12 April 2002

Rewards and gripes of busy life as a vet

Farmlife asks Neil Howie

10 questions to get an

insight into life as a vet

Whats the best part of your job?

Making animals better can be a real thrill, especially if the treatment involves some new techniques or medicines. I also sometimes get a real sense of wonder at the power of nature. But the greatest satisfaction I get is when farmers change the way they do things and herd health and productivity improves as a consequence of following our advice.

Whats the worst part of your job?

Being late! The greatest pressure is to give each client the time they deserve and still get to the next client at a reasonable time.

Which skills and attributes do you need to do it well?

People skills. You can be as technically competent as you like, but you must be able to relate to clients and understand why they do what they do to help them do it better.

What are the three items/objects you need most for your job?

A clean driving licence, persistence and a sense of humour. Long arms and physical strength also help!

How many hours do you work in a typical week?

Our office hours are 8am to 6pm but, like The Windmill, we never close. Veterinary practices are obligated to provide services 24 hours of every day. In our practice, we always have two farm vets, one small animal vet and one horse vet on duty at nights and weekends. We all have to take a share in these duties.

Whats the pay like? New graduates would expect something in the range of £16,000 to £20,000 depending on location, type of practice and whether a house is provided. Senior assistants will expect about £30,000; some exceptional jobs in small animal clinics are advertised up to £40,000. Partners draw according to the profits of their practice they have invested in. These profits fluctuate according to practice success.

How much studying/training did you do?

I didnt study very hard, but I wouldnt get into college now! A place at vet college demands three excellent A levels. The veterinary degree is a five-year course, with much of the usual university holiday time taken up with practical study. Then you go into the University of Life and spend the rest of your life learning! Id definitely recommend going away to college:it helps you grow up and find yourself.

Would you recommend it as a career to other people?

Only if they understood that the image presented in the media is – of necessity to be attractive – a bit of a twee, edited version of what we really do. You need a certain combination of fatalism, resilience and tolerance to be comfortable in the job. A frightening proportion of recent graduates are disenchanted with the job. There is a problem of expectations not being fulfilled.

What do you do when youre not at work?

Spend as much time as possible with my family.

Which one person would you most like to have tea with?

My wife and boys. But if you want me to take tea with someone to influence, it would have to be the bosses of the big supermarkets so that I could tell them that farmers need a decent return to look after the countryside and their animals.


Neil Howie, Nantwich Veterinary Group, Cheshire.