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How did I get here?

Kate Richards - RCVS President 2021-22

For the first time since the RCVS was established in 1844 I have the privilege of leading an all female presidential team alongside Melissa Donald as Junior Vice-President and Mandisa Greene as Senior Vice-President. To celebrate this momentous year we will each be posting monthly blogs; giving our three perspectives on four overarching themes.

The theme of our first set of articles is about how we each got to where are now, starting with my personal journey through life and the veterinary profession.

How did I get here?

Growing up in Glasgow, my parents were teachers with no connections to the veterinary profession. My grandparents farmed in Northern Ireland, but my Mum was orphaned at seven so that contact was broken. Early influences for me were the local lady vet and holidays in the Scottish Highlands. A keen Girl Guide, I was awarded ‘Friend to Animals’ badge as a 10-year-old, followed by the ‘Farmer’ and ‘Dairymaid’ badges. You could say the writing was on the wall! I didn’t get the grades for the Dick Vet, but after clearing and an interview I was offered a place just a month before Freshers’ Week.

Take a chance on me

Like the ABBA song, my first job offer came from someone taking a chance on me. Knowing me (knowing you) from EMS placements, I was taken on by my new boss as his first female assistant.

My second job came the same way. I was their first female farm vet. My next move into the pharmaceutical industry took many applications as I knew no one in the sector. At the interview in London, I remember the man’s eyebrows twitching when I said I’d already worked four hours in a poultry slaughter-house before catching the flight from Aberdeen to Heathrow at lunchtime! I don’t know if it was that which did the trick, but it demonstrated my work ethic and I was taken on by Schering-Plough Animal Health as a veterinary advisor!

During the Foot & Mouth Disease outbreak in 2001, I was at a continuing professional development (CPD) meeting when there was an appeal for volunteers for the MAFF (now Defra) Disease Emergency Control Centre (DECC). I volunteered, wanting to help in the crisis engulfing the country and spent my weekends at Defra, taking calls from vets, discussing clinical findings and next steps: revisit, further tests, cull. A year later, when I saw an advert for a Defra veterinary advisor I applied, armed with the experience I had gained on DECC and recruited to the civil service.

Next, I was promoted to Scientific Secretary to the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, a risk assessment committee on all things prion (BSE & vCJD) and worked with officials in Defra, the Food Standards Agency and the Department of Health. Wanting to move into communications, I joined the Government Communications Network and, in 2005, volunteered for the Avian Influenza (AI) outbreak communications team, causing panic and confusion when ‘the BSE woman’ turned up at an AI meeting.

I applied for about 20 jobs before being interviewed for Head of Corporate Stakeholder Engagement at HMRC when I drew on my communications experience from the AI outbreak. My new boss confided, ‘I just knew I could work with you, Kate.’ Two years later I was Principal Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Scotland. I remember the interview in the Minister’s Office, the size of a tennis court, which overlooked Horse Guards Parade, my heart pumping as if I was about to serve in a Wimbledon final! 

I’ve left my ladder down

So how did I get here? By seeking out opportunities, persistence and building connections. I remember Angela Eagle MP at a senior leadership event at HMRC saying, ‘As you climb the career ladder, don’t pull it up behind you.’ I’m committed to role modelling this. I’m passionate about sharing my experiences, helping others with their career choices. I have left my ladder down. Should anyone wish to follow my footsteps, that would be reward indeed.

Next month, Melissa Donald, Junior Vice President, will share how she got here.

Published on 24 August 2021

Tags: Events/meetings Careers