What 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
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:
- Edinburgh – options to study abroad are available
- 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.
- Nottingham – options to study abroad are available
- 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