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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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Equine Education (Part 2 – Vet Students)

Have you ever wondered who the young person trailing behind your vet is? They appear, at best they're introduced as "so-and-so, who's seeing practice with us", and then they disappear, never to be seen again... Well, the odds are they're vet students who are "seeing practice" with your vet. Training as a vet is a long process - vet students spend 5 or 6 years at university doing lectures, practicals and clinical work. However, in that space of time, they also have to do the equivalent of an extra year of "EMS" (Extra-Mural Studies, generally known as "seeing practice"). This is their chance to get out of the lecture theatre, away from the ivory towers and out into the real world of practice! As vets in practice, our job is to take these students and teach them the nuts and bolts of veterinary practice. They'll learn the science, and all the theory, at vet school; however, there is also an art to veterinary practice, and that's our responsibility. For example, if the client can't afford the best treatment, how do you proceed? Or if a client refuses consent for a surgical procedure, what other options can be explored? At the vet schools, students tend to learn a lot about the more esoteric and uncommon diseases, operations and procedures - this is because they operate referral hospitals (although Nottingham uses an expanded version of the EMS system for virtually all their clinical tuition). Although they do have first opinion practices, in all seven schools the teaching tends to be biased towards the rare and exotic. Out in general practice, however, the axiom "Common things are common" applies - for every septic pedal joint, there are dozens of simple hoof abscesses! It can also be useful to us having students along (opening gates, for example - sounds silly, but when you have yards with five or six sets of gates, it gets very time consuming stopping to open and close each set!). In addition, though, they will often have learnt new approaches, new solutions to problems, that we can use. For example, I once had a student along with me when I was dealing with a stallion with an injury in a VERY sensitive area. To examine it properly, I would need to nerve block the whole area - time consuming and potentially dangerous. However, my student at the time had learnt in her pharmacology lectures that it had recently been discovered that one of the local anaesthetic agents I was carrying was effective through the thickness of the skin. We therefore applied it with gloves - and managed to numb the area enough to examine him properly. In one practice where I worked, I did an awful lot of equine dental work. In some situations, we used a powered dremel; however, we didn't routinely carry it, so if there was an intermediate case, we'd usually try and complete the work by hand, rather than come back later. Now, I can assure you that rasping down large hooks and ridges is physically very hard work! Having a student to alternate with makes it go much faster and more efficiently - which often means less time and sedation. The big problem vet students have, however, is getting enough clinical experience in practice. Some clients are, sadly, unwilling to allow a student to carry out even simple procedures (like giving injections, or drawing blood samples). If you think you might be in that situation, I'd like you to consider three things...
  1. The vet will be closely supervising, and will be in a position to step in at any point if they aren't happy.
  2. We wouldn't ask the student to do it if we thought they'd make a hash of it.
  3. Most importantly of all, if they don't get a chance to practice as students, they won't develop the skills they need as graduates. That means they won't get the experience they need if they're going to grow into good horse vets - because they didn't get the practice they needed as a student under controlled conditions.
So, for the sake of your horses in the future: please allow the student to carry out any procedures that your vet thinks they're ready for!
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