Tag Archives: university

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 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!!”

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

Una vista de Madrid

plaza de la cibeles, MadridMe gusta mucho España y tambien viajar. For those of you with some knowledge of the Spanish language I daresay you probably agree. For those of you wondering what on earth the first sentence even means, it translates as “I like Spain very much, and also travelling.” I have just landed back after a short trip to Madrid in Spain, a city that has long been on my list of places to visit, and was suitably impressed, enthralled, charmed and generally won over by the city, it’s vibrancy and the amazing people that both live and visit there.

The guidebooks all talk about Madrid being one of those cities that kind of creeps up on you, especially given the fact that it doesn’t perhaps have many of the “world wonder” type sights as say other major cities (eg Paris, London, New York). This, however, means that instead of having a few ‘must sees,’ Madrid has vista bonita after vista bonita round every corner and above every Metro stop. I traveled with my dad, who despite not speaking any of the language, has become as enthused about the Spanish culture and country as I have, and we were happy to spend a lot of our time simply meandering around the city, including it’s beautiful park, taking in the atmosphere and breaking up such jaunts with regular stops for tapas and a couple of cheeky little drinks, whether it were a refreshing Spanish cerveza, a rich, full-bodied wine or sherry, or just a sedate coffee. In fact, eating and drinking your way around Madrid is not only insanely easy to do, it feels like it would be wrong not to, given the incredible number of phenominal options available to do so.

The main highlights of our trip, I would say, were the following. It would interesting to hear what your experiences of the city have been as well, especially as I know for a fact that it has heaps more to offer than the little we managed in just a few days, and it would be great to be able to start compiling the ultimate Madrid ‘to-do’ list in preparation!

  1. Flamenco & Tapas – we were fortunate enough to get our fix of both on the very first evening, with one of the best places in the city to see amazing flamenco being Casa Patas, near the Tirso de Molina metro station. The initial meal was outstanding, served in the stunning main restaurant, complete with hanging jamóns (hams) and photograph after photograph of flamenco stars both past and present. The actual performance itself was held in an intimate room adjacent to the bar, creating a dark and intense atmosphere for what was an equally intense performance. I have seen flamenco before but never with such a level of passion being evident from the musicians, singers and dancers alike. The result is that you find yourself instinctively joining in with the cries of “Olé!” that often accompany parts of the performance, and wanting to buy yourself a pair of flamenco shoes, move to Madrid, change your name to José and devote yourself to the art. Having said that, I think that may just be a reflection of the reaction I feel to most great gigs. Definately one to check out though.
  2. cochinillo, madrid, el restaurante de san botinSuckling pig at the “world’s oldest restaurant” – one thing that it seems is most definately on the list of ‘things you should do in Madrid’ is to eat suckling pig, with el restaurante Sobrino de Botín, close to La Plaza Mayor, recognised as one of the best places in which to do so, likely due to the fact that they have been doing it well for the longest. Since 1725 in fact! After a gentlemanly haircut – it’s what one does when on holiday in such a fine city – it seemed the natural thing to do was to pop next door to sample one of the culinary delights of Madrid – and there are many! We had been expecting the cochinillo to arrive at the table in it’s entire, full form, as per the pictures shown in various guidebooks but the fact that it didn’t (we each had a leg, roasted to perfection) was a blessing, as the amount of food it would have represented would have required us to fly the rest of the family out to help finish it. We were told that another thing to try at the same restaurant is the roast suckling lamb, so it seems a return trip has already been factored in.
  3. Parque del Buen Retiro – one of the things I personally love about capital cities, London included, is the access to incredible areas of parkland that is possible. The main park in Madrid is clearly a strong draw for both locals and visitors alike, from people simply enjoying a leisurely stroll, often with their dog, or kicking back and taking in the cool, calm air with a book, all the way through to the more active recreationists, with running, cycling and even a spot of rollerblade-ultimate-frizbee being played. It made me wish I had taken my training gear with me, but then there is always the next time!
  4. mercado de san miguel, MadridEl mercado de San Miguel – this charming covered market, which sits just beyond Plaza Mayor, was one of those places that you end up happening upon by chance, as opposed to actively seeking out, and ended up being somewhere we returned to several times during our stay. Both modern, in terms of it’s light, open design, with glass doors and windows all the way around, yet traditional, with a plethora of incredible stalls selling everything from beautifully crafted and presented chocolates and cakes, to fresh seafood and meats that were about as fresh as it possibly could be without them jumping out at you, to an amazing array of fine Spanish wines, beers and, one of our favourites, sherries. A popular draw for both tourists and madrileños alike to meet up with friends and chat over some tapas and a drink, the market was certainly a favourite of the trip.
  5. La facultad de Veterinario – yes, we did. Although officially on holiday, I had said to myself that it would be really interesting to head over to the university and, if possible, check out the vet school and adjoining hospital. In spite of not managing to pre-arrange a visit and thus simply ‘turning up’, we received an incredibly warm and hospitable welcome, and were given a fantastic tour of the facilities at the vet school. A rare treat and one that will be the subject of a blog post to follow soon.

As alluded to earlier, Madrid is such a rich city in terms of culture, heritage and charm, that to list and describe every highlight would fill many books. Suffice to say that if you’re looking for an exciting destination for a city stay, whether it be for a quieter, more relaxed experience, or one offering a vibrant party scene, then Madrid definately is one to put near the top of the list.

 

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 🙂

Rediscovery

OryxQuite an adrenaline fueled episode of Safari Vet School this week with stress levels at an all time high as the students tackled the task of darting and then transporting a number of Oryx to be loaded on to a trailer and sent to another reserve. The main danger, as I could tell from the safety of my comfortable armchair, were the HUGE horns that these animals have, and which more closely resemble fencing foils than anything else, with the very clear potential to impale anyone unfortunate enough to be found on the end of one. I would say that the plastic tubing used by the team was probably one of the best inventions ever, in that particular moment!

I did wonder whether it would have been an idea for them to get intravenous catheters in place in the animals’ ear veins at the outset, given the fact that they needed to be transported what seemed to be a reasonable distance, and would have provided much swifter and safer venous access to allow the repeated top-ups of medication that the animals ended up requiring. Needless to say these would then be removed prior to the animals waking up. Perhaps that is my small animal logic and experience coming into play as I don’t have any direct experience of managing wild large animals. Feel free to shoot down my idea 🙂 Or should that be dart down?

One very interesting part of the show for me was the segment at the end on Tom’s rediscovery, if you will, of his desire to continue in veterinary. He is certainly not the first vet student who nears the end of the course feeling disillusioned and doubtful about whether a life as a vet is the path for them after all, nor will he be the last. The facts are these: veterinary is a very demanding and intense course, often with little opportunity to really disconnect, step back and take in the wider picture of what it means to be a vet and of the opportunities, including globally, that being qualified offers graduates. Due to the huge body of knowledge that needs to be imparted to veterinary undergraduates it can at times feel as though we spend the course having to rote learn huge volumes of knowledge, with the result being that the theory and the practical ‘magic’ of the course and profession – the primary reason many of us choose veterinary as a career option – become disconnected.

Vets are by their very nature the type of academic high achievers that are always seeking mental stimulation and a challenge. This, again, is one of the reasons why veterinary, with its “hardest course to get onto” label, is so attractive to such students and why occasionally the trudgery of endless rote learning can grind us down and leave us feeling somewhat uninspired and seeking professional and academic gratification elsewhere. Its a very real shame and unfortunately something that needs to be addressed at the training level. After all, how is it that you can start five years training with a hundred or so super motivated and über enthusiastic individuals who have dream’t of nothing other than becoming vets, to find several of those same people seriously questioning their path and looking for an alternative one by the end? It’s not really as though they didn’t have some idea of what they were letting themselves in for, as the vet schools do expect applicants to to demonstrate work experience.

Aside from the fact that many vet students realise that they are smart enough and qualified enough to do anything they set their minds to, including in careers that pay considerably more than veterinary does, two of the main factors that I can personally identify as being important in the feelings of disillusionment felt near the end of the course are a) a sense of feeling like a trained chimp, having to plough relentlessly through swathes of endless course material and ‘lists’, with no real requirement to engage the brain and really think about a problem, and b) the fatigue, both physical and mental that sets in by the end of the course. The fact is that very little of a vet student’s time at university is truly their own, with term time a busy blur and “holidays” anything but, as you are expected to complete a lot of EMS placements. There is very little opportunity, in my opinion, to just take some time to explore yourself, try new things and connect with people and experiences truly outside of the confines of the vet school and profession as a whole. It is often the students who do “venture out” of this circle, for example by intercalating, that are the ones to start questioning their ongoing interest and desire to stay within the profession, often as a result of them being able to take a year out to “exercise their grey matter” in a completely different manner and to expose themselves to ideas beyond veterinary ones. There will, of course, be those students who intercalate and re-enter the vet course rejuvenated and full of fresh motivation and enthusiasm for their veterinary career, and this is excellent. I believe that this kind of motivational shot in the arm is just what’s needed during the latter stages of the course.

I personally wish Tom all the very best whatever he decides and it is especially important to remember that just because we happen to be doing one thing today, there is no reason why we have to be doing the same thing tomorrow – people change, careers change, lives change. Embrace change.

Affordable Genome Sequencing

Nanopore technology

Okay, so not the most exciting of blog post titles but hear me out because this is some pretty amazing technology that I am about to talk about here…

Imagine a day when it will be possible to pick up a small, handheld device and with it rapidly and reliably sequence your entire genetic code, or even that of your favourite pet. “To what end?” I hear you say. Well, the promise of personalised medicine is one that has been on the horizon for many years and the technology that one Oxford company and team of researchers is engaging in is casting some light on the very exciting future that we may be facing. The principle of personalised medicine, as I understand it, is to use the information that is unique to you, ie your DNA, or genetic code, in order to identify the risks of you developing certain conditions or diseases and either specifically intervening to halt or manage such eventualities or, in the case of a disease state developing, such as cancer, using both your own genetic blueprint and that of the disease causing entity in order to select, or even design, tailored, targeted and ultimately more effective and reliable treatments. The prospect of being able to take a cancer cell, sequencing it’s DNA and identifying which drugs are most likely to be highly effective at eradicating the tumour, whilst drastically reducing, or possibly even eliminating, side-effects is one that is simply too important to ignore. But how could this be possible?

One company based in Oxford, and borne out of the research efforts of Professor Hagan Bailey of Oxford University, is leading the field in the development and application of nanopore technology to sequence individual molecules, such as DNA, and determine their exact composition. This is achieved through the use of a specially engineered protein nanopore set into a layer, either of lipid (like our own cells), or a synthetic material, such as graphene, and through which a molecule such as DNA is passed. This is a little like a train passing through a mountain by way of a tunnel. The really clever part is the way this apparently simple process of passing the DNA through the pore can sequence the strand and tell us the exact order of bases.

Nanopore DNA sequencing
Nanopore in membrane

A current flows through the layer containing the nanopore and the passing of the DNA molecule causes disruptions in the current flow, with specific, characteristic disruptions attributable to each of the four bases making up the DNA sequence. By recording these unique current disruptions the technology is able to identify the bases and the exact order in which

Nanopore DNA sequencing
DNA strand passing through nanopore

they pass through the pore, and thus sit within the DNA strand. In other words, it is possible to sequence DNA in real-time. Very exciting!

What about veterinary applications? Of course the main uses of this promising new technology would be expected to be applied in human medicine initially but it is highly likely that veterinarians will be able to make use of it as well. Potential applications obviously include veterinary research, disease monitoring, therapeutic uses, such as treatment selections in cases of disease states such as cancer, and much more besides. Rapid and reliable ‘kennel-side’ analysis using a simple handheld device like the one alluded to in the opening paragraph may very well be a reality in the not too distant future. Exciting times indeed!

For more information on Oxford Nanopore Technology and their exciting work visit their website at www.nanoporetech.com.

This is a good blog by someone who really knows what they’re talking about – a real life geneticist. Click here to read.

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.