a go.

Look where I’ve ended up! That’s where a can-do, have-a-go attitude has landed me. It’s in all of us, we just need to believe in ourselves.

Published on 30 September 2021