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So You Want To Be A Vet? – Getting into vet school and beyond

I did and I still do! Being a vet is a brilliant job; every day is different. I get to work with great people and use the skills I worked hard to gain to help animals and solve their problems. However, it is also involves long hours, regular challenges, with both pets and people, and it can be very stressful. The first hurdle to being a vet is actually getting into vet school and with an average of nine applicants for every place, it is one of the most competitive university courses there is. The standard of students is always extremely high and I know the selectors face a very difficult task in picking out those best suited for a career in veterinary medicine. First and foremost, you must get the right grades at both GCSE and A Level. Without these you won’t even be considered and rightly so; academically the vet course is tough. However, as well as being a geek (!), you also need to have excellent people skills, good practical skills and, I believe, bags of common sense. You can help to show you have these by ensuring your extracurricular activities are relevant and varied; music, sports, volunteering and Duke of Edinburgh all regularly appear on successful candidates applications. The other vital piece of the puzzle is completing a diverse range of work experience to demonstrate you really understand the veterinary industry. Trust me, it’s not all cuddling cute animals! The most obvious place to start is in a vet clinic but this can be difficult. Most practices receive a large number of requests but do persevere. You should also spend some time on farms getting your hands dirty. Helping out at milking time and lambing is not glamorous but will be rewarding & very useful. To stand out from the crowd you could also consider seeing other aspects of veterinary work such as zoos and exotic pets, abattoirs (all of which need a vet on the premises while they are operating) and scientific laboratories. Many vets are involved in research and during the course you will spend quite a bit of time in the lab! Wanting to be a vet for most people is a passion and very few probably give much thought to what working as a vet is actually like. It is a cliche to say it is more a way of life than a job but veterinary is certainly not 9-5! Many positions will include on call, meaning you will be working in the night and often the next day as well. A great deal of veterinary medicine, particularly for the farm and horse vets, is done alone, which can be stressful and even the small animal vets in a clinic will be expected to make their own decisions from day one and perform surgery single handedly. This is difficult when you first start and although it gets easier, it is always a challenge! It is also important to consider the salary you are likely to earn. This is often something students don’t consider important but it soon becomes so when you have a mortgage to pay and a family to support! As a vet you will always be paid a good wage but it is very much less than similarly qualified professionals. Trust me, you soon get tired of clients thinking you earn as much as a doctor when it is more likely to be a third of that! Being a vet is wonderful and I feel very fortunate to be in my dream job. However, I confess when I set my heart on it I gave very little thought to the practicalities of life with long hours, on-call, demanding owners and difficult cases. Although, to be honest, even if I had it wouldn’t have changed my mind! If you are sure you want to be a vet; have the drive, intelligence and I haven’t put you off (!), then my advice is work hard, go for it and maybe one day, I’ll see you in theatre! Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS - Read more of her blogs at
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Keeping up to date

I recently spent a long weekend at the London Vet Show, which is a conference and commercial exhibition for vets. Events like this are held in various places in the UK, in fact all over the world. They offer vets a chance to attend lectures on the latest advances in veterinary medicine, learn about new drugs, new equipment and new techniques in surgery. In the commercial exhibition there are stands run by drug companies, charities and the sellers of all kinds of pet related items. It is also a great way of meeting up with old friends and colleagues. Although it took me as long to navigate one third of the M25 as it took me to get to the M25 from Devon, it was well worth the trip. I stayed with an old friend from my student days and met other friends, some planned and some a surprise. We had several nice meals out, but no time for sight-seeing on this visit. Back at the conference, there was a choice of lectures all day, given by speakers who are renowned in their particular field. Many different subjects were covered, including cardiology, parasitology, dental disease and abdominal surgery. Every minute of the day was filled with opportunities to learn new facts or revise known ones. Veterinary medicine is changing and advancing very rapidly. Many of the techniques which have been available in human medicine for a long time are becoming possible or even routine in animal medicine such as hip replacements, chemo-therapy and MRI scans. Although all UK-trained vets have studied for a minimum of 5 years, and vets from overseas must have a recognised qualification to practice in the UK, we would very quickly become out of date if we stopped learning on graduation. Practical skills are learned all the time, with new graduates now undergoing a supervised process of gaining skills called the Professional Development Phase. This has to be a good way of easing the transition between student and vet, compared with days gone by when a newly qualified vet could be “thrown in at the deep end” in their first job. Looking back, I think I was quite lucky with the supervision and support I received in my first job. Without support or experience, the first few months could be terrifying. All vets also have an obligation to undertake Continuing Professional Development (CPD) throughout their working lives. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), the regulatory body for vets, recommends a minimum of 35 hours per year. Many vets will do a lot more than this, especially if studying for a further qualification in an area of special interest. As well as formal conferences, CPD can consist of online learning, home study, small meetings within a practice or shadowing colleagues with particular skills. All CPD hours have to be recorded and can be checked by the RCVS at any time. During my London visit I spent enough time on the underground to last me a whole year, but I enjoyed my trip and gained some useful hours towards my required CPD. I came home with a lot of new knowledge and ideas which I know will be useful sooner or later.
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