Category Archives: Careers

Veterinary and animal-related careers comment, advice and guidance.

Smartly: Where the Magic Happens

So this is where the magic happens?” These were my words as I stepped over the threshold of Pedago’s office and got to see for myself where the Smartly online MBA is created and run from, in addition to getting to meet members of the team who are responsible for not only me, but many many others, being able to study for and achieve a top-class MBA education without having to cripple ourselves with life-altering debt.

 

As I found myself in Washington DC for a speaking engagement I took the opportunity to pop over to Pedago’s Georgetown offices and say hi. I didn’t expect to see that most of the office had opted to stay back late in order to meet me and so was honoured and a little taken aback when I was met outside by Alexie and then welcomed into a conference room where the team were assembled, including more joining by video. Quite the welcome!

 

Thanks to:

  • Alexie Harper
  • Allison Harper
  • Valentina Navarro
  • Tiffany Chen
  • Matt Schenck
  • Brent Dearth
  • Daniel Mintz
  • John Pella
  • Skylar Neil
  • Ellie Di Berardino
  • Oli Ratner

Blurring the Lines – A New Digital Approach to Immersive Veterinary Education

“The great aim of education is not knowledge, but action.” These words, spoken by the philosopher Herbert Spencer, ring true and can, in my opinion, also be applied inversely. That is to say action delivers great education. For far too long the accepted model for delivering knowledge and training professionals such as vets has been to sit them all down in a lecture hall, drone on at them for hours on end, demand that they go off, read, write the odd essay and complete the occasional project, and then ask them to cram all of that supposed knowledge into their brains ready to regurgitate at will during the course of an exam or nine.
Granted there are also practical elements to most of these programmes, whether it be dissection, physiology labs or animal handling, but the bulk of the training has always been delivered in much the same manner: didactic instruction. For some this approach works and they go away retaining everything that they have heard. For most, however, myself included, it represents a dated and unbelievably inefficient method. Hence the need to condemn weeks to tedious, stress-induced revision before the big assessments. I always found it much easier, way less stressful and frankly more fun to learn by actually doing, seeing, touching or otherwise interacting with the subject matter at hand. Most of what I recall from anatomy training, for example, are the random little moments in the dissection lab when I recall physically holding a specimen and examining it. I can’t for the life of me easily recall a specific moment when I turned to a textbook page and had a piece of knowledge stick in perpetuity.
Whilst it is acknowledged by many educators that practical instruction has better outcomes in terms of understanding and long-term knowledge and skills retention, the fact of the matter is that preparing and delivering a lecture is significantly cheaper, quicker and easier to achieve, whilst the results of that labor can be shared far more widely than a practical session. In terms of resources, acquiring digital photos, videos and other screen-based media is far less costly and labor intensive than drawing together and delivering a tangible, practical learning tool, such as an anatomy specimen. Some of these barriers, I believe, are now finally being lifted and the costs, both in terms of time, effort and direct financial outlay, are narrowing between the old and the digital new. The implications for education and training at every level of schooling, from kids’ first school experience right through to professional CPD (continuing professional development), is profound and I wish to explore why I believe that to be so.

Mixed Reality & Virtual Reality

I first experienced both mixed reality and high-end virtual reality in 2015 and again in 2016 when I volunteered at the Augmented World Expo in Silicon Valley. The power of both technologies to fundamentally change how education outcomes are achieved and training delivered was clearly evident and left me convinced that the future of medical, including veterinary, education was in the application of these new immersive tools.
HoloLens, AWE 2016
Microsoft’s HoloLens offers users the ability to experience mixed reality

In 2016 I was fortunate enough to be at one of the conference parties where someone happened to have two Microsoft HoloLens headsets and was demonstrating them to the small crowd of curious nerds that had gathered around him. Well, I was one of those nerds and before long had the pleasure of donning one of the sets and so was introduced to the wonders of true mixed reality.

AWE 2016, HoloLens
Interacting with objects in mixed reality is as simple as reaching out and ‘touching’ them.

Much like a small welding mask, in both look and feel, the HoloLens is essentially a set of transparent screens that sit in one’s field of view by means of the headstraps that keep the device in place. Whilst not especially comfortable and certainly not something anyone is going to ever be in a rush to wear out in public on account of looking, frankly, ridiculous, the experience that it delivered was compelling. With the use of a simple gesture, specifically an upward ‘throwing’ movement, a menu popped into view suspended perfectly in mid-air and crystal clear as if it were right there in the real world in plain sight of everyone around me. Of course it wasn’t and the only person able to see this hologram was me. Selecting from the menu was as simple as reaching out and ‘touching’ the desired option and within seconds a holographic representation of the Earth was spinning languidly before me. I could ‘pick up’, ‘move’ and otherwise manipulate the item in front of me as though it were a physical object, and if I did move it, for example off to the right, out of my field of view, that is precisely where it remained and where I found it again when I turned back round. The human body application was similarly cool, as I was able to explore the various layers of anatomy through interaction with a highly rendered hologram. Whilst comical for onlookers not wearing a HoloLens, as I appeared to apparently be pawing away at thin air like someone suffering a particularly lucid acid hallucination, the thrill of what I was actually seeing and engaging with myself allowed me to ignore my daft appearance.

 

What are the medical education applications for such mixed reality technology? Whilst holographic visual representations of anatomy are, at first, a magical phenomemon to experience and a pretty cool party piece, it is the fact that mixed reality sees realistic holograms merged, or so it appears to the user, onto the real world, in contrast to virtual reality, which replaces the real world experience with an entirely digital one, that lends itself to unique educational applications. Anatomy instruction by being able to accurately overlay and track in real-time deeper layers onto a real-world physical specimen, enabling students to understand the wider context in which various anatomical structures sit is a far more compelling and useful application of MR than a simple floating graphic. Similarly, surgical training involving holographic overlays onto a real-world, physical object or combined with haptic technology to elicit tactile feedback, offers the potential to deliver programmable, repeatable, easily accessible practical training with minimal expense and zero waste on account of there being no need to have physical biological specimens.

 

Imagine: a fully-functional and resourced dissection and surgical training lab right there in your clinic or home and all at the press of a digital button. Imagine how confident you would become at that new, nerve-wracking surgical procedure if you had the ability to practice again and again and again, physically making the required cuts and placing the necessary implant, being able to make the inevitable mistakes that come with learning anything new but at zero risk to your patient. Being able to step up to the surgical plate for real and carry out that same procedure that you have rehearsed and developed refined muscle memory for, feeling the confidence that a board-certified specialist with years of experience has, and all without having had to put a single animal at risk – that’s powerful. That’s true action-based education at it’s most compelling and it is a future that both VR and MR promises.

 

I predict that the wide adoption of graphically rich, immersive and realistic digital CPD programmes, through both VR and MR, will result in a renewed engagement of professionals with CPD training and ultimately lead to more confident, skilled, professionally satisfied and happier clinicians. I, for one, know that were I able to complete practical CPD by simply donning a headset and loading up a Vive or HoloLens experience from the comfort and convenience of my clinic or home, all whilst still being able to interact in real-time with colleagues both physically present and remote, my CPD record would be bursting at the seams. That has to be a great thing for the profession, our clients and society in general.

Welcome to the Veterinary Profession – Tips for Newbies

You’ve done it! Five, or even six, years of lectures, practicals, placements, projects, rotations, deadlines, exams, and, of course, a whole lotta fun and here you now find yourself. Graduating, finally, as a fully qualified vet. Hoorah! It is most certainly the end of a MASSIVE chapter in your life and the start of, some would argue, an even BIGGER one. Now I don’t profess to be the font of all wisdom or to be able to bestow upon you the ultimate guide to be awesome as a new vet – to claim to be so would be both horrendously arrogant and plain wrong – but what I can offer to do is pass on a few tips that I have learnt – often the hard way – along the path from newbie vet to older, more grizzled vet with less hair than I started with.

TIPS:

  • Take some time off after graduation/ finishing vet school – I remember loads of people in my year rushing out and starting work the very minute they got their paws on that degree certificate only to hear many of them state later that they wish they had taken more time off post-graduation to just enjoy, well, being free. Free from the stresses of studying, revising, being examined and assessed all of the time, free even from competing with one another, which admit it or not is exactly what we do throughout university – it’s in our ‘high achiever’ DNA. Save for taking a sabbatical between jobs, which many vets do after a few years, often to travel the world before ‘finally settling down’, this is one of THE best opportunities to just kick back, relax and take some stock of what it is you have actually achieved over the past half a decade. Granted it is getting more competitive in the veterinary job market and, true, loans do need to be paid off but we have not yet got to the tragic state where ALL the best jobs will have been snapped up immediately and student loans only actually start getting paid back once you are earning over a certain amount (other loans, such as professional development loans, may, it is fair to say, come with different repayment terms but generally speaking there isn’t as much of a pressing imperative for you to rush out and jump into the frays of work that you might imagine). So simply ENJOY!

 

  • Be selective about your first job – this kind of follows on from tip number 1 but is something that too many new grads forget, or just don’t even consider. Jumping into the very first job that is offered to you may well get you practicing, and thus earning, faster BUT it is a really smart long term career move to ensure that you accept an offer from the very best job that you can attract. This doesn’t simply mean the highest paid. No. What it means is picking a practice, a team, a culture in which you will be more likely to thrive as a new grad and grow and develop into the top veterinary surgeon that you surely have the potential to be. Regardless of what you might feel, or believe, immediately post-graduation you are not the fully formed product. Nay! You are, or certainly should be, ‘day one competent.’ There is a reason that you are expected to complete the PDP (Professional Development Phase) after graduation and that is because there are still loads of things you will NOT be anywhere close to fully competent at doing. And thats ok. It’s normal. It’s expected. So, with this in mind I am sure we can agree that accepting a position to run a solo branch clinic as a fresh-faced newbie with little to no support or meaningful guidance from the older, more experienced vets, does not necessarily lead to a smooth learning curve towards year one competency. What it almost certainly does guarantee is the mother of all baptisms of fire and if you are the kind of person who feels that they learn best by jumping into the ring and just start swinging, or find the whole ‘Sink or Swim’ philosophy appealing then a sole-charge position may be the one you do want. My first job, whilst being part of a larger clinic and technically not 100% solo, did see me mostly based out in one of the group’s satellite clinics, where we had a more limited set of diagnostics tools, a piss-poor surgical set-up and probably THE worst X-ray machine and processor ever that made me actually hate any case that required an X-ray to be taken (that’s a lot of the standard caseload!). Whilst I coped, relying on what I did know, what I could pick up along the way from books, online and colleagues, I know now that I would have developed into a far more competent, well-rounded, omni-skilled vet – and, if truth be told, enjoy my job more – had I spent my really formative years working in a truly multi-vet environment, with high clinical standards, equipment and staff to meet them. Well run practices that think long-term recognise the true value in developing their new grads properly and invest time and resources into them. They will often reap the rewards down the line when that same new grad starts, as second nature, to work cases up properly, fully utilising a range of skills and knowledge to maximum effect for their clients, patients and the clinic. So it might take a little while to find this kind of practice but trust me, it is worth the wait. The alternative, which a lot of people opt for, whether they actually realise it at the time or not, is to take one of the first jobs offered, struggle for the first year and then quit, moving to another clinic, often a little more jaded about being a vet. And that is just sad. The other reason to really be selective is to ensure that you also choose somewhere where you’re going to enjoy living. Having a good salary doesn’t make up for living somewhere crap!

 

  • Sign up to SPVS to get the annual veterinary salary survey, and READ IT – make sure you actually enter the veterinary job market knowing your market worth and start your professional life on the best footing you can. For many of us the very idea of negotiating our salary, including ‘perks’ or extras such as the level of CPD allowance, is more terrifying than a 3am GDV (only marginally, mind) and most new grads will simply not attempt it, instead just accepting what is offered. It is rare that you will take a salary cut as your career progresses, unless you change to a part-time position or change direction entirely thus dropping down several rungs on the old career ladder, so why not do yourself a favour and try and start a little higher up the greasy pole? Knowing what the market generally says you are worth paying via salary surveys is a good starting point in any job hunt. Whilst we’re on this topic it wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world to maybe use some of that post-graduation downtime to read some good books on subjects that might not seem immediately relevant but that will actually pay dividends many times over. Books on topics such as negotiation, sales and basic psychology are not only interesting reads in their own right but will equip you with some highly valuable soft skills that can be applied to job hunting and can make your transition into a working professional smoother and more productive.

 

  • Be Confident of Your Worth – this naturally follows from the previous point but relates more to knowing why we charge what we do for our services and having the faith in your, and your profession’s, worth to avoid apologising to clients for it. It is a fact that you will be made to feel time and time again that you are a member of a “money-grabbing” profession who simply cares about profit over animal welfare. This charge, often spat at you when you are feeling at your lowest ebb, will come from clients who may well be frustrated, for whatever reason, legitimate or otherwise, but who have zero real appreciation for what it costs to provide top-class medical care and the fact that YOU are ridiculously highly trained and DESERVE to be paid reasonably for your skills, knowledge and service. I am as guilty as anyone of starting out in this game withering under these kinds of baseless attacks and finding myself nervously, awkwardly apologising for our prices being “expensive,” before feeling under pressure to cut costs, discount and generally acquiesce to unfair pressure. I have since developed a much tougher skin and fully appreciate both my worth and the worth of the profession, and of the wonderful service we provide. Business fact: without profit there is zero incentive to keep a business running, and veterinary clinics are no different. Having a building, medicines, surgical facilities, a skilled and dedicated team that is on hand round the clock to ensure animals, and their owners, have access to superb healthcare, does not happen by magic. Someone has to pay for it. If you believe that you should practice simply for the love of it then that is all well and good – go and work for a charity – but if you value the investment that you have made in your own training and the value of the service we provide then do NOT be bullied into apologising for what you do and what you charge to provide the service that you do. Of course some people will find the Gold Standard of care prohibitively expensive and may not have the luxury of insurance, or any other variation on the theme of not being able to meet the costs involved. We are, as a profession, sensitive to this fact and that is why as a professional you should be prepared to discuss all of the available options, including referral to charities, looking at less pricey (but often less effective) treatment options or, in the event of ‘treat or the animal suffers’ cases, offering euthanasia. As hard as it will be to remember this fact, it is NOT your fault or responsibility if the owner in question does not want to entertain any of the other options offered and still insists on the Gold Standard but without wanting to pay. You are not a money-grabber. You are not a bad person. You are not disinterested in animals. Quite the contrary – every one of us could have gone off and earned multiples of what we do in different industries and probably with less stress. You simply have confidence in your own worth and that of your profession. It is worth noting at this point that the vast majority of the clients you meet will appreciate and value the good work you do. That cannot and should not be understated.

 

  • Be nice to nurses – well, you should be nice to everyone, obviously, but especially nurses as they very much hold the power to make your life as a vet, and especially a new grad, either awesomely awesome or miserable. They will know loads of super useful things way beyond the academics of being a vet, such as how to actually, safely hold a cat for you to examine, blood sample or the like without sustaining injury, and will be able to let you in on those little tips and tricks that are specific to the clinic in which you actually work and that can help to smooth the flow of the work-day. Aside from just being a decent person, polite, respectful and all that obvious stuff, you might find that mucking in and making the odd round of teas or actually cleaning out that shitty kennel that you happen to be the first person to see, rather than walk past and pretend you didn’t, will go a long way to ingratiating you as a genuine member of the team. In fact, just remembering the old adage “behave as you would want others to behave towards you” is a simple way of putting it.

 

  • Develop interests/ a social life OUTSIDE of work – one of the biggest culture shocks to most new vets is the fact that we all go from being part of a pretty sizeable family, getting to see your mates every day, to often finding that you live miles away from both them and your family. Throw in the inevitable stresses that accompany starting work and the fact that you are now professionally responsible for what you do, plus lengthy working days and it is easy to see how one can quietly slip into a bit of a social rut or depressing cycle of ‘work-home-bed-work.’ Ensuring that you have an interest, hobby or social outlet outside of the clinic and that can serve as a healthy outlet for the stress et al of a vet’s working life will keep you sane, balanced and happy. Vets have an alarmingly high rate of depression, alcoholism (often started at vet school if my observations are any guide) and suicide, with the fact that the job can be quite isolating and lonely on a lot of occasions. Coupled with the sudden change in circumstance from being part of a big, social group of like-minded people to being out there in the world on your own can contribute to a deleterious cycle. Whether it be sport, or music, or art, or a whole host of other activities and interests, please do either continue to pursue them or develop one as soon as possible after moving to your new home.

 

  • Treat yourself when you get your first salary payment – there is no sweeter feeling than being able to buy yourself something that you’ve always really wanted and that you can now afford. A big TV? A new car, perhaps? Or a holiday? Whatever it is that you will truly enjoy splurging on now that you can afford to enjoy doing so when you get your first payslip. It’s wonderful and screams out “I have arrived!” Savour the feeling of spending power and throw caution to the wind before you have to become all grown up by moving onto more responsible attitudes to your money.

 

  • Save & Start a Pension – yes, yes, I know. I have actually typed those words and have instantly turned myself into a granddad in your eyes! Well, if thats the price I have to pay for offering really good advice then so be it. And it is awesome advice. Probably some of the best advice you will ever get. As much as you will not want to think about it the inescapable truth is that you will age and you will eventually want to do such things as retire, or maybe buy a house, or get married. You know, the kind of things that old people do but that you will end up doing too before you’ve had time to realise it. I am sure that you want to have a great standard of living when you finally stop working – I know I do – and that the likelihood of there even being such a thing as a state pension by the time we get there is pretty much zero. As such, you NEED to make provisions for your latter years and the truth is that the earlier you start the sooner you can begin to take advantage of one of the most powerful forces there is: COMPOUNDING. I won’t go into an in-depth definition of what compounding is here – you can Google it – but suffice to say that it is awesome and can be the difference between you eating baked beans everyday as a pensioner or living the good life. The key with compounding is time and so the earlier you start saving, and especially contributing to a pension scheme, then the more you will benefit from it. Establishing good habits – and we all know that saving IS a good habit – early can quickly lead to them becoming just that: habits. As in something we do without really giving it much thought. As in automatic. If you’re anything like me then without making a conscious, early decision to put aside a certain, fixed percentage of my salary automatically and regularly, I would probably just feel it burning a hole in my pocket and be the proud owner of even more Apple products than I already am! The fact that a set amount just disappears out of my account as soon as it lands in there and goes towards something with long-term benefit to me, means that I essentially do not even miss it because it was as if it was never really mine anyway. As such, my monthly budget is based on what I keep and it is amazing how I have adapted to this smaller amount quite happily. Having money saved regularly also means that should you wish to make a larger, discretionary spend, such as an awesome holiday, or maybe even need some ready cash in an emergency, it is already there courtesy of your good, early habits. That is incredibly liberating. So, start a regular savings plan as soon as you start earning and as much as it will feel like it is something that someone of your age has no place doing book an appointment to speak with a pensions advisor. (NB: I really, really wish we could change the word and use something other than ‘pension.’ It just has certain automatic connotations that I strongly believe serves to put young people off the very idea).

 

There are doubtless many more bits of advice that will see you sail smoothly from the life of an aspiring student to that of hard-working professional so feel free to suggest your own below. In the meantime, enjoy your success and good luck with whatever is next in this insane journey we call life.

Night Shifts – All Bad?

The list of probable detriments to one’s health of working nights makes for rather grim reading, from an increased risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and even accelerated ageing of the brain. I was vaguely aware of the research that supported the claims that working night shifts was ultimately bad for us back in the UK when I used to do a lot of overnight veterinary shifts for Vets Now, the out-of-hours provider, and always downplayed the message by telling myself that “I am only doing it occasionally.” The fact that I now find myself coming to the end of a 7-day run of 12-hour night shifts, again, in a veterinary capacity, has inspired me to revisit the subject.
The advantages of working nights – and there are some for sure – are compelling, in my current case the main one being that in exchange for working 7 days in a row (or nights if I am going to be accurate) I get 7 days off. For anyone who is used to working in a normal capacity that equates to having some decent annual leave every two weeks, which kind of rocks! I for one know that I can make really great use of that kind of continuous ‘free time,’ engaging in fun activities when the rest of the world is slaving away at the office and working on my own projects on a schedule of my choosing. Bliss indeed.
The main advantages of night shifts, specifically in the veterinary sector, are the following:
  • Drip on hospital cage
    From in-patients to emergencies & OOH consults, there is usually a steady stream of cases & decisions to be made during night shifts.

    Autonomy & independence – the camaraderie of working with other vets during the day is great and it is always good to have others to bounce ideas off. However, long-term the danger is that always being able to “check things” with a colleague can lead to a slow erosion of the ability and confidence to truly think and act independently. With night shifts, where it is usually only ever a single vet in charge, there are no others to check in with. Assessments need to be made and decisions executed based on what I believe to be best practice. If I don’t know something then of course I can, and do, check in with trusted sources of information but ultimately I am the one who has to decide and act on a variety of unique cases and clinical situations. Although it can be scary at times, such as my first night on that saw me presented with an aged Boxer dog that seizured pretty much continuously all night, the confidence that gradually comes from relying on your own ability to process information, apply knowledge and skill and ultimately make decisions and take actions that have real outcomes is empowering. For this reason alone I think that doing some night work is very valuable for all clinicians.

 

  • Variety – we see and hear it all during the graveyard shifts, that’s for sure! From the full-on emergency requiring all hands-to-the-deck, to the varied hospital cases that seem to swing from one state to another almost by the hour, consults for ultimately simple complaints to downright bizarre calls, we do get variety in our lives. Often the main challenges presented during the night are the human ones, with the most unusual calls coming in, such as one we had at 2am from a lady concerned about whether her sister’s dog was in pain after having been neutered a couple of days ago. My nurse spoke for a short while with said lady before offering an appointment at which point she informed her that the dog was actually in Scotland! (nb: we are in Dubai!) Another classic night-time call is often from an owner who has been sitting on a pet health issue for the last week only to decide that now, in the wee small hours of the morning, is the time to seek advice and assistance and to then act surprised when the cost of being seen is pointed out to be higher than during the day. Just plain odd. Again, from a training in how to deal with people and communicate standpoint, night shifts are an invaluable learning environment. Either that or fertile anecdote-mining terrain for the next book!

 

  • Vet working at computerFree time – some nights are literally spent working for the entire time, such as the aforementioned fitting dog scenario, whereas a lot of the time things do tend to quieten down after midnight meaning that there is an opportunity to catch up with paperwork, do some CPD or even just indulge in some more light-hearted pastimes such as reading. As someone who is generally busy working on all sorts of personal projects, having the time to sit down during the night is one of the main draws of working these shifts. Of course there is always the risk that a call will come in or something will change with an in-patient, requiring you to switch attention, but generally it seems that there is time available.

 

  • The filtering effect of the higher consult prices – it costs more to be seen out-of-hours, the reason being that our costs of providing a service overnight are higher than during the normal working day. The advantage of this fact is that it can, and does, serve as a very effective filter for those genuine emergencies versus those cases where the pet can either wait to be seen when the clinic is running with a full team and the real time wasters. It never ceases to amaze me how what is initially dialled in as a “real emergency” that simply “must be seen NOW” quickly becomes “oh, its okay – I’ll see how we go overnight and then see the vet in the morning,” once the cost of the overnight consult fee is made clear.

 

  • Leaving as everyone else arrives – despite being tired and very much looking forward to hitting the sack, there is a satisfaction that accompanies being able to head out the door, past everyone else in the world who is heading in the opposite direction to start their working day. One might call it a sense of smugness.

 

  • Time off – we touched upon this primary perk above, with the main point being that the reward for working a full week of long night shifts is an entire week completely off work. Brilliant!
The price? Well, there is the small matter of the week of night shifts to get through. No pleasure without pain, eh?! So what exactly is the “pain” of night work anyway?
Dark corridor
It can feel odd being up when the rest of the world sleeps

Our bodies and brains just aren’t used to functioning optimally during the entire night and regardless of the amount of sleep one tries to get during the day it never feels as though it is enough, meaning that, for me anyway, I have spent the last week feeling somewhat jet-lagged. The worst periods are the hours during which I am actually writing this now: 2am – 4am, the real ‘dead of night,’ when every fibre of my being is screaming at me to close my eyes and just switch off. The evidence shows that the body and brain changes state during these hours, meaning that even the food we eat during the night is processed differently to if it was consumed during daylight hours. Increased long-term risk of developing conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity are recognised sequelae. Although there are plenty of articles and sources of advice on how to “adapt” to night shifts, the truth is that you never really “adapt,” especially if you then adjust back to a normal routine. One of our nurses who works nights has actually converted to a pretty much permanent state of nocturnal being, continuing to stay up all night and sleep during the day even on her off weeks, so maybe she has managed to adapt over time but that is not something most of us would be happy to do.

The disruption to the normal rhythm of my life is the main thing I have noticed during the last week, with it proving difficult to really continue exercising normally. By the time I get home in the morning, all I really want to do is get some breakfast and get to bed. Even if I did decide to exercise in the morning, driving to the gym would be dangerous in my sleep-deprived state and although I could choose to perhaps go for a run outside, I feel that I am simply in danger of giving my body very mixed signals by elevating my heart rate whilst it is getting lighter to then expect it to settle into a state of sleep a short while later. As such, by the time I have managed a few hours of interrupted sleep, there is little real drive or time to exercise before grabbing some food and preparing to head back in for the next shift. One thing I am very much looking forward to with a return to normal daytime living is a normal exercise routine!
Socially, night shifts can be isolating with the fact that you sleep whilst others are awake and vice versa making it difficult to maintain a healthy social life during the actual night shift period. Of course there are your night-time colleagues to chat and hang out with but given that nights are usually staffed by a significantly smaller team – such as one vet, one nurse, one receptionist and one animal care assistant – and the fact that it is usually the same people who simply rotate, the truth is that you end up spending a lot of time with the same people. I am not saying that is necessarily a bad thing – after all, I work with awesome people – but given the rather carousel nature of night shifts, social interactions can start to feel very limited in scope. Again, there is the silver lining of the following week off but getting to see friends properly only every second week can, I can see, get testing for all parties.
Okay, so we’ve established some of the pros and cons of working nights. What about the actual logistics? How do you actually prepare for, manage and then readjust from working nights? All I can offer is personal experience and the tips that I have picked up from doing some independent research, but generally I find the following works:

PREPARING FOR NIGHT WORK:
  • Try to get a little sleep directly before the first night on duty, even if it’s only a couple of hours of rest, preferably in the dark. You’ll still feel tired during the shift, especially during the very early hours, but psychologically I find it better than trying to go straight from being a ‘day-walker’ into being a creature of the night.

 

  • Prepare some healthy, wholesome food to take in to work, preferably something you can heat up and have as a ‘proper meal.’ The temptation with night work is to snack, especially on the kind of crap that you wouldn’t normally indulge in often. Snacking on junk combined with the stresses of already being awake all night will gradually have a detrimental effect on your health. Eating decent food is one thing that you can control and giving your stressed body and brain the right kind of fuel will make the process so much less damaging in the long run.

 

  • Take something to do during those ‘quieter’ periods. I always go into nights expecting to be busy all night, with any ‘free time’ ultimately being seen as a bonus. I find this approach much easier to cope with psychologically than going in expecting to have free time only to get all pissed off when I find that 1am emergency rocking up. Whether you take in some reading, a movie or some project work to do, having something on hand to focus on during the occasional lulls will help keep you awake and stave off the attack of the drowsies!

 

  • Get in early so that you’re not rushing and feeling flustered before you start, especially if you then end up heading into a busy night. I personally like to arrive about 30 minutes before my shift, change into my work clothes actually at work and maybe even kick back for ten minutes before heading upstairs to find out what fun-and-games await me.
DURING THE NIGHT SHIFT:
  • Expect to feel tired at some point, even as you get further into the week. I have not had a single night over the past seven days where I have not felt the strong desire to curl up and sleep at about 2am. There isn’t really any way around it unless you choose to make use of stimulants such as caffeine, although I don’t recommend it as a) you simply end up elevating your heart rate, stressing your body at a time when every bit of it’s programming is telling it to be relaxed; and b) unless you process caffeine super rapidly you’ll likely screw yourself over for when it comes time to get your head down at the end of your shift. I do have a small coffee before heading in for my shift, as that would normally be part of my ‘breakfast’ routine, but otherwise I avoid caffeine for the rest of the 24 hour period.

 

  • Try and get some rest, even if it does just mean a 15 minute lie down. The restorative properties of simply remaining still and allowing the brain to rest, even for short periods, is established. It’s unlikely you’ll get to actually sleep so I wouldn’t bank on it and besides, any more than a 30 minute nap usually results in feelings of sluggishness and confusion when you come back around, so the apparent advantages don’t really seem to materialise.
AFTER THE SHIFT & BEFORE THE NEXT ONE:
  • Get a healthy breakfast, avoiding caffeine, and go through whatever morning routine suits you. I personally need about two hours to fully unwind from the shift, getting into bed by about 10am.

 

  • Assess whether you’re safe to drive. Extreme fatigue has been proven to have the same effect on driving ability, hazard awareness and reaction speeds as drinking, so if you do feel super tired in the morning then do yourself a favour and get a taxi home. Crashing your car on the way back home would be a really shitty way to end a shift.

 

  • GET SOME SLEEP! The bulk of the day should be given over to sleep, not to “getting things done,” as will be the temptation. Creating the right conditions for a decent sleep can help, from making the room as dark as possible or even wearing a mask, to turning the temperature of your room down a little. Even then, it is likely that you will not sleep as soundly, or for as long, as you would normally during the night but that is to be expected. I have aimed for at least 6 hours a day (10am to 4pm) and found that I have been waking naturally just before 4pm anyway. The first day of sleeping and then waking in the evening was odd and it took me a moment to remember what time of the day it was, which was a surreal, almost dream-like experience.

 

  • Turn off distractions such as phones. You’re much more likely to be disturbed by various notifications, messages and emails pinging continuously as they hit your phone during the day, especially given that you’ll likely be sleeping less heavily than normal, so turning off any such notifications is wise. Obviously the one notification you will want to ensure you hear is your alarm call and it is for this reason that I personally choose not to use ear plugs.
RE-JOINING THE DAY-CROWD:
The end of the loooooooong week of nights is finally over! Hurrah! Life can return to normal as you transition back to your usual routine.
  • Get a good breakfast, as with any day.

 

  • There are two techniques I discovered during my research that can aid in transitioning back to a normal day-centric routine:
    • Sleep for a few hours (e.g. 10am to 2pm) and then get an early night later in the evening, with a normal return to daytime routine the following day. This is the tactic I intend to employ.
    • Sleep through for 36 hours and write off the first day in order to start the following day on normal routine day mode.

 

  • Expect to feel a bit out of sorts for a couple of days. Much as jet lag can leave you feeling a bit weird for a day or two after returning from a long-haul trip, coming off nights can feel the same. Not to worry though: it’s normal.

 

  • Plan some awesome stuff to do during your time off and enjoy – you’ve earned it!
And for anyone who has actually done nights already….. you’ll know this scenario :p
Handover, dog, hospital
References:
Are Night Shifts Killing Me? – http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33638905

Dr, Dr….. Does it make any difference?

In December 2014 the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in the UK launched a consultation with it’s members, of which I am one, on the subject of whether UK-trained vets should be able to use the courtesy title ‘Doctor/ Dr.’ The main reasons, it is proposed, are that there is the risk of confusion among the public about the level of qualification of vets given that many non-UK trained vets do routinely use the ‘Dr’ title whereas we do not, and that people incorrectly assume that someone going by the title of Dr is clearly far more qualified than a professional who does not. The second reason is simply one of aligning ourselves with our fellow professionals internationally, most of whom do work with the title of Dr, as do I now that I practice in the UAE.
The issue of whether or not vets should, or should even want to, be addressed by the title of Dr raises questions of what exactly the benefits of doing so are. Does it confer any benefits to the holder? Would it be expected to change the professional standing or day to day life of UK vets if they were to suddenly be entitled to introduce themselves as “Dr So-and-so”? This is where the real interest lays in my opinion. The initial, knee-jerk response to the question is “well, of course we should! We ARE doctors!” But we’re not. We’re surgeons, which is traditionally why we never adopted the title. Look at our colleagues in the medical profession who do tread the surgical career boardwalk. They cannot wait until they qualify as surgeons and are able to shed the ‘Dr’ prefix. There seems, apparently, to be a certain degree of prestige associated with NOT being a doctor. Strange.
On the subject of whether it really makes a difference to our clients I question how much, if any, it really does. If the title were restricted to practitioners of the clinical medical sciences then fair enough, although it would still not differentiate between dentists, medical doctors and vets, or indeed any other practitioner who might make use of the prefix. The fact is that you go to physically seek out the services of one of the aforementioned, which then provides the strong clue as to what brand of ‘Dr’ you are getting – it is a context-dependent differentiation. If people are really that confused and that bothered – which I daresay they are not – then surely we should be proposing to make it really obvious that they are in fact dealing with a vet by adopting the professional title ‘Vet’ instead of ‘Dr.’ It would leave very little doubt in the mind of a client that you were in fact a qualified vet if you started your interaction with “Hi, I’m Vet Chris” as opposed to “Hi, I’m Doctor Chris.” To be honest, the fact that they were standing in my consult room in a vet clinic, probably with a sick animal in tow, might mean they get it regardless of the title used. Then, of course, there are all of the other non-medical peeps who are entitled to band about the ‘Dr’ title on account of having completed a doctorate at university. PhD in Political Science? You’re a doctor. Completed a thesis in Financial Modelling? You too are a doctor. Now that’s confusing!
Has it made any difference to me as a vet being able to introduce myself as a doctor? Personally, no. There was perhaps some initial feeling of pride at being able to do so and some clients do seem to respond to me and my colleagues with a degree of deference and respect that could be attributable to the title but my gut instinct says that these same clients would behave politely regardless of whether I was a Mr or Dr. They’re just nice, polite people who respect us for the professionals we are. I still get my fair share of difficult and downright rude and dismissive clients regardless of being known by the ‘Dr’ title. I suspect that my experience would mirror that of any UK colleagues, doctors or not.
So, are we really that bothered with the idea of being able to refer to ourselves as doctors? Sure, it’s fun in a smug, lets impress people at social gatherings, kind of way for a short period of time but it soon becomes just another unimportant thing that ultimately makes zero meaningful difference to our day to day professional lives. I would thus suggest that there are other more important things that we as a profession, and the RCVS as our governing body, could be devoting their time, effort and our money towards. For example, addressing the ongoing issues surrounding breed-related problems in dogs, or putting their weight behind campaigning for a fair milk price, or even just working more on educating the general public about what it is our profession does and it’s worth to society. Whether we call ourselves doctor or otherwise is not going to make these other issues go away. I have completed the RCVS consultation survey and made my views known. It will be interesting to hear the collective thoughts of the profession and general public in March, when the survey closes.
If you would like to read more about the proposal and offer your own point of view then you can via the RCVS page here: https://www.rcvs.org.uk/about-us/consultations/our-consultations/use-of-the-courtesy-title-dr-by-veterinary-surgeons/

Nothing is ever as simple as it first seems

Today served up one of those true examples of something not quite being as simple as one might initially have expected, this time in the form of a tricky case of hide and seek. Clinical hide and seek that is.

The afternoon saw a stray cat presented with a history of a swollen paw, with the concern being that it was broken. The fact that the cat was weight bearing and had a discharging wound on the front of the paw did make me doubt whether we were dealing with a fracture or, as I suspected, simply a bad case of infection on account of a cat fight. Anyway, the cat was duly tested for FeLV and FIV, both unfortunately common among the stray cat population, and was thankfully found to be negative for both. Examination of the paw under anaesthetic (it was too painful to examine thoroughly conscious) resulted in pus being expressed – so clearly an abscess was present – but there was something about the level of swelling that didn’t quite fit with a simple cat bite abscess. As such, x-

paw, cat, foreign body
You can see the object between the bones clearly on this view of the paw

rays were taken after all and the cause of the swelling and discharging tract soon identified: a small radio-opaque foreign body present in the paw, sitting, based on the views taken, right in between the metacarpal bones, the equivalent in humans being the bones in the main body of the hand. The object was suspected to be a tooth and was, according to the images, in line with the open puncture wound on the paw.

Consent was received from the owners to take the cat to surgery in order to remove the mystery item; a simple procedure that I would be able to complete within thirty minutes before my afternoon consults. Or so I thought. As is often the case in all walks of life, from professional veterinary practice to business, and life in general, the initial simple imagined scenario – ie, I open the wound a little, find said object quickly and heroically remove it from the paw thus effecting a rapid resolution of the cat’s problems – ended up being anything but. Do you think we could find the mystery object? No. No we could not! For what felt like ages I found myself frustratingly exploring the area, having to extend my initial incisions to open the region up more and all the while wondering why on earth I was not able to locate the offending article. Further radiography, this time making use of needles and the mobile dental x-ray unit in order to more accurately ascertain the precise coordinates of the object, which was very clearly visible on the films, eventually led me to see what ended up being the tiniest of pieces of tooth lodged firmly between the two middle metacarpal bones and virtually imperceptible to the naked eye. With the tip of what was clearly a cat canine tooth finally extracated from our patient’s paw, I was able to finally close the area, dress it and let the owner know the result.

My team of nurses were, as ever, superb and the entire operation ended up being a lot more challenging that any of us had initially imagined it would be. Thankfully the fact that the surgery took longer than anticipated was not a major issue as my colleague was able to handle consults whilst I rooted around delicately but purposefully in search of a biological needle in a fleshy haystack.

The main lessons that I took away from the experience include the fact that apparently simple situations can sometimes become more complicated or time consuming than first imagined and being prepared to cope with and adapt to changing circumstances is vital. Everyone on my team remained calm and acted in a really smooth and professional manner during the entire process and it ended up being a great example of effective teamwork. Remaining calm in a stressful situation is so vital as you need to be able to think clearly and make decisions, actions which are difficult if stress is at high levels. Trusting the evidence gathered is also important as in this case I knew that there had to be something to be found, due to the unequivocal radiographic evidence, meaning that persistence was simpler to adopt than if doubt had been allowed to creep into the scenario.

All in all, a testing afternoon but ultimately a triumph of appropriate clinical process, access to decent, reliable diagnostic equipment, trust in one’s own ‘gut instinct, and the superb dynamics of a great team. A great result all round, with a more comfortable and happy patient as a result.

Dubai Vet Exam

I have had a few people ask me about the exam that one has to sit in order to become registered as a veterinarian here in Dubai. As such I thought it would be a good idea to write a short piece on exactly that subject and hopefully answer many of the recurring questions that crop up.

NOTE/ DISCLAIMER: The following was correct, as far as I was aware, at the time that I experienced the exam process. Like much here in Dubai, processes are subject to change, often abrupt, and so no guarantees can be made on current accuracy or validity of the following. As ever, you are encouraged to do your own independent research and discuss your specific requirements with your employer (current or prospective) or to clarify matters directly with the relevant Ministry.

What?

To become registered officially as a veterinarian here in Dubai, which permits you to work in a solo capacity in a clinic, the Ministry requires vets to apply for and sit the official exam. Eligibility for this is determined on the basis of having completed and satisfied all of the registration/ licensing requirements, such as demonstrating evidence of 5 years veterinary post-graduate work experience (for non UAE nationals).

When?

The exams seem to run about once per month. There is little point, however, of applying to sit it until you are confident that you have all of the licensing requirements ticked off.

Where?

I sat mine at the Ministry that deals with veterinary licensing, which happened to be the Ministry of Environment and Water.

What does it involve?

It was about an hour in length, although it was easily possible to complete it in less time. There were essentially three sections:

1. Short questions on the relevant laws and bylaws, pertaining to the practice of veterinary in the UAE.

2. Short questions of a clinical nature, especially focusing on diseases of a zoonotic and notifiable nature. There were also some basic questions on subjects such as the TPR (temperature, pulse and respiration rates) for species such as dogs, cats, camels and cattle.

3. Long questions, of no more than a single side of A4. There were two of these in my exam, asking me to outline the signs, epidemiology, treatment and cause of certain notifiable diseases, such as TB. Having a basic overview of the various notifiables, as listed in the Ministry guidelines, is essential for passing this exam.

How hard is it?

Honestly? Not very. Assuming, of course, that you have actually bothered to do some revision and go in with the relevant knowledge, even if at a superficial level. Personally, I was not convinced that my answers were anything other than average at best when I left the exam, but I passed, so feel confident that unless you do no work in advance or have a complete meltdown in the exam, you’ll pass.

How quickly did you get your results?

I found out whether I had passed within two weeks, so very quickly.

Did you get anything after passing? A certificate?

Um, no. Just a feeling of relief that it was over and, once I had passed, that I was able to practice as a vet.

I have included a downloadable PDF here of the revision notes that I compiled and used to prepare for my exam. Again, I make no guarantees regarding this content and provide it merely as a learning aid. You are ultimately responsible for your own learning and preparation so if you don’t pass then don’t blame me 🙂
You can access it here: Dubai Ministry Vet Exam Notes

Vet is much like working in a Startup

This week has made me realise something that I had long suspected: being a vet is very much like being a start-up entrepreneur, or certainly an employee of one. This idea crystallized in my mind after watching the fascinating and very motivating documentary “The Startup Kids,” which takes a look at a number of tech start-ups and their founders, a subject that I have always been utterly fascinated by.

What characteristics or features of working as a vet do I consider to be in parallel to being involved in a start-up? I reckon the following merit mention….

  1. Multiple Simultaneous Roles – I have oft advised potential new vets that a career as a veterinarian is not simply a matter of wearing the “fixer of sick and maintainer of healthy animals” hat. The truth is that most days involve us having to swap our various hats more often than a lady at Ladies Day at Royal Ascot. In any given day we could act as doctor, negotiator, team-leader, social worker, financial planner, debt collector, psychologist, gymnast, electrician/ mechanic, inventor, problem-solver extraordinaire, confidante, sprinter, weight-lifter, endurance athlete, receptionist, diplomat, surgeon, clairvoyant, magician and, at times we are also expected to be both super heroes and miracle workers! Only the other day I found myself spending a good hour taking on the unexpected role of financial problem solver, empathetic negotiator and fiscal planner whilst carefully navigating the options for a possible payment plan structure for a client who clearly could not afford the required treatment for their pet but didn’t wish to consider euthanasia of said injured animal. I am no financial planner but found myself having to assume the role, liasing between various members of the clinic team and the client in the process. Fixing the animals, it seems, tends to be the easiest bit of being a vet.
  2. Small Dynamic Team Players – Most vets work in relatively small clinics as members of small, focused teams, with de-lineated roles such as vets, nurses and reception team. Working so closely with so few people in what is often a high pressure and rapidly changing environment is very akin to that seen in most start-ups and whilst highly stressful at times can lead to superb examples of team-work and extraordinary results. I think back to the example I had when a rabbit we were anaesthetising suddenly went into cardiac arrest (ie died!) and as a direct result of superb teamwork involving skilled, focused and motivated professionals we were able to resurrect said bunny!
  3. Cope with Caos & Rapid Growth – Think that your vet spends their day floating along from one kitten consult to the next puppy on a cloud of serene tranquility? Think again. In many busy clinics the hectic schedule kicks off the second you arrive (usually early) to the minute you finally exit the building (usually late), with the spectre of the unexpected always lurking around the corner and with every phone call. This level of (organised?) chaos is amplified if you happen to be in a rapidly growing clinic, with new clients and their new and newer animals rolling in. Embrace the chaos! We do.
  4. Work to Tough Deadlines & Multi-task like a Juggler – Can you spay a cat quicker than it takes to spell cat? No? Well you’ll quickly learn. Especially when you cop a look at the ops list for the day as it spills off the board and starts streaming down the wall. But no worries as you can just keep going as there are no consults in the afternoo….. oh, wait… yes, there are. Vets work to deadlines all day long and swap out roles as mentioned above like a juggler on a Red Bull infusion.
  5. Lunch? What lunch?! – One really cool feature of most tech start-ups that I frequently read about is that many place real value on taking breaks, especially lunch, to catch their collective breath and hang out with colleagues, with many of their best ideas often coming out of this time. I make no secret of the fact that I value my lunch highly and can become a tad grumpy if and when I am denied it. The most productive people I know are those who are actively encouraged to tune out and re-fuel, even if it’s not for very long. Ironman races see athletes encouraged to re-fuel – in fact, not refueling would quickly lead to poor performance and probably failure. So I don’t see why it should be any different in our industry which has unfortunately seemed to collectively hold on to this “lunch/ breaks are optional” mentality. Start-ups know that rested, fueled team members usually perform awesomely and I am convinced that vets, nurses and the rest of the team are no different. When it does happen then I have seen how awesome team spirit and performance can be.
  6. Super Flexible – Part of the excitement of being involved in a start-up is that it’s never always possible to predict exactly what is going to happen. Vet clinics are the same, as previously mentioned, with a new emergency or challenge literally a phone call or walk-in away. We have all been in situations where our manageable consult or surgical list has suddenly been thrown into disarray by an unexpected event and the ability to be super-adaptable and flexible to a dynamic work environment is key to being a successful vet, as it is to being a start-up team member.

I daresay that there are many other examples and feel free to add any you can think of. In the meantime I am off to grab some lunch.

Wise Words from a Funny Man

Tim MinchinThe internet serves up a veritable daily junk food diet of funnies, thought provokers and, most of the time, total procrastination promoters, most of which get quickly forgotten once the initial entertainment hit has been enjoyed. Occasionally, however, something gets posted online that really resonates and whose message sticks with you. That was what happened when I clicked through and watched Tim Minchin’s commencement address to graduates at the University of Western Australia a few weeks ago. It manages to both entertain and deliver some really important messages in one bespectacled, flouncy haired hit. Well done that man! Loved it so much that I wanted to share it on my own blog.

Tim Minchin’s commencement address,

University of Western Australia, Perth

(upon receiving an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters)

September 17, 2013

 

“In darker days, I did a corporate gig for a big company who made and sold accounting software.  In a bid I presume to inspire their sales people to greater heights. They forked out twelve grand for an inspirational speaker who was this “extreme sports” guy who had had a couple of his limbs frozen off when he got stuck on a ledge on some mountain.  It was weird!  Software sales people, I think, need to hear from someone who has had a long, successful and happy career in software sales, not from an overly-optimistic mountaineer.  Some poor guy who had arrived in the morning hoping to learn more about sales techniques ended up going home worried more about the blood flow to his extremities.  It’s not inspirational, it’s confusing.  And if the mountain was meant to be a symbol of life’s challenges, and the loss of limbs a metaphor for sacrifice, the software guy’s not going to get it, is he?  Because he didn’t do an Arts degree, did he?  [laughter]  He should have — Arts degrees are awesome, and they help you find meaning where there is none.  And let me assure you, there is none.  [laughter]  Don’t go looking for it!  Looking for meaning is like looking for a rhyme scheme in a cookbook — you won’t find it, and it’ll bugger up your soufflé.  If you didn’t like that metaphor, you won’t like the rest of it.

 

Point being, I’m not an inspirational speaker, I’ve never lost a limb on a mountainside, metaphorically or otherwise, and I’m not here to give career advice, because I’ve never had what most consider “a job”.  However, I have had large groups of people listen to what I say for quite a few years now, and it’s given me an inflated sense of self-importance.  So I will now, at the ripe old age of 37.9, bestow upon you nine life lessons, to echo of course the nine lessons and carols of the traditional Christmas service, which is also pretty obscure.  You might find some of this stuff inspiring, you’ll definitely find some of it boring, and you’ll definitely forget all of it within a week.  And be warned, there’ll be lots of hokey similes and obscure aphorisms that start well and end up making no sense.  So listen up, or you’ll get lost, like a blind man clapping in a pharmacy trying to echo-locate the contact lens fluid.  [turns around]  Looking for my old poetry teacher…

 

Here we go!  Ready?

 

One: you don’t have to have a dream.    Americans on talent shows always talk about their dreams.  Fine — if you have something you’ve always wanted to do, [funny voice] dreamed of, like in your heart, go for it.  After all, it’s something to do with your time — chasing a dream — and if it’s a big enough one, it’ll take you most of our life to achieve, so by the time you get to it, and are staring into the meaninglessness of your achievement, you’ll be almost dead, so it won’t matter.  I never really had one of these dreams, and so I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals.  Be micro-ambitious – put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you.  You never know where you might end up.  Just be aware, the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery, which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams — if you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out of the corner of your eye.

 

All right? Good!  Advice, metaphor — look at me go!

 

Two: don’t seek happiness.  Happiness is like an orgasm.  If you think about it too much, it goes away.  Keep busy and aim to make someone else happy, and you might get some as a side effect.  We didn’t evolve to be constantly content.  Contented homo erectus got eaten before passing on their genes.

 

Three: remember, it’s all luck.  We are lucky to be here.  You are incalculably lucky to be born, and incredibly lucky to be brought up by a nice family that helped you to get educated and encourage you to go to uni.  Or, if you’re born into a horrible family, that’s unlucky and you have my sympathy, but you’re still lucky — lucky that you happen to be made of the sort of DNA that went on to make the sort of brain which when placed in a horrible childhood environment would make decisions that meant you eventually ended up graduating uni.  Well done you for dragging yourself up by your shoelaces, but you were lucky — you didn’t create the bit of you that dragged you up, they’re not even your shoelaces.  I suppose I’ve worked hard to achieve whatever dubious achievements I’ve achieved, but I didn’t make the bit of me that works hard, any more than I made the bit of me that ate too many burgers instead of attending lectures when I was here at U.W.A.  Understanding that you can’t truly take credit for your successes, nor truly blame others for their failures, will humble you and make you more compassionate.  Empathy is intuitive, but is also something you can work on intellectually.

 

Four: exercise!  I’m sorry, you pasty, pale, smoking philosophy grads, arching your eyebrows into a Cartesian curve as you watch the Human Movement mob wind their way through the miniature traffic cones of their existence.  You are wrong, and they are right.  Well, you’re half right — you think, therefore you are, but also you jog, therefore you sleep, therefore you’re not overwhelmed by existential angst.  You can’t be Kant, and you don’t want to be.  Play a sport, do yoga, pump iron, run, whatever, but take care of your body — you’re going to need it.  Most of you mob are going to live to nearly a hundred, and even the poorest of you are going to achieve a level of wealth that most humans throughout history could not have dreamed of.  And this long, luxurious life ahead of you is going to make you depressed.  But don’t despair!  There is an inverse correlation between depression and exercise.  Do it!  Run, my beautiful intellectuals, run!

 

Five: be hard on your opinions.  A famous bon mot asserts that opinions are like arseholes, in that everyone has one.  There is great wisdom in this, but I would add that opinions differ significantly from arseholes, in that yours should be constantly and thoroughly examined.  [laughter]  I used to take exams in here!  It’s revenge.  We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others.  Be hard on your beliefs — take them out on the veranda and hit them with a cricket bat.  Be intellectually rigorous.  Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privileges.  Most of society’s arguments are kept alive by a failure to acknowledge nuance.  We tend to generate false dichotomies, then argue one point using two entirely different sets of assumptions, like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully-executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts.  By the way, while I have science and arts graduates in front of me, please don’t make the mistake of thinking the arts and sciences are at odds with one another.   That is a recent, stupid, and damaging idea.  You don’t have to be unscientific to make beautiful art, to make beautiful things.  If you need proof: Twain, Douglas Adams, Vonnegut, McEwan, Sagan, Shakespeare, Dickens, for a start.  You don’t need to be superstitious to be a poet, you don’t need to hate GM technology to care about the beauty of the planet, you don’t have to claim a soul to have compassion.  Science is not a body of knowledge, nor a belief system — it is just a term that describes humankind’s incremental understanding through observation.  Science is awesome.  The arts and sciences need to work together to improve how knowledge is communicated.  The idea that many Australians, including our new P.M. and my distant cousin Nick Minchin believe, that the science of anthropogenic global warming is controversial, is a powerful indication of the extent of our failure to communicate.  The fact that thirty percent of the people in this room just bristled is further evidence still.  The fact that that bristling is more to do with politics than science is even more despairing.

 

Six: be a teacher.  Please, please be a teacher!  Teachers are the most admirable people in the world.  You don’t have to do it forever, but if you’re in doubt about what to do, be an amazing teacher.  Just through your twenties, be a teacher.  Be a primary school teacher, especially if you’re a bloke — we need male primary school teachers.  Even if you’re not a teacher, be a teacher.  Share your ideas, don’t take for granted your education, rejoice in what you learned, and spray it.

 

Seven: define yourself by what you love.   I found myself doing this thing a bit recently where if someone asks me what sort of music I like, I say I don’t listen to the radio because pop song lyrics annoy me, or if someone asks me what food I like I say I think truffle oil is over-used and slightly obnoxious.  And I see it all the time on-line — people whose idea of being part of a subculture is to hate Coldplay or football or feminists or the Liberal Party.  We have a tendency to define ourselves in opposition to stuff — as a comedian, I make my living out of it.  But try to express also your passion for things you love.  Be demonstrative and generous in your praise of those you admire.  Send thank-you cards and give standing ovations — be pro-stuff, not just anti-stuff.

 

Eight: respect people with less power than you.  I have, in the past, made important decisions about people I work with — agents and producers — big decisions, based largely on how they treat the wait-staff in the restaurants we’re having the meeting in.  I don’t care if you’re the most powerful cat in the room, I will judge you based on how you treat the least powerful.  So there.

 

Nine: finally, don’t rush.  You don’t need to already know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life.  I’m not saying, sit around smoking cones all day, but also, don’t panic.  Most people I know who were sure of their career path at twenty are having mid-life crises now.  I said at the beginning of this ramble, which is already three and a half minutes long, that life is meaningless.  It was not a flippant assertion.  I think it’s absurd, the idea of seeking meaning in the set of circumstances that happen to exist out of thirteen point eight billion years worth of unguided events.  Leave it to humans to think that the universe has a purpose for them.  However, I am no nihilist, I am not even a cynic — I am actually rather romantic.  And here’s my idea of romance: you’ll soon be dead.  Life will sometimes seem long and tough, and God, it’s tiring, and you will sometimes be happy and sometimes sad, and then you’ll be old, and then you’ll be dead.  There is only one sensible thing to do with this empty existence, and that is, fill it.  Not “fillet”, fill it.  And in my opinion, until I change it, life is best filled by learning as much as you can about as much as you can, taking pride in whatever you’re doing, sharing ideas, running, being enthusiastic.  And then there’s love and travel and wine and sex and art and kids and giving and mountain climbing, but you know all that stuff already.  It’s an incredibly exciting thing, this one, meaningless life of yours!  Good luck!  And thank you for indulging me.”

 

 

Vetting in Dubai – How did I get here?

I have been asked a number of times how to go about seeking employment as a vet in Dubai. I have endeavoured to set out the basic process as I understand it, but it is worth bearing in mind that the processes and requirements are very much subject to change, and may indeed change very suddenly. Any good potential employer will be able to assist you in getting registered properly, and you should perhaps be cautious if they suggest that you have to do it all yourself.

So, how did I go about getting a job out here? Well……

1. I found the job advertised on a UK veterinary job agency – the job sounded interesting, Dubai sounded fun and I wanted to do some more skydiving. So I enquired. Simples. Another option could have been to send an email with my CV to the vets in Dubai, enquiring about any potential vacancies, although unless they’re actively advertising

2. Interview via Skype – once my CV was reviewed by the clinic, a Skype interview was arranged so that we could have a bit of a general chat initially. The registration process was explained to me in addition to learning about the clinic and, probably most importantly of all, just a chance to get to chat to the clinic owners.

3. Offer – I obviously did something right during the Skype interview as I was offered the position (pending successful submission of the relevant registration documents) and so the whole process of moving to Dubai began.

4. Registration – in order to work legally as a fully registered vet in the UAE, I had to complete various steps, which took a few months to complete. The first criteria, however, was that I had to have a minimum of 5 year’s experience as a veterinary surgeon. The process was:

Notarise copies of my education certificates (from GCSE right through to degree), official university transcripts and letters from my previous employers over the past 5 years. This was done by my local solicitor.

– The documents above were then sent to the UK Embassy in London to be legalised by my home Government before being submitted to the UAE Embassy to do the same.

– Once legalised, the documents were sent to Dubai and I then traveled out to submit my education documents in person in Abu Dhabi. Once that was done, it was a case of waiting to hear that I was being granted my labour visa before flying out to start.

– After landing in Dubai, one of the first things I had to do was have a medical, which involved a blood test and chest X-ray. This is standard and was all ok.

– The final step in getting fully registered was to sit the ministry exam, a short hour long test sat in person at the ministry. Once this was passed then I was fully registered and good to go 🙂

As I have already said, the process that I went through took several months and the rules are subject to change, so I would thoroughly recommend you check things with any clinic that you are looking to be employed by. Also, I was not expected to do any of the registration myself here in Dubai, which was good as it is quite a confusing process and can involve a lot of back and forth between various ministries, something that as a new arrival in Dubai would have been very very stressful. Thankfully, my employers handled everything on my behalf and were really supportive, and guided me whenever there was anything that I had to do in person. I would therefore be a little cautious of any potential employer who advises you to head over to Dubai before a lot of the pre-registration work has been done or who tells you that you need to go over and do it all yourself, as at least one person I know had to do. It took her months and a lot of headaches to finally get registered.

Anyway, hope this is of help and interest. Good luck and maybe see you in Dubai 🙂