Tag Archives: USA

San Diego Zoo, CCTV

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.

planet earth

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 Medical Center, New York

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.