Inspirational Woman Cheryl Lucas | Vet Surgeon & Presenter, The Pets Factor

Cheryl LucasI grew up in North London with a brother and a sister, a dog and a cat. My parents separated when I was 12 and we were brought up by my mum.

All of us were animal lovers and my mum had a dream of one day having a vet in the family! I wanted to be a vet from a young age. I didn’t know too much about the profession other than the usual ‘it’s harder to be a vet than a doctor’ and ‘it’s very competitive to get into vet school’. I was the first person to go to university in my family and am proud to say that I realised my ambition. I am now a small animal veterinary surgeon, with a huge interest in surgery (mainly orthopaedics, i.e. fixing pets with broken bones). I am a partner (JVP) \ owner of three vet practices in East London/Essex. In my free time I am a presenter of CBBC’s The Pets Factor, a family show about pets and vets. I am also a new mum to my first baby, 6-month-old Alexander.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Like so many kids, I dreamed of being a vet. From a tiny age, my mum kept my dream alive, motivating me at every hurdle! I had no career plans but had a motto from the age of about 19 to accept every opportunity and see where it goes. I never intended to get into practice ownership. However, after returning from 3 years living in Australia and a year of backpacking around the world ended up working as a locum in London when an opportunity arose to run my own practice and I decided to go for it.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Yes!!!

The first was getting into vet school. Growing up in London in a single-parent family, I struggled to get relevant farm and equine work experience and really struggled to explain this at my interviews for vet school. I felt intimidated as I was very different to all the other prospective vet students I met.

I was offered a place to study on the BSc Veterinary Science course at the Royal Veterinary College. The course had an opportunity where the three students with the highest grades would be given a special option to transfer onto the BVetMed course and graduate with both degrees in 6 years (as opposed to 3 years + 5 years). I studied and worked extra hard to be one of the top performing students and win one of these places, which I did and had my first experience of really hard work.

When I opened my first practice 6 years ago, I was a terribly inexperienced leader and struggled with perfectionist traits. I ended up working pretty much 7 days a week alone for one and a half years, which was a dramatic learning curve. I grew the practice into a successful business, learnt how to lead a team and the true value of free time as well as the importance of work-life balance.

Daily I am told by clients that ‘I don’t look like a vet’. I used to find this challenging and felt I needed to work extra hard to prove myself as a ‘good vet’ as a mixed race, female veterinary surgeon, compared to the traditional James Herriot (white, middle class male) stereotype clients are expecting. These days I have so many loyal and dedicated clients who travel to see me that the odd comment is less of a challenge to deal with, and I focus my energy on leading an excellent, diverse team of vets and nurses and aim to be a positive role model.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I recently became a mum to the most amazing little boy and am extremely proud of managing to combine motherhood with working as a vet, growing our businesses and continuing to film The Pets Factor during the Covid crisis. It has been exhausting at times, but completely fulfilling.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Resilience. Working hard, never giving up and doing what you believe is right. The major reason I was interested in opening my own practice was because, coming from a background where money was tight, I felt extremely uncomfortable working in places where I felt clients were charged extortionately or unfairly. I have always believed in charging fairly for your work and this has resulted in me having extremely loyal clients and me being happy every day to go to work.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee? 

Mentoring new graduate vets is an important and very rewarding part of my work. It is immensely fulfilling to watch an inexperienced graduate become a confident and competent vet, and often a friend too.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

I am still so shocked that even in 2020 many people don’t even acknowledge that gender inequality exists. I think that women being confident leaders, not being afraid to speak out and supporting other women would accelerate the pace of change for gender equality dramatically.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Worry less and enjoy life more. I also believe hard work always pays off.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achzieve in the future? 

As corny as it sounds (and perhaps I am still in a new mum bubble), I feel very lucky to be in a great place right now and have no future plans other than to continue to be the best vet I can be, continue to grow our businesses and enjoy as much good quality time with my family as possible.


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