Tag Archives: career

Elephant Hills – Vet School experience

Jess Quinlan is currently studying veterinary science at Nottingham University and has also contributed, along with her dad, to previous editions of my book, Vet School. Jess recently spent some time out in Thailand working with elephants at the Elephant Hills centre, and here she offers her insight into this amazing experience.

 

elephant spraying water“We had been planning to undertake our 4 weeks of optional Animal Husbandry work experience at Elephant Hills, Thailand so a bit of a break from the norm. We had been really excited for ages about going but were also really worried. Our second year exams had been incredibly tough and even though we had worked as hard as we possibly could; we were still worried about the possibility of having re-sits in August.

9th July came and our results were due out at 10am. We were both terrified, not just for our own results but also for each other. I logged onto the university portal and although I couldn’t quite believe it at first, I had passed! Within two minutes I found out that Grace had also passed and that was it, we were going to Thailand!

We had only given ourselves two days to pack and get ready but before we knew it, we were on the plane and on our way into the middle of the jungle! When we arrived in Phuket, the transfer van picked us up and after five hours of travelling through extensive jungle, we had finally arrived!

Our first impression was stunned. We looked out over the restaurant to be faced with a vast expanse of trees and mountains, it was absolutely gorgeous! They gave us the day to settle in so we went to our tent and used the pool. In the evening, we were able to join the tourists. We watched the children from the local schools who showed us their traditional Thai dancing; followed by a cooking demonstration and dinner. Traditional Thai food for all (with a few chips for the kids)!

The next day we started the real work. We had to be up by 6…incredibly early even for an ex-lamber but the ten minute truck journey allowed us a chance to wake up a little! We arrived into the elephant camp a little stunned and with no idea what we were supposed to be doing. We soon discovered that in addition to this, nobody could speak English and so unsure as to what to do with ourselves, we picked up a broom from the corner and went to help some of the mahouts clean the area around their elephants, their condo.

After a few days, we had managed to develop a routine and also learn lots of words in Karen, the local language spoken by the mahouts and used only by members of the Karen hill tribe. We would help to clean the elephants’ condos in the morning and then we would walk the baby elephant through the jungle. This is probably one of the best things I have ever done in my life and definitely what I looked forward to every day. When we got back to the camp, we would chop up and prepare fruit for the tourists to feed to the elephants in the afternoon. Every two or three days, we would measure baby Haha in order for the managers of Elephant Hills to keep an eye on her weight progress. This was another favoured activity because this baby elephant loved to play! As soon as we got into the pen with her, she would chase us around and try to knock us over. When the tape measure was out she would grab it with her trunk, step on it or just take it off us all together. We had to measure her feet, heart girth, flank girth, elbow height and overall height. These measurements would be placed into a computer programme to give us an estimation of her weight, very important for tracking the health of a baby elephant. In the afternoon we would help the tourists who would come to the camp to feed and wash the elephants.

On our last day they also took us to the Elephant Hospital which is the only one that is present in the south of Thailand. It was there that we realised just how well looked after our elephants were. It was also really interesting to see some of the operations they were doing such as wound cleaning, as well as the elephant version of a cattle crush…it is huge!

We spent four weeks with the elephants and their mahouts and I can honestly say it is one of the best things I’ve ever done. We became really close with all of them and as we left, the head of the mahouts told us we’d been like their little sisters in their big jungle family.

After we had finished at Elephant Hills, we spent three weeks travelling around Thailand. It was amazing and I’m so glad I was able to travel and have fun whilst incorporating work from the Vet School at the same time. It is one of the reasons that I wanted to become a vet; to see and be able to get so close to so many amazing creatures and I would definitely recommend it to anybody who wanted to do something a little different for their Animal Husbandry EMS.”

 

For more information, please follow this link showing the newsletter the managers of Elephant Hills created about our visit.

http://www.elephant-hills.com/news.php

Vet Research – What IS it exactly?

vet, researcherThere appears to be some confusion out there as to what exactly ‘veterinary research’ is, something that has become apparent through reviewing UCAS personal statements for prospective vets. Here I hope to provide a helpful overview so that it is clearer what we actually mean by scientific research, of which veterinary research forms a part.

The main points about what we mean by scientific research are:

1. It is the application of scientific method to gather data with which to test hypotheses and attempt to explain the natural world.

2. There is a generally accepted ‘method’ by which research is carried out, with the first step being the identification of a problem, followed by a literature review, in which the investigator identifies flaws or holes in the previous research which then justifies the need for further research. Designing the study then involves posing specific research questions, designing experiments to generate the required data, collecting said data and then analysing it, before interpreting, reporting and evaluating the study’s findings.

3. Scientific publication is the submission of original research, or possibly a review based based on and drawn from original experimental studies, to a journal, such as Nature or Science, whereby the paper is reviewed and critiqued by your scientific peers. This is a vital part of the scientific process as it lends credibility to research and the resultant findings and conclusions. If the reviewers feel that there are holes in the method or the analysis, interpretation and discussion of the findings fall short of the high standards understandably expected then they will reject the paper for publication in that specific journal. The scientist – note that most scientific research, and the papers that result, are very often collaborative, by which there is usually more than one author, albeit with one acting as ‘lead’ author – then has the option of submitting the paper to another journal for consideration, either tweaking, adding or otherwise ‘improving’ the paper or simply submitting it in its original form. This process can be extremely frustrating and drawn out for those on the front line of advancing our understanding of the world, but it is a vital process and is infinately preferable to the alternative, which is to simply be allowed to ‘publish’ whatever you like without any pause for serious thought about the methods, data and findings of studies.

Vets’ Roles

Vets are incredibly important to scientific research as a whole, with many working in fields that do not necessarily have a direct, obvious link to animals, but which nonetheless increase our understanding of medicine, science and the natural world as a whole. Learning research skills and understanding the process is a very important part of a vet’s training as the skills learned are applicable to all aspects of veterinary, whether conducting original research yourself or increasing your knowledge through the reading, assessment and understanding of journals, whether primary papers (eg Nature) or the veterinary press, such as the Vet Times. Scientific research training nurtures and develops the curious nature of vets and the ability to ask sensible questions, consider methods and ultimately judge outcomes and conclusions on their relative merits. Intercalation offers vet students an incredible opportunity to really delve into original research in a specific field, and any vet who has intercalated would agree that their understanding of science and it’s methods are greatly enhanced during this year.

I hope this has gone some way to clear up the question of what exactly scientific research is and if you have an interest in learning more then I recommend following this link to Wikipedia’s explanation.

Everyday is Different

WANTED: Vet to spend their days undertaking awesome work with some of the most interesting animals on the planet in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, at one of – if not the – premier zoos in in the world.

San Diego Zoo, Dr Meg Sutherland-Smith & Chris Queen
Dr Meg Sutherland Smith & ‘Nerdy Vet’ Chris outside the San Diego Zoo Hospital

Sound like the kind of job you are aiming to get one day? Well, this is the job description that Dr Meg Sutherland-Smith, Veterinarian at San Diego Zoo, gets to live every day of her working life, ensuring that the myriad species that call the zoo home are kept happy and healthy. I was extremely fortunate enough to be able to accept an offer to take an afternoon tour of the main zoo hospital during my recent trip to California, and it was an opportunity that I was happy to stay grounded for, cutting short my skydive training in order to head into Balboa Park to meet with Dr Sutherland-Smith and take a peek behind the scenes at a truly wonderful institution.

The zoo’s hospital sits at the west edge of San Diego Zoo, between the main enclosures and Balboa Park as it continues toward Downtown San Diego, and the drive past many of the park’s stunning sights, such as The Globe Theatre, is a treat in itself. I met Dr Sutherland-Smith at the main gates and was warmly welcomed in to see what it takes to keep so many amazing creatures fit, healthy and happy. Despite literally arriving looking as though I had crawled off the beach, following a dash into the city from Skydive San Diego’s dropzone, I was welcomed as a fellow veterinarian and made to feel like one of the team from the outset. It was instantly clear how passionate Dr Sutherland-Smith is about the work her and her team do at the zoo and I got the distinct impression that she finds every tour she gives as enjoyable as those whom she is showing around, which is impressive considering I must have been the thousandth eager young vet looking to nose behind the scenes.

Our tour took in the entire facility, including the main prep and surgical areas, all impressively kitted out with some state of the art equipment, such as a mammography machine, used a lot to radiograph (xray) birds in exquisite detail. Much of the kit employed in the hospital finds its way there through the very generous support of a number of dedicated individuals and groups, with the standard of care that the zoo’s animals can expect rising all of the time. San Diego Zoo is clearly committed to furthering the education of it’s visitors and veterinarians, with the ability to be able to watch procedures being undertaken from the library or even via a state-of-the-art video link, which I got to see in action.

San Diego Zoo, CCTV
Dr Sutherland-Smith using the hospital’s amazing CCTV system

A tour of the enclosures saw me blessed with being able to see a number of fascinating animals, including a fishing cat which was recovering from recent spinal surgery, and he certainly let us know what he thought of us staring at him! One of the most useful bits of new equipment, and one that makes a huge difference on a daily basis at the zoo is a sophisticated closed-circuit video system, enabling keepers and vets to keep a very close eye on their patients without needing to even be anywhere near the pens. The ability to survey and then zoom in on even the smallest of species makes the camera system indispensible as a monitoring tool. Having the ability, for example, to be able to monitor recovering birds, who will often mask illness or abnormal behaviour if they sense the presence of humans, has really enabled the team to progress the standard of care offered to their patients. Aside from its obvious uses it’s also just a very cool bit of kit to use!

San Diego Zoo is home to over 3,700 rare and endangered animals, housed in more than 100-acres and representing some 650 species and subspecies. The zoo also boasts an impressive botanical collection, with over 700,000 exotic plants growing in its Balboa Park site. If you would like to know more about internship opportunities at San Diego Zoo, including veterinary externship programmes, then check out the website. My sincerest thanks go out to Dr Sutherland-Smith, Donna Vader and the entire team at San Diego Zoo for making my visit a reality.

Vet Work Experience – Top Tips

Vet School, My Foot In The DoorGaining an insight into the actual day-to-day business of being a vet is a vitally important part of helping you decide for sure if a veterinary career is the right path for you, and many of you will be actively engaged in arranging and attending placements over the course of the year. What follows here is, hopefully, a few helpful bits of advice that will help you to maximise the success of any placements you go on.
This assumes that you have already managed to secure a placement. In which case, nice one! That is the hardest bit so you have done well. Now is the time to really go in and impress the placement/ vets with your enthusiasm, interest and helpfulness. Make sure that when you leave they’re falling over themselves to write you a glowing reference!
Vet surgeon, Vet School, My Foot In The Door
BEFORE:
1. Confirm – About a week before you are due to start, contact the organiser to confirm all the arrangements (date, time, place and whether there are any bits of information, clothing or equipment that you should bring with you). This shows superb organisational skills and is sure to impress. A polite phone call is probably the safest bet. Otherwise, a short email with a polite follow-up phone call after a few days if you haven’t had a response will be just as effective.
2. Do your homework – Have you looked at the practice/ company’s website? I often think of work experience placements in the same way I would a job interview – I want to impress. One of the best ways of doing this is to be completely familiar with exactly what the practice/ company does and who everyone is. Most places now have very informative websites, including staff profiles. Get familar with who you are likely to see and what the practice does and offers clients, and you will instantly feel more at ease on day one.
3. Read ‘Vet School’ – Have you read ‘Vet School’? This might seem like a blatant plug (which it is) but there is a serious point. I have talked about many of the things you would expect to see whilst on placement, such as vaccinations, and so being familiarised with information like this will not do you any harm at all. As in all things in life, preparation is the key to success so get reading 🙂
Vet with rabbit, Vet School, My Foot In The DoorDURING:
1. Leave plenty of time – Arrive on time, or a little early to provide plenty of time to report in at reception. Vet clinics are often at their busiest first thing in the morning so arriving in plenty of time means that your placement organiser can get you initiated and familarised with the practice and facilities before the day goes crazy!
2. Relax – Vets and everyone who works with them are generally a very friendly bunch who enjoy having work-experience students around. We completely appreciate that you will be nervous and so will do our best to ask you questions and just generally ease you into your time with us. However, it is very difficult to remain enthusiastic if you just freeze up, stand quietly in a corner and say or do nothing. You will need to be a little pro-active, be fully prepared and enthusiastic to pitch in and help where requested – in fact, asking how you can help, especially the nurses, will endear you completely to the practice. You will be expected to help with many of the less glamorous aspects of life in a vet practice, and indeed any placement, such as cleaning and showing anything other than willingness to help out will not go down well. My biggest tip is to get on the good side of the nurses. They do an exceptional job and are vital to the work a vet does. If they like you then your time will be blissful! Do not be afraid to ask questions even if you think it is an obvious or silly question. There is no such thing as a silly question (not strictly true but you know what I mean). Vets and nurses love to tell you about what they’re doing so feel free to ask.
3. Watch & Learn – Even if there are times when it seems a bit quieter, or there aren’t any super-exciting operations going on, you will still be able to learn a lot about being a vet from careful observation. How do they talk with clients and other team members? What do they do when they’re not consulting or operating? These are also great times to be able to talk with them about their jobs, training and careers and are likely to offer the greatest insight into what it means to be a vet. Use such opportunities to their fullest as you’ll be amazed at how quickly your time will pass.
4. If in doubt, ask – Hopefully it is needless to say but it is important that you do not do or touch anything (including animals) unless directed or given permission to. This is for your own safety as we deal, on a daily basis, with potentially dangerous substances and drugs, radiation, and animals who are unpredictable, usually scared and therefore at risk of reacting in a manner that is out of character. The last thing we want is for you to get bitten or injured in any way. We also have a lot of very expensive ‘toys’, such as endoscopes, which even the vets can be a little wary of touching for fear of breaking them! If in doubt always ask – you’ll never get into trouble for clarifying but you might if you make assumptions and accidentally break something.
5. Keep a placement journal – Keep some basic notes during your placement. There is no need to write a thesis or to record every single thing you see or hear but a few notes on anything you find interesting will help you make sense of the placement, and provide a useful memory jog when it comes to preparing for your personal statement or interviews.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Again, I am sure this is needless to say but during your placements you will privy to confidential information about clients’ pets and their care. No personal or confidential information should ever leave the practice and please, please think carefully before posting anything relating to your placement on social networks. We’ve all been there – you absent-mindedly post a comment or photo due to being caught up in the enthusiasm of the moment and don’t realise that you might be posting sensitive or confidential info.
6. Have fun! Vets, nurses and everyone who works with them are, on the whole, really nice, down-to-earth, fun loving professionals and enjoy having enthusiastic people around.
Vet with lamb, Vet School, My Foot In The DoorAFTER:
1. Thank the placement – This doesn’t have to be expressed in the form of cakes or biscuits, although vets do respond very favourably to such gestures, and a simple letter and/ or card will go down very favourably. It is also smart career planning as you will be far more memorable and considered in a very positive light should you wish to arrange another placement in the future. If you are keen to organise another placement then say so and offer some dates that you are interested in. Popular practices get booked up a long time in advance so think ahead and make your life a little easier.
2. Ask for a reference – Ask for a written reference as soon as your placement is finished, or even near the end of it. Do not do what most people do and wait until you start to write your personal statement or prepare for interviews, which may be many months or even years after your placement. I personally have trouble remembering some of the animals who I have literally just seen so being expected to remember anything even remotely helpful about a work-experience student months after they were in is impossibly optimistic. You want a reference to be specific to you and highlight your unique, personal traits and awesomeness. If the placement organiser can’t remember you, or has since left the practice, then the best you might be able to hope for is a generic, bland “they were here” type of reference, which adds nothing to your overall bid to secure a place at vet school. One student we had recently had the foresight to ask about a reference on their final day of the placement – such a great idea and the result was they walked away with an absolutely glowing reference, completely tailored to him as a person.
Good luck with your placements and, as ever, let us know how you get on and feel free to ask any questions.

Bristol Vet School Open Day – Student Account

Bristol University, Wills Memorial BuildingJune 28th 2012 saw Bristol Vet School open it’s doors to prospective new vet students, enabling them to take a look around the impressive facilities and get a feel for what it would be like to be a vet student at what is an awesome university (NB: I am obviously massively biased owing to the fact that I am a graduate of Bristol – awesome place 🙂 ).

Vet School reader and future vet Natasha Clark went along for the day and has been kind enough to write a review of her experiences. Thanks Natasha 🙂

“It got off to a disappointing start when I got an email through last week saying there had been an over-booking error for Langford and that parents couldn’t travel to Langford and see the facilities it had to offer, only prospective students could travel alone by the buses the University provided. This was a shame because I had previously visited Langford with Vetquest and told my mum about it so, naturally she wanted to have a look at the fantastic facilities it had to offer. 

When we arrived we were greeted very friendly by staff who pointed us in the right direction, the whole day was very well presented and organised. The talks and lectures were explained well and any questions I had were answered clearly and in depth. The facilities they provide are excellent! I was very impressed especially by the Equine and small animal hospital/practice facilities at Langford.

Everybody from the veterinary science department was really friendly and fell over themselves to make you feel welcome and at home. 

I enjoyed my time at Bristol University and Langford House, the whole day gave an insight to what the university has to offer (and I love it!). Bristol will defiantly be going on my UCAS application!!”

I want to be an overseas vet

planet earthYou know how you keep being told that a career in veterinary is a passport to the world? Well, it is true and the fact is that for many of you the idea of working outside of the UK, even if only for a short period of time, will become an increasingly attractive idea, for a range of reasons. I know fellow vets who have opted to work in Australia and New Zealand on a short-term, ‘working holiday’ visa, to those who have navigated the gauntlet of the North American registration system on account of a) wanting to work in what is without dispute the most advanced veterinary market in the world, and/ or b) personal reasons, such as a partner being based over there. Whatever your reasons may end up being, it is important to know what you need to do in advance, especially as the process for being allowed to work as a vet in some countries is not at all straightforward and can take a decent amount of time to complete.

So why would you want to work overseas? Well, I think the answer should really be, “why wouldn’t you?” Life is short, the world is big and yet more accessible than it ever has been before, and we are members of a profession that can, in theory at least, ply our trade and leverage our skills in many locations around the globe. The main reasons I can personally identify for considering even a short foreign period of employment overseas are:

  1. Travel & immersion in different cultures. Working, and by extension, living somewhere is often vastly different to the experience you get when simply visiting somewhere as a tourist. An extended period of stay in one location enables you to fully immerse yourself in the local culture and to really get to know ‘the locals,’ from whom many new and lifelong friends are likely to be made. Travel really does open your eyes and enable you to see things differently, including from a professional perspective, and is reason enough to take the plunge.
  2. A new life. Just because you were born in, grew up in and studied and graduated in the UK doesn’t necessarily mean that you are meant to remain in the UK. I know many friends who went travelling, with every intention of returning permanently to the UK, only to find that they found their true home, the place they felt they belonged, during their trip and subsequently stayed.
  3. Improved salary & other lifestyle considerations. Vet salaries are ok in the UK but they’re better in places such as the US, with the added advantage of pet owners knowing and fully appreciating the full cost of healthcare. Friends of mine who moved to the US make more as vets there than they would have done here in the UK, and claim to enjoy a much higher standard of living in the process. Oh yeah, plus they have the cool additional perk of being referred to as ‘Doctor!’

The list could go on but we have to get onto the detail of how to go about working overseas. The countries I am going to consider here are Australia, New Zealand and the USA. Much of what is included here is based on an excellent post by Zoe Belshaw, of Nottingham University, who is a member of the BVA Overseas Group.

Australian flagAustralia

If you are registered with the RCVS, which you will be if you graduate as a vet in the UK, then you’re sorted. Each state does have it’s own board, which you will need to be registered with in order to practice there, and you are likely to have to apply for a couple of additional licenses: a state radiation license, and a microchip implanter license if working in either Queensland, Victoria or New South Wales.

More info at:

Australasian Veterinary Boards Council

Australian Veterinary Association

New Zealand flagNew Zealand

As in Australia, RCVS registration counts but you do need to be registered with the Veterinary Council of New Zealand and hold a current practicing certificate.

More info at:

Veterinary Council of New Zealand

USA flag United States of America

So you want to work in the US? Sure? Really sure? Because the process is long, tough and far from cheap. My personal recommendation to anyone considering working as a vet in the US is to seriously consider applying and completing the registration process either during your final year (you’re revising hard anyway, right?!) or shortly after graduation. This is for two reasons: a) you’re examined across all of the species and disciplines, meaning that this knowledge is likely to be at its freshest in your mind at the end of vet school, before you head out and specialise as most of us do; and b) you are more likely to be focused on really nailing your application, before you become settled in practice and comfortable with a nice, regular paycheck.

If you graduate from an AVMA-accredited university (Glasgow, Dublin, Edinburgh and RVC) then lucky old you, as you have completed stage 1 and can proceed straight to applying for the NAVLE, which is the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam. Everyone else has to start from stage 1 and follow the whole process through.

If you apply to work in a US university (eg as part of an internship scheme) then you will not need to worry about any of this as you’ll be covered by the university. It does, however, mean that you will not be allowed to do anything of a veterinary nature outside of the university.

Ok, so the process is as follows:

Stage 1: Educational Commission for Foreign Veterinary Graduates certification program

(NB: There is an alternative route, PAVE, run by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards, with the stages appearing to be similar to those below.)

This is comprised of four stages and should, in theory, take no more than 2 years to complete. The stages are:

1. Enrol, provide proof of graduation and pay the registration fee, which is approximately $1000, and is valid for 2 years.

2. Provide proof of your English language ability. This can be in the form of a letter from your secondary school, although it is worth checking regularly as this may be subject to change.

3. Basic Clinical & Scientific Knowledge. This is a 225-question, multiple choice exam (BCSE) testing everything from anatomy, to pathology knowledge, and preventative medicine. There are a number of centres in the UK at which you can apply to sit the exam, and they run at regular times during the year. The cost at the time of writing was about $80 plus an additional $40 for sitting it in the UK. This can be resat as many times as you like, but it will incur an additional charge each time.

4. Clinical Proficiency Examination (CPE). This is a test of hands-on clinical veterinary and medical skills, and is conducted over the course of about three days in the USA. This covers entry-level skills across species and disciplines and is administered at a number of sites across the US, of which you can state a preference but with no guarantee of being booked at that centre. The cost is a whopping $5000, which is non-refundable, and if you fail 4+ out of the 6 sections then you have to resit the lot, otherwise it is possible to resit the individual components at about a $1000 a pop.

Stage 2: North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE). This exam consists of 360 MCQ’s and can be sat in the UK between November and December each year, or for a limited period in April, depending on the state that you’ve specifically applied to become registered with. The cost is $550 plus whatever the specific state fee is – you’ll need to check the state fees, requirements and application deadlines independently.

Stage 3: State exams. Some states may require additional exams to be sat before you can be eligible to work in them.

Stage 4: Work Visa Application. Once you have your NAVLE all sorted, your prospective employer will need to apply for a work visa on your behalf through the US Immigration Department. As such, you will need to have a job lined up in the USA and they will need to be willing to fill in several forms on your behalf.

Once all that’s done then you’re ready to hop on a plane and get working in the USA 🙂

There are, of course, other countries that you may wish to work in as a vet and I am sure there will be further posts on these in the future. Please feel free to make suggestions or provide info to this effect. Thanks and happy travelling.

Animal Health Care, Big Apple Style

Animal Medical Center, New YorkIs it possible to mix business and pleasure? Well, yes, I believe it is and I think I managed it during my recent trip to New York. One of the days I spent out there saw me take a break from the usual tourist efforts and instead saw me head east, to 510 East and 62nd Street, in order to visit the Animal Medical Center, one of New York’s most revered veterinary establishments and a world-renowned teaching hospital.

Arranging the visit couldn’t have been easier, with the power of Twitter as a medium for more than just pointless digital static being proven as I managed to make initial contact via the social networking tool. A simple follow-up email later and a tour of the center for the friday of my visit was booked. Simple.

Set within viewing distance of the Queensboro Bridge and the Rockefeller Island Tram, a cable-car connecting Manhattan to Roosevelt Island a short skip across the East River, the building itself doesn’t quite do justice to the state of the art work conducted inside. Still, early twentieth century architecture was what it was and the important thing is that the center has been devoted to advanced treatment, research, education and exemplary veterinary healthcare since 1910, over 100 years, and has grown impressively in that time. Covering eight entire floors of their current building, the main action happens on the second, where clients are registered, patients triaged, including 24/7 emergency provision, and many of the center’s services are provided. The Animal Medical Center has everything, from it’s own on-site pharmacy, to a dedicated emergency ward, state-of-the-art imaging equipment, with everything from echocardiography to digital radiography, to MRI and CT, and beyond. The surgical facilities alone would make any surgeon worth their salt weep with delight and feel convinced that Christmas had come early. All in all, a very impressive set-up and it is little wonder that the Animal Medical Center is the first place vets from around the world think of when planning a trip to NYC.

Animal Medical Center, New YorkEducation is one of the core focuses of the Animal Medical Center and each year they take on a number of veterinary undergraduates and graduates for externships (short placements, normally during university vacations), internships and residencies. The competition is fierce, and the fact that New York is one of the toughest states in which to become registered to work as a vet, comes as little surprise. I had the chance to meet briefly with a German undergraduate who was a week into an externship before returning to complete her studies in Germany. She was incredibly complimentary and enthusiastic about the center and cited the high standard of teaching as being a major draw, something that was exemplified by the evidence I saw of the daily seminars and tutorials that take place.

“So, how do I actually go about working in the states?” Good question. The answer is that the process is neither simple, quick or, by any means, cheap, with the total cost likely to be in the region of $10,000, assuming you pass all of the stages first time. There will be another dedicated post on this subject but in the meantime, this AVS page gives a pretty good overview of the process.

Talking of working overseas, if any students find themselves at the Animal Medical Center and have any inclination to apply to study veterinary in the UK, they now have the advantage of their very own copy of Vet School: My Foot In The Door, which I gifted to the center during my visit.

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.