When Carla Balnave was crowned VetPartners Vet of the Year, it marked a personal journey from tears to triumph.
The last two years have presented her with some of the biggest challenges she’s ever faced, personally and in her career.
Here, Carla, who works at Aireworth Vets in Keighley, explains why winning the award meant so much to her, and how feeling valued and supported by VetPartners helped her through a turbulent time….
As Carla Balnave walked proudly towards the stage to collect the VetPartners Vet of the Year award to rapturous applause, no one in the audience could have fully realised the anguish behind her success.
Winning the accolade was the icing on the cake for a year which has seen her battle both physical and mental illness, as well as experience the grief from losing her mother.
Carla’s stunning triumph was a tribute, not only to her impressive skills as a vet, but also her determination and fortitude.
Like many people working in practice, the health pandemic brought many tough challenges, including having to juggle work with home schooling two young children, a change in working patterns and anxiety about catching Covid and spreading it to her family.
Then, in March 2022, only two weeks after her mother unexpectedly passed away, Carla underwent a hysterectomy after doctors discovered a massive fibroid the size of a grapefruit. Her health battle triggered severe anxiety and depression.
Yet, despite those traumatic and heartbreaking events, Carla still made time for others, helped to oversee improvements at the practice, and made impressive strides in her career development.
She was crowned Vet of the Year award because of her selflessness and care she gives others, and was described by colleagues who nominated her as the “epitome of kindness.”
In her spare time, Carla cleaned and tidied a practice flat to provide accommodation for an Afghan refugee vet, Zahra and viewed properties for a new graduate vet Calum McIntyre, who was moving to work at the practice, as well as acting as his mentor and arranging social events to make him feel welcome.
Carla was also praised for her work in helping her practice to improve standards of care and being a driving force in QI initiatives, auditing of surgical complications and her contributions in clinical meetings.
She has also worked incredibly hard studying for a Master’s in Clinical Animal Behaviour, of which the end is now in sight. Her and Senior Nurse Adele Welch’s interest in the area led to Aireworth Vets setting up Happy Hound Clinics, significantly improving patient welfare with Carla’s guidance.
“The last two years have been incredibly difficult, so it was lovely winning the award and it is so nice to feel appreciated,” said Carla.
“Covid was a major driving factor in my anxiety and depression. I used to feel anxious even driving to work because I was conscious that, by leaving the house during lockdown at the height of the pandemic, I could bring Covid home to my husband and children.
“Being put in a medical menopause and undergoing a hysterectomy also affected my mental health and I would urge anyone else who is struggling to seek help. My mum also unexpectedly passed away.
“The turning point for me in seeking support came while driving to work. A song I love, Reach for the Stars, came on the radio. I would normally belt out the lyrics as it reminds me of university. I cried because I couldn’t sing along and realised I had to seek help.”
Carla had weekly NHS counselling sessions for 10 months but focusing on ways she could help others has also lifted her spirits.
“It was discussed for a while that we may have a refugee vet and she has only just arrived from Afghanistan,” said Carla.
“You can’t imagine what it must be like to leave your home country in those circumstances.
We don’t realise how lucky we are to live in the UK and have everything we need readily available. I helped James Credland to prepare the accommodation by clearing out our practice flat and making sure it was tidy and welcoming.
“We also welcomed the arrival of Calum after he qualified from Edinburgh University and I am his mentor. He is doing brilliantly and is a huge asset to the practice, but I am very conscious of the mental health of new graduates and the pressures of the job, so want to make sure he is supported.
“If you are moving 250 miles from home into a stressful job with a steep learning curve and long hours, it is important to help colleagues settle in. Many years ago, I had a practice colleague who didn’t have that kind of support we provide and he ended up leaving the profession.”
Carla’s dream of becoming a vet started in her native Hampshire, where she worked as a Saturday girl on reception while still at school. She went on to study for a degree in Animal Behaviour at Chester University, before studying Veterinary Science at Liverpool, qualifying in 2007.
She joined Aireworth Vets eight years ago on the recommendation of a friend so she could focus on small animal work, and doubts she will ever leave because it feels like home. She loves her colleagues, the family atmosphere of the practice and being part of VetPartners, where she’s an active member of our Clinical Board Behaviour Special Interest Group.
Carla said: “I love the culture of VetPartners and that it is run by vets who understand the profession and know what’s important.
“They understand that work-life balance is important and I am able to work three days with the flexible working opportunities we have. There is a strong focus on wellbeing and I have been supported with funding for my career development.
“Aireworth has benefited from investment from VetPartners in facilities and equipment, including a CT scanner, so we can continually improve what we offer our patients and clients.”
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