Tag Archives: vet school

Tis the Interview Season

Vet with radiograph and catOkay, so your applications have been submitted on time and you’ve been anxiously waiting to hear from the vet schools, a wait that feels like an eternity. Why do the vet schools even bother to interview applicants when a lot of other courses simply allocate places based on UCAS applications and test results? The main reason is that training a vet is a long and costly process, with the vet schools, and profession, very anxious to ensure that the considerable investment that is made in such training is directed to the best candidates and that their students are going to a) finish the course and qualify as a veterinarian, and b) represent a suitable fit for the unique culture of the vet school itself.

Although every vet school achieves the same in terms of training new vets, they each have their own styles of teaching and unique culture which makes attending each one a distinct experience, in much the same way that different companies have their own ‘culture.’ The vet schools will be asking themselves whether you, as an individual, are likely to enjoy their school’s vet school experience and ultimately benefit from the training. I am sure that you would agree that spending many thousands of pounds on someone without a face-to-face meeting seems like quite a risky move so it seems only right that the vet schools take as much care as possible in choosing their new intake.

If you are fortunate enough to receive an invitation to interview then the first thing to do is massively congratulate yourself as it is a huge achievement in itself. Admissions tutors receive applications, read them and then make a decision as to whether your application is of sufficient interest to take it further, moving you closer to the coveted prize of a place, or to say no, in which case you’ll receive a rejection. As such, an interview invite is a sign that they are very interested in you and that they can see sufficient potential in you as a future vet to spend the time and effort getting to know you better. Loads of applicants fail to make it past the initial application stage so an interview invitation is definately a cause for celebration.

How do I interview well?

The main answer to this question, like most, is to practice. There are very few times when practice does not make perfect and interviews are no exception. Now of course you can’t accurately predict what will happen on the day or what the interviewers will ask so there is little point trying to do so. What you can do, however, is prepare to be a confident, well informed, communicative candidate who oozes with motivation, passion and an obvious burning desire to study veterinary at the university you are fortunate enough to be invited to an interview at. The vet schools are not looking for students who already know everything there is to know about animals and veterinary science – if they filled places with such candidates then there would be little need for vets schools at all. What they are looking for are the kind of students we have already discussed and it is these aforementioned qualities that you should be aiming to project on the day.

Interviewing, or indeed presenting, well is a product of a number of complimentary factors that ultimately work together to give the desired impression to your audience. The key factor is preparation.


Do you simply turn up to an important exam and sit it without any form of preparation? If you do and you do well then congratulations as you are a very rare breed. If, however, you are like the vast majority of us mere mortals then I strongly suspect the answer is “of course not!” You revise and you practice past papers. This is to a) ensure that you understand and can recall the important information that may well be required in the exam, and b) to familiarise yourself with the format, length and pressure of the exam. This latter exercise is effectively desensitisation at work, as you gradually reduce your initial, automatic, and ultimately unhelpful and damaging, response to a stressful situation. If you did go into an exam without any prior knowledge of the format then chances are that you would spend most of your time getting flustered about how long you had to answer the questions, the fact that you didn’t have access to textbooks, and the general stress of being in an unfamiliar situation. This would clearly detract from the important task of getting on and understanding the questions and writing sensible answers in the time allotted. This is no different to an interview and going into one without any level of prior preparation and ‘desensitisation’ will likely lead to you feeling anxious from the moment you enter, with the result likely to be a horribly stressful experience. But how exactly can you prepare well for an interview, and specifically a vet school interview. Well, read on and we shall learn.

The Early Bird Catches The Worm

There is little point in starting your preparation the evening before your interview. This is akin to cramming for an exam: pointless and just results in misery for all concerned. You know that you’re going to apply to vet school. You also know that the interviews tend to start around November and run through until about March. I would personally start thinking and planning my approach to interviews in August, or at least September, before you have even sent off your application. Just the very act of thinking about an upcoming event gets all of your subconscious neurones firing away and before you know it you’ll be able to draw up a winning ‘how to be awesome at interviews’ plan in time for the ‘season.’ The sooner you start thinking about the interviews then the more time you will have to find out the format, and practice using this knowledge, request references if you haven’t already got them, start reading around relevant subjects and generally morphing into an interview King or Queen.

Which Vet Schools?

There is no point spending precious time practicing for multiple, short interviews if you are not applying to Liverpool, so consider which of the vet schools you are applying to and tailor the specifics of your preparation to them. Much of your preparation, such as background reading, and getting used to being questioned in formal settings, will be the same regardless of which vet schools you apply to but there are some subtle differences that it is important to be aware of when preparing yourself. After all, time is a precious commodity to a prospective vet student.

Any Useful Contacts?

Do you know anyone who is either studying at or has previously applied and been interviewed at the vet schools that you’re planning on applying to? If so then why not get in touch and ask if they would be willing to give you some helpful insight into that school’s interview, including any questions that might have been asked. There is no guarantee that the same questions will be asked of you but it can be useful to get a sense of the type of questions that might crop up during your interview.

Be Informed

As a future veterinary professional it will be expected that you are taking an active interest in what is happening to affect the profession, and to have an awareness of issues and news of relevance. A classic example would be the whole issue surrounding TB and badgers, which you would be mad not to have some knowledge of before heading to a vet school interview. Talk to vets, vet students, farmers, animal owners and anyone else who you consider to be involved in caring for animals. What issues are they talking about and consider to be important? Chances are that the same issues will be the ones on the minds of the interview panel. Try and get hold of copies of publications such as Vet Times, which most vets will gladly put aside for you once they’ve read their copy, as these are the very best source of up to the minute industry news and comment. You certainly don’t have to go as far as keeping press clippings but making a few notes on a few relevant issues might not be a bad idea. If anything, they may well serve as a useful refresher before the interview itself.

Statement – Know It!

Its not at all uncommon for an interview to be guided by what’s written in your statement. After all, this is the first place that the vet schools get to find out something about you and so it is perfectly natural that it should act as a launchpad for further questioning. It may seem like a stupidly obvious thing to say but it is so important that you know your statement like the back of your hand, as any discrepency between what you have written and what you then say in an interview will come across poorly. Read your statement through and internalise it until you are virtually dreaming about it at night.

Mock Interviews

Much as a mock exam allows you to get used to exam conditions, identify areas for improvement and generally get better at taking exams, mock interviews do the same for your interview success. Ensure that you manage to do at least one mock interview as I guarantee that you will realise the benefits. It is important with any mock that you recreate as best you can the actual scenario that you are practicing for, including the sense of formality that an interview has. It is only by repeatedly putting yourself in conditions which accurately mirror the real one that you will start to develop the skills and familiarity with the format that will enable you to focus your mind on the aspects of the activity that are going to enable you to excel, rather than worrying about the minor details over which you have no control.

No Friends or Family

As we are aiming to recreate as closely as possible the setting of a real interview, there is little to no point asking your parents, friends or siblings to conduct a mock interview with you as you are obviously on familiar and friendly terms with them, meaning that you won’t feel that sense of formality and seriousness that the real interview will have and so won’t be able to desensitise yourself to the pressure and anxiety of such a setting. Rather, ask your school if they can help by arranging a mock interview with a member of staff who you might not be too familiar with, or perhaps a school governor. Schools will often have links with local business people, including veterinarians, and so may be able to ask such professionals if they would be willing to conduct a mock interview with you. The result is that a) you will likely find yourself doing your mock interview(s) somewhere far more formal, and realistic, than at home, and b) will take the exercise as seriously as you would the real interview, something that is less likely if your best mate or mum was the interviewer. The feedback you receive from an unfamiliar, professional interviewer is also likely to be far more honest and constructive than that which would come from friends, who are naturally going to want to make you feel good about yourself. It is, however, really vital that you get to identify those things that you did particularly well, and this need less attention and development, and, more importantly, those things that require work and that you can improve on before your actual interviews commence. If possible, try and arrange for your mock to be conducted by more than one person as this will more accurately mirror the real scenario and also result in feedback from more than one person, which is always handy.

Dress Like You Mean It

Would you turn up to your vet school interview in a pair of jeans and T-shirt? No, of course not, so why not extend the principle of a mock to your dress as well by going along dressed for the occasion. The point of everything we do with mock interviews is to make sure you feel as comfortable and relaxed as you can come the big day, and to prepare your mind fully for the event. Anchoring is a term used to describe a process by which our mind forms a link between verbal cues, physical objects, and other such triggers, and our emotional state and subconscious mind. So by practicing your interview technique, including recreating such factors as what you wear, your mind will anchor the feeling of confidence, knowledge and ability that you will develop through practice to such factors as your dress. The result is that when you put on the same sort of clothes on interview day, your mind will automatically switch itself to the same state that it developed during your mocks, and you are far more likely to stride into your interview feeling the same sense of confidence and preparedness, with positive results.

As for dress code, I am sure you can probably guess for yourself but a general guide would be to encourage the following:

Males – a smart, well fitting suit with creaseless/ ironed shirt, or smart pair of trousers, such as Chinos, with a similarly smart shirt. The issue of whether to wear a tie is down to personal preference in my opinion and is not compulsory. Smart, clean shoes are essential to finish off the interview look.

Females – there is perhaps a little more choice and flexibility for you, from the option of a simple yet smart skirt – no mini skirts, as we don’t want the interviewers having heart attacks – and blouse, to the classic trouser suit, which can be worn with either a blouse or appropriately smart top. Needless to say, anything too low-cut or that otherwise exposes too much flesh should be avoided. A basic rule  is to say that if your gran would approve then you’re probably on the right track. Smart shoes, as above, will finish the look.

Timing & Location

Once you have confirmed someone to conduct your mock interview, you’ll need someplace to be interviewed. This will probably be an office or classroom at school or, if with a local professional, at their place of work. Confirm the date, time and location of the interview and ensure you arrive nice and early, as you would on the actual interview, with time to sit quietly outside the room before being called in. Try and stick to the interview being no more than twenty minutes, as is likely to be the case with actual vet school interviews, although it is not a major issue if it does run over as all it will do is provide extra feedback.

If your school, or the person who has agreed to interview you, is not familiar with the format of veterinary interviews or would find it helpful to have access to a list of suitable questions, then get in touch via Facebook or Twitter and let me know.

Film Yourself

I am sure that like most people the idea of seeing yourself on video is beyond awkward and you’d rather not even contemplate the idea. It is, however, an excellent way of rapidly improving your interview skills and I urge you to overcome your concerns and fire up the camera. By filming and then reviewing your mock interviews, you will be able to see every aspect of your performance, from how you entered to how quickly and clearly you speak, to whether or not you have any potentially irritating tics, such as toe tapping or drumming your fingers on the table, which you might never have been aware that you even did. I firmly believe that reviewing video of your mock interviews is one of the most powerful tools in helping you to ace your vet school interviews, so go on, become a star.

Keep checking the Vet School Success Facebook page, sign up for the newsletter and follow Chris on Twitter (@thenerdyvet) for more interview advice and help.

A new UK vet school. Good news?

Anyone considering applying to study veterinary was handed some potentially very good news recently as the University of Surrey announced that it was establishing the UK’s newest vet school, with the first cohort of undergraduates due to enter in 2014. This came as quite the bolt out of the blue for most members of the veterinary profession, with only six years having passed since the establishment of Nottingham Vet School. On the face of it another vet school may well seem like an excellent step for the profession, but is it? Do we really need another vet school? What effect will it have on the training of new vets? How will it affect the veterinary job market in a few years time, if at all? These are but a few of the questions that have been raised since the news and we will explore some of the initial thoughts here.

How will Surrey be different?

“One Health – One Medicine”

According to the University of Surrey website, and recent press-releases, the focus of the new vet school will be on the closer integration between advancements in both human and veterinary medicine and science, a theme championed by pioneering Surrey orthopaedic and neurology veterinary surgeon, Noel Fitzpatrick, who is apparently very heavily involved in the planning and establishment of the new school. Students will have the opportunity to work across faculties, learning about the work of not only veterinarians but also exploring advancements in such areas as human prosthetic developments and material science.

Another key focus, according to the PR, is going to be on livestock medicine. Westpoint, a large farm animal veterinary company with operations across the country, are also key players in the coming about of the new school in Guildford, and will be instrumental in delivering much of the farm animal teaching. The model for the school appears to be somewhat similar to that developed by Nottingham, with the importance of close links with local practices, from small animal first opinion and specialist, to equine, farm and research, with such institutions as the BBSRC Pirbright Institute representing key partners.

Is establishing another vet school necessary?

Although no-one is suggesting that the founding principles of the new school are sound there is some debate as to whether ploughing resources into a new vet school is the way to further such ties between human and veterinary disciplines. Many argue that it makes far more sense to invest in the UK’s existing vet schools, working to expand on their long and proven record of research and development in the field of veterinary, and building stronger links with faculties and departments that have a direct impact on human healthcare developments, including medical schools, of which every current UK vet school has within their parent universities. Are we not, by creating another focus of veterinary attention, simply threatening to dilute the efforts of researchers at the existing schools, with the long-term result being a greater number of vet schools but with no really outstanding centres for innovation? The other question to ask is what exactly the new school sees itself doing that is going to be so different to the training offered by the other established vet schools, and whether a markedly different course, if that is the plan, is going to ultimately benefit graduates and the profession. If the curriculum is going to be very similar to that offered at existing schools then the question remains “do we need more vets qualifying from the UK each year?” If, however, the emphasis of the new course is to be on very specialist, cutting-edge aspects of veterinary medicine then are we not in danger of qualifying a large number of vets who might be able to discuss the pros and cons of artificial elbows in dogs, for example, but have a superficial to poor grounding in basic, day one veterinary skills. There has already, in my opinion, been evidence of some veterinary graduates leaving university with pretty rudimentary surgical skills, owing, quite simply, to a lack of opportunities to hone such vital skills. I don’t see how this will be helped by the addition of another 100 or so new students each year.

Is there enough work for more vets?

With no reliable source of across-the-board employment data for the veterinary profession the answer to this question is one that is most likely to be debated based on unofficial observations and personal opinions. It is my view that until very recently graduates from the UK’s vet schools have enjoyed the benefit of entering a labour market in which there were more jobs available than vets, with the result being a negligibly low unemployment rate amongst UK vets and thus employment readily available to a swathe of eager and equally skilled vets from outside of the country, especially from places such as Australia and South Africa. This, however, is apparently changing, with reports of veterinary graduates finding it significantly harder to secure their first jobs after leaving university and many joining the ranks of graduates in other subjects in having to undertake unpaid experience, or significantly lower paid nursing and animal technician duties, in order to keep their skills and participation within the profession current. This, it could be argued, creates further issues by increasing the level of competition for entry-level nursing and animal care assistant positions. I can honestly say right now that if anyone told me that after five years at university, with an accrued debt of many thousands of pounds, that I would have difficulties securing a job as a vet at the end of it, I would have seriously considered other career options. One of the questions that I get asked by students considering a veterinary career, and predominantly it appears by males, is how hard it is to find a job after qualifying. Job security and availability is clearly an area of concern to young people and any profession in which supply starts to exceed demand is potentially going to see a long-term tail off in applicants. Physiotherapy is one example of a profession where there are significantly more practitioners qualifying each year than there are posts for them to fill, with the result being disillusioned professionals just starting their careers – not a good welcome to any profession. I hasten to add, however, that there is no concrete evidence for this yet being the case with veterinary, although I would welcome the publication of employment data for veterinary graduates, as this will help us to monitor any trends. A cursory glance at the job pages of the Veterinary Times each week does indeed suggest that there are a good number of veterinary positions available. However, a closer read does reveal that many of the positions specifically request experienced applicants, not necessarily new graduates. Of course, the changing demographic of the veterinary profession, with more vets choosing part-time work to fit around family commitments or just to enjoy a better work-life balance, may well open up more employment opportunities. These are certainly interesting times that we are living and practicing in and it will be fascinating to see how the profession continues to evolve.

What will happen to salaries?

This is another concern amongst many vets, with a number arguing that swelling the supply of vets available will surely lead to salary deflation or, at best, a real reluctance on the part of employers to raise assistants’ salaries during their employment as they will be in a much better position to be able to employ new vets in the event that existing vets leave. The business of salaries is a murky one already, with little readily available reliable data on salaries for vets, and most practices having vets on different salaries, sometimes markedly so, when they are, effectively, doing the same job. My experience so far has been that unless I specifically asked for a fair salary review each year, with at least one example of feeling that I had to move on to another practice in order to raise my salary to a realistic amount for my level of experience, then I would still be on the salary I started out on, which compared to professionals in areas such as medicine, law, accountancy and dentistry would have been lamentable. The fact that vets are, by comparison, underpaid for the complex, difficult work that they do is one that is not generally recognised, with the vast majority of the public assuming that we are all paid fortunes. Although it is not a certainty that the earning potential of vets in the future will be adversely affected by an increase in supply of skilled vets, it is worth considering and recognising the fact that with more applicants per job, the upward pressure on salaries will be much less.

Interesting Time for Veterinary Education

How things have changed over the course of the past few decades, from the huge swing in the demographic of the profession to the changes in how veterinary services are delivered, levels of specialism and the establishment of not just one but now two new vet schools, it feels as though we are entering a very interesting phase as veterinarians and I for one look on with deep interest. The new vet school is happening – that is a fact – and the first twenty-five students are due to be enrolled in September 2014. What isn’t confirmed is whether the course will be accredited by the RCVS, although based on Nottingham’s experience I would say that it is a technicality and there is no reason not to think that the new vets graduating from Guildford in 2019 will be awarded MRCVS status. The question of what the profession they will enter will look like, however, does remain an interesting one. Exciting times indeed.

A-level Results Not What You Wanted? :( What Next?

vet surgeonToday was the day that thousands of A-level students finally saw an end to two years of hard toil and anxious nail biting, with the publication of results and for those prospective vet students, either the fulfillment of a long-awaited dream of a place at their chosen university to train as a vet or the crushing realisation that they had missed out.

Hopefully, if you’re reading this and have applied to vet school then you’ll be in the former group, in which case massive congratulations and happy planning and preparing for some of the very best years of your young lives. If, however, you have had a shite day and are wondering what on earth you’re to do now that your world has just imploded then read on…. this blog post is for you.

Now I am going to try really hard not to be one of those annoying, patronising people who may be busy trying to tell you to “chin up” and that “things will be ok,” because although in the long run they are actually spot-on, the truth is that you’ll be raging inside at the moment and will probably be looking for anyone and anything to strike out at. Failing to achieve a big goal sucks! Period. I had a similar experience with my intercalated degree result and although I wouldn’t go so far as to say that was in any way on the same level as not getting into vet school – afterall, I was already at vet school – it was like a punch to the guts and felt really shitty. The emotions that I suspect you’ll be going through over the next few days will range from disbelief, anger, a feeling of having somehow been cheated, panic at what you will perhaps see as the end of all things, followed, hopefully, by a gradual acceptance of the facts, a measured period of reflection and self-appraisal and then, eventually, a sense of renewed purpose and determination to either change course – something that many people do without ever looking back – or focus on a renewed, stronger application the next year.

Now that you’ve raged and gotten the perfectly normal and acceptable reaction to devastating news out of your system, it is time to breathe deeply, take stock and assess your options. But what are these options? Well, you have a number of them you’ll be pleased to hear…

1. Call the vet schools anyway – hopefully you’ll have thought of doing this earlier today, or certainly first thing tomorrow, because at the end of the day stranger things do and have happened than you actually being accepted with lower than desired grades. You never know, especially if you don’t ask. You may have wowed the interview panel so much when they met you that the university simply couldn’t imagine NOT having you grace the hallowed halls of their esteemed institution in which case, hurrah, and wipe away those tears so that you can replace them with fresh joyous ones. However, don’t get your hopes up here as the chances of this happening are very very slim. The fact remains that vet schools are massively oversubscribed and if you miss out on the grade offer then there is likely to be someone who didn’t receive an offer but did achieve the grades who will swing on in there and take your place. Harsh but true I’m afraid. Worth a try though.

2.Consider studying veterinary overseas – this may sound like a very extreme measure, and I guess it sort of is – but a number of UK students are following their vet dreams at vet schools outside of the country, with one Vet School reader currently studying in Poland. Now, at the time of writing I have no idea what the practicalities are of contacting these vet schools to make such enquiries, but you’re all intelligent and resourceful enough to be able to seek out the necessary contact information and make the required calls or send emails. You’ll never know unless you ask.

3. Suck it up, assess the damage & focus on a different career, or a slightly longer, less direct path into vet school – life will go on after epic setbacks even though it doesn’t feel like it at the time. You will be ok in the long run. There, I’ve said it. Once the dust has settled, ascertain where things have gone awry. Was it one subject that let you down? Could you retake it and apply again next year? Maybe you’ll decide that you’d still be happy to go to university this year but do a different course, such as your ‘insurance’ course. You could then either look at applying to study vet as a graduate in a few years or, as many do, follow a different career path and live happily ever after. If you don’t have a non-vet university place lined up then you could join the Clearing process and hopefully get yourself onto a good degree course at a great uni. You can call the UCAS helpline on 0871 468 0 468 for more information.

3. Shrug it off and move on from education into the big, bad world of paid employment – you may very well decide that, on reflection, you’re no longer keen to stay on in further education in which case there are more and more options available to young people to help you gain a foot on the employment ladder. Many of the country’s top employers offer really great training programmes to school leavers, with the advantage being that you get paid, gain invaluable employment experience and learn new schools all at the same time. As such, not achieving your initial goals at A-level do not necessarily mean that you are resigned to a life of menial, poorly paid work. Quite the opposite. Some time spent searching online and talking to your school or college careers advisors will, in this case, prove valuable.

Although the above list of suggestions do not, I am sure, constitute an exhaustive set of options, I hope they offer some food for thought and go some way to highlight that even if things haven’t gone as planned for you today, you have options and it is not yet time to turn the lights off on your dream of a place at vet school. Good luck and all the very best.