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'There's always a big risk of compassion fatigue' says Inverness vet who is retiring after four decades in practice

By Hannah Sinclair

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Dr Alison Laurie-Chalmers.
Dr Alison Laurie-Chalmers.

After treating thousands of cats and dogs, as well as many other pets, an Inverness vet is preparing to leave the surgery for the last time.

Dr Alison Laurie-Chalmers has worked at Crown Vets for 21 years – more than half of her career.

"The most rewarding part of the job is when cases go to plan and you feel like you're making a difference to the pet and owner – it gives you a sense of thrill," she said. "That's the most important part of being a vet. It's not always going to be happy and joyful but it's important when I make a pet comfortable again.

"The pets have very much become family members so it's essential to give them the best recovery possible."

Prior to that, she worked in numerous practices since graduating from Glasgow Vet School on July 9, 1983.

Alison at her graduation with her mum.
Alison at her graduation with her mum.

Kick starting her career in The Tweedale Street practice in Oban, Argyll, a mixed veterinary clinic, Alison then moved to Aberdeen where she worked in a small animal clinic.

In the late '80s and early '90s she moved north where she co-owned and ran a Drumnadrochit kennels and cattery business before and after the birth of her son Calum. Alison then had an eventful sojourn down south to England where she worked in a mixed practice in Malvern, before heading back home to Scotland in the millennium, working from a mobile practice in Dunvegan on Skye.

In 2001, she received a fortuitous call from one of the partners of the Burgess and Donald vet practice in Inverness, Stewart Donald, asking if she would like to do some weekend work for them. She then moved back to Drumnadrochit, and by 2002 was working full-time again as a small animal clinician for the then Burgess and Donald practice.

When her son left home for university she moved from Drumnadrochit into Inverness in 2014, and has now been working consistently at Crown Vets for over 21 years.

Alison has built close relationships with locals over the years, including writing more than 450 weekly columns for The Inverness Courier.

“I'm going to miss my patients, clients and colleagues," she said. "The ones who have stood by me through the years and the colleagues who have always been so supportive to me.”

After hitting the milestone of four decades she knew it was finally her time to retire. “I had a goal in mind," Alison said. "A lot of my colleagues have retired already. The goal was to make it to 40 years in practice so I have achieved that now.”

Over the decades, Alison has witnessed many changes and innovations in veterinary medicine. “Today, veterinarians are much busier so time management plays a huge role," she said. "Practices are now often owned by corporate ownerships instead of being small family ownerships.

"On a more positive note there has been huge changes in what's available for pets. Medicine and surgical procedures have improved immensely over the years and equipment is much more advanced.”

Her work as a vet hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2011, she was awarded the UK Petplan vet of the year. “It was amazing – probably the pinnacle of my career," Alison said. "To me it's like the Oscars for vets. What means the most is the fact it came from client nominations. It was lovely to have some appreciation of my work.”

Dr Alison Laurie-Chalmers.
Dr Alison Laurie-Chalmers.

As she retires, Alison's advice for anybody interested in becoming a vet is that “you have to realise it does take a lot from you", adding: "It's not going to be easy. It's important to learn how to pace yourself. There's always a big risk of compassion fatigue. You must realise what lies ahead and think about the intensity of the job.

"The past few years have been the toughest working through Covid-19 and the cost-of-living crisis meaning many cannot afford private practice. This has been juggled with a huge shortage of vets. Media and TV have given people high expectations. During Covid there was a huge boom in pet ownership and people have become more anxious. They have to realise we are doing our best and not to expect miracles.

"It's important to take care of our mental health. Owners of practices, management and pet owners all have a part in realising all people face challenges in life.”

With retirement in close sight she is most looking forward to spending quality time with her husband, son and her border collies. She also plans to travel to Tuscany and Seattle to visit her twin sister.

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