“As much as what we do on the technical and surgical side of things is important, it’s also important to make people feel comfortable when they walk through the door”.
Dr Janet Kovak McClaran, head of surgery at London Vet Specialists, set her heart on becoming a vet as a child. Here she describes what attracted her to leave her prestigious role at the New York Animal Medical Center to help set up London’s first specialist animal hospital.
“My interest in becoming a vet started when I was a child, growing up between Connecticut and New York City. Most of my early days were spent in the city, but I would enjoy weekend escapes to the country. I developed a passion for horseback riding at the age of eight, so more and more time was spent outside of the city as I began riding at a competitive level. When the barn was closed on Mondays, I would go on rounds with the equine veterinarians in Connecticut.
My earliest exposure to surgery was when I saw my first colic procedure (a twisted intestine problem in horses) when I was about 12 or 13; watching the delicate work that was done on these beautiful and very large animals, I was drawn instantaneously to the process of surgery.
My interest continued through my teens and I started volunteering at the Animal Medical Center (AMC) in New York when I was 18. This was my first exposure to a bustling small animal hospital. I kept up ties with it when I went to veterinary school, volunteering and doing externships there as I progressed. It was a wild place to work, with all walks of life bringing their pets in for care.
The great thing about volunteering was that it allowed me to shadow the surgeons there. I helped with animal restraint, assisting if they drew blood, and cleaning cages. Then, as I progressed through veterinary school I started doing more specific externships focused on surgery. In the United States or in the UK, when you graduate from veterinary school you can go into practice immediately, but I was keen to get more advanced training. So I decided to go on to do the internship at AMC to get exposure to a variety of different specialties, followed by a three-year surgical residency programme, again at AMC. These four years were gruelling, with long hours, late nights and lots of hard work.
I ended up working there continuously for 17 years from volunteer to intern, associate to full time member of staff and, finally, as head of surgery. In those years I progressed from a young and inexperienced new graduate to a confident and competent clinician, able to handle any of the crazy and complicated cases that came my way. After all those years, I felt I had progressed as far as I could at one institution so I was ready to try my hand at something different.
I was really drawn to the idea of helping to set up a new clinic and being involved from the ground up. Many animal hospitals in the UK are part of a large chain or corporation; LVS (sister hospital to the Village Vet) is a family run operation, by contrast. I felt that I would have the ability to make a real impact by joining. My husband and I were also attracted to the idea of living abroad. My husband did a lot of travel when he was younger and London was appealing because there is no language barrier for my young son. He had finished pre-school, so he was ready for something new as well.
I remember visiting Hampstead 20 years ago and thinking it was the most beautiful place I had ever seen. I called my parents from a payphone to tell them that I wanted to come and live here and, well, here I am. The timing was right, and I love living here.
Everyone at LVS is really dedicated to providing amazing client service, which is what I felt was missing in the large ten-storey hospital that I left behind. Although the hospital provided excellent patient care, it just couldn’t provide the personal touch of a boutique facility like LVS. As much as what we do on the technical and surgical side of things is important, it’s also important to make people feel comfortable when they walk through the door.
We are inundated with chocolates at LVS! While this is not good for my diet, it is proof of the positive feedback we get from clients about the patient and client care that we provide. I love the fact that LVS is like a family environment; it makes it possible to manage expectations from our three sets of clients: the patients; their owners; and, of course, the referring vets. It’s important to ensure that everyone is kept in the loop.
I was just amazed that central London had no specialty hospital before we set up. In New York they were popping up everywhere, and most small US cities already have three to five specialty hospitals already. Knowing that I would be able to make an impact here in London was definitely part of the appeal of coming over.
I love teaching. I used to work with interns and residents in New York, and part of my job here is also to educate. I benefited enormously from the mentoring I received at the AMC, and I feel it’s important to pass on what I learned. Within the Village Vet family, there are 23 practices, so I serve as a resource to help other veterinarians work through challenging cases. I am happy to provide pointers and also to guide them as to when patients need to be referred for our specialist care.
I’m looking forward to engaging with the surgical referral community here and getting to know our group of veterinary surgery specialists better. Meanwhile, we’re continuing to build our case load and hiring more staff all the time.
Of course, I plan to take time to enjoy Europe as well; that’s part of what coming here is about. My husband and I both like to travel and we want to take advantage of what we have on our doorstep here. We have been able to ski in France, (thankfully no broken bones) and to visit Sicily for some sunshine. A visit to Copenhagen is up next! We plan to make the most of being here.”