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International Member Spotlight: Dr Lucy Richardson MRCVS

Dr Lucy Richardson MRCVS - Senior Vet and Clinical Director at CedarTree Vets Limited.

In this month’s International Spotlight interview, Dr Lucy Richardson MRCVS tells us about her life running a mobile veterinary service on the island of Bermuda.

Can you tell us what organisation you work for and where in the world you are based?Dr Lucy Richardson MRCVS

I work for CedarTree Vets Limited - a companion animal based vet hospital in Bermuda. Most people have no idea where in the world Bermuda is. It’s very tiny – only 21 miles long and one mile wide so it’s a very small community. There’s no more than 60,000 people living here at any one time.

Our nearest land mass is North Carolina, USA, which is 650 miles away. We’re 1000 miles from Miami, Florida, and 850 miles from Halifax, Nova Scotia, so we’re very remote and that does influence the way that we practise. We have to plan well ahead and be careful not to run out of anything as our supply chains have a three-month lead time. We also have to be very aware of making sure that we have certain more unusual medicines available, as if we suddenly have a really poorly animal come in with a rare condition, even getting a rush order will take a week. However, we have great relationships with the other practices on the island so if we don’t have something available, we can always ask them if they have it available and vice versa which tends to work well.

My husband and I own our vet practice and it consists of four full time vets and five full time nurses. My husband is Bermudian, so he’s the Bermudian shareholder of the business, and I’m British.

We live and work on the same site, so our family home is on the same property as the practice, but the practice is a separate building. We always talk about it like a tiny house – it’s absolutely everything in a very small space which is very important to us as we wanted it to be very sustainable. As a small island, Bermuda is very cognisant of the fact that climate change is going to affect us dramatically. Sustainability is something we take very seriously, so the practice has been designed like a tiny house to try and keep our carbon footprint as low as possible.

What is your role and what areas do you specialise in?

I’m clinical director of the practice so I oversee all the clinical aspects, but we have a really collaborative veterinary team. We all share ideas and resources and because we’re in such a small space.

We practise slightly differently to other practices as we primarily function as a mobile practice. Essentially, we have the clinic which has surgical facilities, but all our general appointments are done in the home of the animal. This really makes a huge difference to the experiences that those animals have.

"We do everything we can think of to make the experience as comfortable as possible for our patients. It’s taking fear-free to another level – going beyond what we would traditionally do in the vet practice."

We’ve had the practice for ten years now and we have seen a big difference in the levels of stress in the animals – it’s so much more reduced in the home. We’re no longer seeing the stress glucose in the bloodwork of cats who would traditionally always come into practice, and we’re not seeing the high blood pressures. We do everything we can think of to make the experience as comfortable as possible for our patients. It’s taking fear-free to another level – going beyond what we would traditionally do in the vet practice.

Going to the home also improves relationships with the pet owners – you’re being invited into their home, and you form a close relationship. You’re almost more of a friend – it’s very different from them coming to our clinic. We get to be very personally involved with the clients and their animals and we really do care about them very deeply and get to know them very well.

Bermuda really lends itself to this model because of the tiny distances that we travel. We have two teams that go out each day – one team goes east, and one team goes west, so we cover the whole island every day. Each team can carry out six appointments in the morning and six appointments in the afternoon.

How does practising in Bermuda differ to practising in the UK?

As a UK territory, we’re governed by the same rules and regulations that UK vets are governed by, which is why I’ve maintained my MRCVS. I wanted to keep up to date with everything and be aware of new technologies, as well as the new thoughts and processes coming out of the RCVS.

I really appreciate having that link. I’ve also got great links back to my university in Edinburgh where I went to vet school.

The biggest difference is in the referrals – in Bermuda we just don’t have the same access to referrals that you would have in other jurisdictions because we’re so small. The government side of it is very similar to the UK though. We have a council, which is a Bermuda council, and all of the vets here are also affiliated to either Canada, the UK, the US, or elsewhere. There’s no veterinary school in Bermuda so you need to get a degree externally and then come back to Bermuda and get licenced here.

In our practice, we take on a lot of students undertaking EMS which is great. We also have a lot of school aged children who are debating whether or not this career path is for them. We have a very robust student programme with the local schools meaning we have a lot of students coming through. We always try to encourage that before children go onto more courses to get into veterinary medicine – they need to see what the day-to-day life looks like, because it’s not always what they expect.

What does a general workday look like to you?

Well, we live and work in the same place, so first we get the kids up for school, then I feed the cats and the dog, and clean out my kids’ guinea pig – that’s my morning’s work! Then I open the clinic at around half past seven and we start the day at around eight o’clock when clients start bringing in animals for surgeries and dentistry with the surgical team.

The surgical team run Monday to Friday, all day, every day. A team, whether that be going out to appointments or working in the clinic, consists of a vet and a nurse. We also do medicine drop offs so all clients orders will be delivered by us directly to their homes. Again, it’s a bit of that sustainability angle – traffic is a problem, so we like to try and keep people off the roads. We deliver the medicines in a coordinated way, which means clients don’t have to come out.

By lunchtime we’re all back at the clinic and everybody has a lunch break together which we enjoy. We start again at one o’clock and will be out until about four, doing more appointments and also carrying out more procedures in the clinic. Everyone is generally finished by five o’clock, but we have one vet who’s on call every night. This is done on a rota, so there will always be someone available 24/7. We don’t do routine appointments on the weekends because we want to enjoy Bermuda! It’s such a beautiful place and we need to have time off to enjoy it. People need time to spend with their families and have their own lives outside of work.

What’s your favourite thing about your role?

I really like the fact that it’s very varied – no day looks the same. We’re doing really good medicine and good surgeries at a high level.

One thing about being in Bermuda and being so remote geographically is that we’ve got very limited referrals. The vets on the island are your knowledge base - they’re the only people who can get the job done so it forces you to take on certain things that you might not have the confidence to do otherwise. We all really like that aspect of it. It can be challenging, but brilliant in terms of development in that you learn to trust your own judgement and you become very knowledgeable.

Within the team we have a cardiac specialist, a feline specialist, a nutrition specialist and an internal medicine specialist. We’ve had to bring people on board who are very educated in different areas, so we have that wide knowledge base.

I also love the mobile element and the model of our practice in general – it’s great to be able to work in a way that is not only great for the health and welfare of the animals, but for the future of our planet too.

Have you always wanted to be vet?

Yes! I’ve always had an affinity for animals and have been able to read them quite well. I think all vets have got that in them – they’re just good at noticing things and don’t really know why they notice it, but they do.

I decided that I wanted to be a vet at around the age of ten, and then took a bit of a route to get there. I went and did a biology degree first, and then did a second degree in veterinary medicine. It was definitely the job I wanted to do, and I still want to do it 20 years in, so I think it was a good choice!

What do you do in your spare time?

Bermuda is magnificent. If you’ve never been, book a ticket or put it on your bucket list! There are strong links from the UK with a direct flight from Heathrow Airport every day, so it’s very accessible. It’s just magnificent. It’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my life. The beaches are just gorgeous, the people are magnificent, and the weather is fabulous. It’s a subtropical climate, so it’s not too hot and not too cold.

We do loads of water sports – water activities are huge here. A lot of people own boats, and we go swimming, snorkelling, and diving. There are also humpback whales that come past so, every springtime, you can stand on the shore and watch these amazing creatures jump out of the ocean.

We’ve got every kind of sport you can think of. There also lots of socialising, family events and community events…it’s just a beautiful place to live.

How does your role protect and uphold animal welfare?

I think it’s pretty strong in that respect. I really do take the oath of ‘do no harm’ very seriously, so that’s where we’ve really worked the model to suit the island that we live in to have this mobile, strong influence. I worked in traditional practice for the first half of my career, during which my skills improved in terms of being able to read the animals and understand what they were communicating back to me. In that setting, where animals were being brought into see us, I was just seeing pure terror, stress and fear, over and over again which was masking the clinical symptoms that I was trying to diagnose.

"I really do take the oath of ‘do no harm’ very seriously, so that’s where we’ve really worked the model to suit the island that we live in to have this mobile, strong influence."

I thought about the model a lot and thought about why the animals were so upset and realised that it was them coming to the vet practice that was the problem, so I decided to start seeing a few clients out in the field. I just had a real epiphany about how much better this was for our patients. It started with just me and a nurse - we just drove around Bermuda having a good time and seeing a few clients, but then it just took off like a rocket. That was just over ten years ago. Now we have a full vet practice and it’s only getting bigger and stronger. I do wonder how it might adapt to other places in the world. Bermuda is very well suited for what I do and the way that I do it because it’s, small, affluent, and animal centric, but I’d love to see how it might work in other areas, not just in terms of reducing animal stress but also in terms of sustainability.

If anyone out there is interested in the model of our practice and wants to learn more, I would be more than happy to share that with them. You can contact me at the vet practice by emailing [email protected].

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Published on 30 January 2024