Category Archives: Careers

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

Veterinary with an International Flavour

La Facultad de Veterinaria, MadridWhat is veterinary like in other countries? This is a question that I am sure most of us interested or actively engaged in the profession have asked ourselves at least once in our lives. The opportunity to answer such a question often comes in the decision to undertake voluntary charity work with animals overseas, often in underprivileged parts of the world where the resources available are significantly fewer than the relative luxury we are used to in the UK. But what of our more developed neighbours and veterinary partners? What goes on in their neck of the woods? I had the chance to peek under the hood, as it were, when I was in Madrid recently after deciding that I wanted to check out the Madrid vet school. Some might argue that taking time out of a holiday to go and seek out more vets is a little sad but I disagree and in fact the experience was richly rewarding on a number of levels.

I was aware that Madrid University had a vet school and had decided before heading out for a few days that I wanted, if possible, to arrange just a short visit, purely on account of being nosey really. Being able to speak a little Spanish, I promptly pinged off an email asking politely if it were possible to arrange a visit. Unfortunately – likely on account of the email address I used being a ‘general vet school’ address, which probably meant my email ended up lost in a sea of other messages and promptly deleted – I didn’t receive any response. Next plan was to give the vet school a call once over in Spain and make polite enquiries, which I did. Now, although I can speak Spanish and my understanding isn’t too bad, I do have difficulties understanding conversations on the phone. As a result my phone call ended in an awkward silence and the phone being replaced on the receiver, with me none the wiser as to whether my introduction of “Hola. Me llamo Chris y soy veterinario de Ingleterra. Yo estoy en este momento en Madrid en vacaciones y quisiera visitar la facultad de veterinaria si posible,” was received positively or with indifference.

Not ready to be beaten I made the decision to head out to the university campus, a short metro trip out of the main centre of Madrid, and find the vet school in order that I might ask in person and hopefully get my wish of a tour. Of course, Murphy’s Law stated that the faculty of veterinary science was the one department the furthest away on the outskirts of the campus, and so a fairly decent walk, which very nearly saw my dad and I wander naively into the main government site, and we found it.

Although not immediately stunning, in the same way that many of our vet school buildings and campuses are here in the UK, the vet school reveals itself in stately fashion, as you round the corner from the road, and is best appreciated on the approach over the bridge that connects the two sides of the university campus. I was, however, very impressed with how friendly and inviting people were, especially considering the fact that we literally, in effect, turned up out of the blue and uninvited and yet were still permitted to take the time to explore the vet school, including the impressively well stocked and very popular library, complete with an excellent array of the latest professional journals. We were, however, a bit late in the day to see anything at the actual hospital, although an invite to return the

La Facultad de Veterinario
Me with Almudena Rodríguez

following morning was duly taken up and we were granted the honour of being shown around the entire veterinary hospital, including the small animal, farm, equine and laboratory departments – literally everything! Our guide was a lovely lady by the name of Almudena Rodríguez, who was very generous and patient, taking the time out from her no-doubt busy morning to show these two strange British visitors around one of the lesser explored of Madrid’s sights. ¡Extraño!

The main feature of the Madrid veterinary hospital which is different to Bristol, which is where I studied, and to many of the UK vet schools, is that the departments were all housed effectively under one roof, with the small animal, farm and equine sections continuing seamlessly into one another. I personally liked this fact and I can imagine that it provides for much more effective cross-specialisation communication. Madrid’s vet school has all the clinical toys that you’d expect in any UK university hospital, with a great digital radiography suite and MRI on site, to spacious and well equipped small animal consultation rooms, which we were advised can accomodate student teaching groups of up to 15 at any one time – quite an audience for a consult!

The great thing for me, personally, apart from getting a unique chance to see behind the scenes at a busy European vet school, was the fact that the entire tour was conducted in Spanish, and so provided an excellent opportunity to really exercise and practice my language skills, in a veterinary context as well. It was cool, especially as I swear the sheep we encountered in the large animal hospital even bleated with an accent!

It’s good to be reminded that we are a member of a truly international profession, all working towards the same goal of improved animal health and welfare, regardless of language barriers or other such differences. If spending time plying your trade in more exotic climes is something that appeals to you then there are lots of opportunities to travel, including even spending time during your veterinary training at a non-UK vet school. The following UK vet schools offer the chance to spend part of the course studying in another country, which is awesome:

  1. Glasgow
  2. Edinburgh – options to study abroad are available
  3. Liverpool – offer the chance to apply to spend up to 3 months in 4th and final year undertaking clinical rotations in Helsinki, Finland. There are discussions in place to arrange similar opportunities in both France and Germany.
  4. Nottingham – options to study abroad are available
  5. Bristol & RVC (London) – not clear if it is possible

Another fact that often seems to pass vet students over, myself included at the time, and which is a crying shame, is the fact that most universities offer free, or certainly massively well subsidised, language tuition to their undergraduates – a golden opportunity if ever there was one! One of my year group took up this opportunity in second year and thus graduated after five years with both a vet degree and fluent in Mandarin Chinese. What a passport to the world she now has! If I were to turn the clock back then I would certainly have signed up – imagine being a vet who can speak Spanish, Chinese AND English. The world would be a much smaller, comfortable place with infinitely more opportunities. Anyway, I digress somewhat…

So, the key message is that veterinary is a truly global, international profession and the world is waiting for those willing and wanting to take the proverbial plunge. Good luck.

 

For more information on vet careers and to check out the book, Vet School, go to www.myfootinthedoor.co.uk

Finding Your Element

Vet school, coverI have recently finished listening to an inspiring audiobook called ‘The Element,’ written by the educational reformist and speaker, Dr Ken Robinson. The premise of the book is that each of us has something that we were, in effect, meant to do and that sees us truly in our element when we are doing that activity. Everyone’s element is different: some may find it in their career, others in their recreation activities. One of the major messages of the book is the concern that our current, long established systems of education actually act to move a lot of people away from their element and these people may be in danger of spending their lives never fully fulfilled and truly happy. It is difficult to really give a full and accurate review of the book in a short blog introduction and I think it suffices to say that it is excellent and that I have no hesitation in thoroughly recommending it as one of those must-read books and the type that you probably should revisit at regular points during your life.

Why am I talking about such a book, you may be wondering? Well, the reason is that I started listening to it whilst travelling up to Nottingham where I spent two days at the university both lecturing to and making my book, Vet School, available to young people interested in learning more about a career in veterinary. This is something I have been doing for a number of years now and it really dawned on me this year that the thing I really get a buzz out of is the actual lecturing itself. I can’t quite put my finger on what aspect of presenting provides the biggest reward and thus keeps me coming back for more. Is it the thrill of getting the right laughs at the right time? Maybe its the look of rapt concentration and engagement that develops on the audience members’ faces, the key aim I am sure of any speaker. The fun of taking what can otherwise be a set of dull, monotone subjects – Cancer in Animals, Parasites (especially at 10 o’clock at night!), Clinical History Taking, for example – and through careful consideration of what will actually engage your audience, craft a fun, entertaining yet educational, and hopefully inspiring talk? Then again, it could just be the sheer performance of it all. The opportunity to don a set of scrubs, show some funny videos and just, well, have some fun on stage. In truth, I think I would have to say that I love doing them for all of those reasons and it really dawned on me this year more than before.

The audience is a key ingredient, of course, and having the privilege of being able to speak with students who clearly have a hunger for knowledge and driving passion for their ultimate goal of getting into vet school makes the entire process that much more enjoyable and rewarding. The pressures on them to excel are getting greater and greater, with the obstacles that seem to be placed before them ever more numerous and large in scale. They are the true heroes of our profession as without their dogged determination and laser-like focus and unwavering commitment to their ultimate goal, the profession would not be able to continue to grow, develop and improve in the way it has, does and will, I am sure, continue to do so for many generations to come.

The pleasure of writing Vet School and making it available is one of, hopefully, being able to make the path towards a place at Vet School a little less of an arduous journey and to lend much needed support to those who may otherwise feel themselves slipping from the path towards their true passion. Now, I am not going to claim that the book has all the answers or that buying it will somehow come with a magic, ‘get in free’ ticket, because clearly it will not. Instead, I like to think of Vet School and My Foot In The Door as being rather like a sherpa acting as a guide up the treacherous slopes of Everest, offering valuable insight and guidance but not able to carry the full burden of responsibility for the climber’s own monumental feats of determination, savvy and grit to reach the summit. In my own personal view, every great journey and every great destination reached has its significance, enjoyment and sense of satisfaction magnified many-fold when it is shared. I think that’s what keeps me engaged in writing and why I genuinely enjoy getting to talk with and offer advice, as far as I am able, to those looking to enter our profession. That and getting to make funny videos 🙂

And the award goes to…

It seems to be a week of awards. Sadly not ones that I am personally winning but they are ones I have been attending nonetheless. Having said this, Friday saw me come pretty close to picking up the coveted Veterinary Marketing Association award for Young Marketer of the Year 2011, which was sponsored by British Dairying. This award was open to young (under 30 years of age – just snuck in there then) professionals within the animal health sector who have demonstrably shown promise in the field of marketing over the past twelve months. Each contender was nominated by their line manager, or otherwise, with Penny Evans of Moor Cottage Veterinary Hospital very kindly putting me forward. The winner was decided following an interview yesterday morning, right before the annual awards ceremony itself. As you may have guess, I did not end up walking away with the top prize, although did receive a rather snazzy certificate as a Highly Commended Runner-Up. The top prize went to the very deserving Jemima Scott, Vetmedin Brand Manager at Boehringer Ingelheim, who I daresay I wasn’t anywhere close to being a true competitor to. A deserving winner indeed.

The awards themselves were fantastic! Held at the Globe Theatre in London in the exhibition area beneath the theatre, the scene was one of mesmerising and magical light, with a truly Shakespearean feel to the entire room. They even had a tree in the middle of the banqueting area! A tree I tell you! How can that ever NOT be epic?! I had the very good fortune of spending the afternoon with some very fun and interesting people and got to see a side of the animal healthcare industry that very few in practice ever get to. The clear winners of the afternoon, other than Jemima, were Boehringer Ingelheim, who walked away with no less than 9 awards. They were certainly the runaway winners and the head of their advertising agency who, from where I was sitting, bore a remarkably uncanny resemblance to Robert DeNiro, ended up spending more time posing on the stage and brandishing polished marble than he did sat at his table. I think at one point it was suggested that his table actually be moved up there to save him the walk!

Now, I like my food and have had experiences of balls and other such events before, with the general experience being one of being underwhelmed by the catering. Not so yesterday. I think I can safely say that the medieval feast put on by the team at The Globe was by far and away THE best meal I have had at such an event and if I were ever to stage an event then I would definately be considering picking up the phone to the organisers and booking the same venue.

Here’s to the work of the Vet Marketing Association and the professionals who keep us entertained, informed and generally aware and abreast of the latest products and innovations in the animal healthcare sector. Roll on next year. I for one very much hope to be there.

Did you hear the one about the haptic cow?

Haptic Cow, bovine simulator
The classic veterinary image

We’re all aware of the classic premise of virtual reality and the principle of experiencing a visual virtual world. But what about haptic technology? What does that mean to you? I had a unique opportunity to see this technology in action last week when I was fortunate enough to be invited to speak at Bristol Veterinary School and met with Professor Sarah Baillie, Chair in Veterinary Education at the University and inventor of the famed ‘Haptic Cow.’

I first became aware of the Haptic Cow when I was an undergraduate at Bristol myself, and found the idea simply incredible: using a computer programmed device to realistically simulate the tactile experience of pregnancy diagnosing cows, something that some vet students get immediately whilst others struggle with perpetually. I place myself in the latter category. No matter how many cows had the (dis)pleasure of me rummaging away fruitlessly in their general pelvic region, I simply could not make the link between the random ‘mush’ that I was feeling – or rather, gradually not feeling, as the blood in my arms was systematically squeezed out – and the textbook picture of ovaries, follicles and the various forms of the bovine uterus. The problem was that there was no way for the lecturer to help other than to tell you what you should be feeling and where. Most of us simply ended up nodding knowingly and feigned a sudden reversal in our ignorance. The truth was that it was easier to pretend that we could feel what we were supposed to, thus hastening our exit from said cow’s rectal area, than to battle on. After all, the cows don’t thank a trier!

Enter the Haptic Cow. The idea is that you, the user, reaches into a fake cow (a black and white fibreglass shell with a specially designed robotic arm inside) and attach the end of the aforementioned arm to the end of your middle finger – the one you would use as a ‘friendly’ greeting to someone you didn’t much care for – via a small thimble-like attachment that fits snugly on the end of your digit. The magic then happens when the computer program is launched and the ‘model’ of the cow is run. On the screen you are able to see some simplified representations of various structures, such as ovaries, and this is matched by what you are able to ‘feel’ in the simulator. It’s a very bizarre sensation but the truth is that using this technology, which relies on the computer program outputting to three motors controlling the robotic arm in three planes, it is possible to haptically simulate all manner of structures, textures and body systems. I was given the chance to ‘PD’ a cow, diagnose an ovarian follicular cyst, and even experience the sensation of rectally examining a horse, something that is an important part of a colic investigation, yet which is notoriously risky to the horse, and subsequently to the vet’s professional indemnity cover! Using the Haptic simulator removes all of the risk associated with learning these techniques and after just one short session I would feel confident going out tomorrow and diagnosing colic or telling a farmer if their cow was in calf. That’s incredible considering I didn’t manage to achieve that in an entire year at vet school.

The potential for such sophisticated technology in dramatically improving the standard and effectiveness of medical training is huge, with the technology already having been applied to modelling a cat’s abdomen for training in abdominal palpation, to teaching human doctors the fine intracacies of prostate examination – the model human a@*e was hilarious! I can easily see haptics being combined with augmented reality, or other such technological advancements, in forming sophisticated surgical training programmes, dramatically advancing career development and patient care, in all species.

Professor Baillie’s career is as equally incredible as her invention, having graduated from Bristol vet school with an additional intercalated degree, and then spending a number of years in clinical mixed practice. A forced break from the physical rigours of being a vet in practice led Professor Baillie to complete a Master’s degree in computing, in spite of no prior experience of the field, and led to the start of her work with haptic technology and a subsequent PhD and the Haptic Cow. After time teaching at London Vet School, Professor Baillie is now back at her Alma Mater, Bristol, providing students with the incredible opportunity to train with her amazing inventions.

Veterinary still a very popular career choice

An interesting article caught my attention recently that suggested that in spite of the increase in university tuition fees this year to £9,000 per year, which includes veterinary science courses, application numbers to study to become a vet have actually risen, thus bucking a general trend. Data from UCAS revealed that in spite of a 12.9% drop in year-on-year applications for all degree subjects, veterinary courses actually saw a rise of 6.7%. Why, I wonder, would that be the case?

It has always been known that a degree in veterinary science is an incredibly good degree to have, regardless of whether the holder eventually enters, or indeed stays in, clinical practice, due to it’s high standards of training across a multitude of subjects and skillsets. It could be expected that with degrees becoming significantly more expensive, and graduates facing being saddled with such debt for many many years, a lot of students are looking a lot more carefully at which degrees they actually apply to in the first place. It may be simply that a veterinary degree, and subsequently a career in veterinary, is valued as a good, professional option as opposed to some other degree options available. I am sure such students are going into their applications with a good understanding and appreciation of the huge costs involved, with the projected cost of tuition fees for a standard 5-year course alone coming to £54,000. If they are not then that needs to be addressed, especially when you then factor in the total likely cost of completing a veterinary degree which, with living costs and the fact that much of the vacation time other students are able to use in order to work in paid employment is occupied with compulsary, and necessary, work placements, is very high. Latest figures put such a final figure at around about £78,000. A truly staggering amount of money!

Of course, the fact that students are not being put off veterinary as a career option is a wonderful thing as it is a truly unique and rewarding career, in many ways, but one concern is that students applying for and studying veterinary medicine have a clear and realistic appreciation and expectation of the salaries, and earnings that they can expect as a vet. I know for a fact that many students have wildly unrealistic expectations about veterinary remuneration and have heard of students even halfway through their courses expecting to start their careers commanding salaries of £60,000 per year. If they know of graduate vet jobs that are paying that then I would love for them to get in touch with me as I will be sending my CV over immediately!

Another ongoing concern for the profession is the issue of widening access, with the RCVS and the vet schools actively engaging in ongoing activity to broaden the appeal of and access to veterinary as a career option among the under-represented demographics. Are we seeing a rise in application numbers from such students or are the increases coming from the more traditional camp? These are interesting questions and do have ramifications for the future of the profession as a whole.

The main point, however, is that veterinary is clearly still a popular career option, and rightly so, and the buck in the general trend should be applauded and celebrated as a sign of the veterinary profession’s bright future.

Two of the most motivating words ever: “Can’t” & “Never”

LionManaged to catch up on Safari Vet School thanks to the good old ITV iPlayer (did I mention how much I love my iPad?!). This week’s episode saw the team of vet students and safari vets take on darting and surgically implanting a tracking device into a lioness, which was pretty nerve-wracking stuff, and then finish up with a mass capture of Zebra, who apparently can kill with a single kick, something that anyone who has worked with horses will appreciate. Of course I’m not saying that rounding up a herd of Zebra is anything like working with your standard hack but the power and innate unpredictability of large animals – well, in fact ANY animal – is something that’s important to always have in the back of your mind as a vet.

One of the stand-out parts of the show for me was the point at which Charlotte was recalling the advice she received whilst at school, regarding her ambitions to become a vet. She was advised to “have a plan B” and to “give up,” something which I hear a lot of from prospective vet students. Yes, it’s a tough course to apply to and yes, it’s not a bad idea to consider, even for a fleeting moment, what you might do if, all things going awry, you don’t succeed with applying, but to be told to give up just seems ridiculous. One of the main issues I have identified through advising prospective vet school applicants and through my book is that many careers advisers (I use the term in the very broad sense to include teachers who are not necessarily careers ‘specialists’) don’t fully understand the unique nuances of preparing for and applying to vet school and as such, rather than seek to fill the gaps in their knowledge so that they can better inform and guide their students, it is often easier to revert to the assumed misconceptions about veterinary being “impossibly hard” to get into and to thus encourage other career options to be pursued. I wonder how many really fantastic vets we may be missing out on simply as a result of a student being told at that critical point in their young lives to “give up.” It’s something to ponder. Good on Charlotte though for sticking to her guns and focusing on her ultimate aim of getting to vet school – if she hadn’t been so determined then darting lions in Africa would have been but a hazy daydream!