From student to the world of work

It feels a lot longer than five years ago that I set off for the bright lights of London to start my veterinary training.

But time does fly when you’re having fun and having passed my finals I was fortunate enough to be offered a job in Devon with the promise of 50:50 farm: small animal work, with the occasional horse.

It was also a one-in-eight first on call, which means that I’m only on call one day out of every eight – I so should have plenty of opportunity to catch up with sleep should that one night be filled with calls.

Excellent, I thought. For surely all the hard work was finally over? Apparently not…

Vet school does offer a sneak peak of what the working world may be like, but it is still a shock to the system to be let loose. As a student, all you really do is “play” vet, with your every move OK’d by a greater power, so the first day that you are on your own is terrifying.

There are certain advantages to being inside a consulting room. To start with, you can “take the animal out the back” should a second opinion be required. Plus, you’re warm and surrounded by books. The disadvantages include having to navigate the computer system (who have you just seen and how do you find their record again?) and once you think you know what’s wrong with a beloved pet – what do you treat it with? How much? How strong? And how long for?

Heading on-farm feels more familiar, but raises other issues – not least how to find it. My sat nav has an amazing knack of taking me almost to a farm and then telling me to turn left off-road, usually aiming at a hedge.

Once you’ve found said sick cow/calf/bul, it tends to be less daunting than small animal work. The farmer generally has a fair idea what is wrong with their animal, and is much more realistic about what can be done and the likely outcome.

Throughout vet school we were told “common things are common”. It’s easy for your mind to go into overload and get you thinking about the most peculiar and complicated conditions when, in fact, that lump is probably an abscess rather than some bizarre tumour, and that down cow probably will respond to calcium even if she looks like she’s about to die of some incurable disease.

As a new graduate, there are limitations to what we can do on a farm. PDing 100 cattle to within a day of their due date, for example, is currently a bit too big an ask. Feeling a uterus at three months is fine, but trying to work out the difference between eight weeks (when the foetus is the size of a mouse) and 10 weeks (now the size of a golf ball) requires a bit of practice.

With many farms choosing to PD as early as possible trying to find a 40-day pregnancy feels like looking for a needle in a haystack for the first few attempts. It’s another example of practice makes perfect.

But tasks likes examining a sick cow, dehorning (usually with wire and some blood flow!) and TB testing all fall into the realms of jobs we can do.

I have always enjoyed putting the pieces of the puzzle together – clinical signs, duration, stage of lactation – to form a picture. There is nothing more satisfying than working out what is wrong with an animal and then correcting it.

One big advantage of working as a vet compared with being a student is that you are paid for your out-of-hours work. This definitely makes calls at 2am a lot more bearable, even if the reason given is “the dog is snoring”.

I do miss aspects of student life. Living in a house with three others, a stones throw from my friends, for example. This meant I only had to cook every other day and there was always someone nearby happy to pop to the pub or come round for a bottle of wine.

Now I return to my little house to be welcomed by the two moggies I have already managed to acquire (I fear I’ll become a mad cat lady) and survey the usually empty fridge.

I also miss the proximity to London that I’ve enjoyed for the past few years. Many friends doubted that I, a girl from the West Country, would survive a few weeks – let alone any longer – in the city. But I really enjoyed the freedom that the capital offered. You could wear whatever you liked and do whatever you wanted. I’m fairly certain that wandering down South Molton’s high street dressed in zebra print on a unicycle would cause heads to turn (not, I should add, that I’ve ever done this!)

I have, however, been very fortunate in finding such a supportive and happy practice in such a lovely area.

Looks like the next five years are set to pass as quickly as the past five

Choosing a career

* Get some work experience. I have friends who thought they wanted to be architects, but then realised quite how much maths was involved, or who wanted to be accountants then realised that balancing books was not as stimulating as they thought!

Equally you’d be amazed by the number of students who turn queasy at the sight of blood. It’s best to discover these things before you spend a lot of time getting qualifications

* Work to your strengths and what you enjoy doing – you get a lot more satisfaction from enjoying your job than by having a huge salary (if you can get both, of course, that’s ideal.)

* Remember you may need to work your way up, but gaining experience at a lower level will give you a more complete understanding of the job.

Job hunting

* As yourself: What do I want from a job? It was suggested to me that I should choose up to five things and stick to only applying for jobs that fitted with these. For example: location and the accommodation not being above the practice

* You can’t spend too much time on your covering letter and CV. Make sure grammar and spelling are up to scratch and printed on good quality paper. Show it to a friend, relative or careers advisers. Don’t be too modest, but excessive exaggeration should be avoided.

* Make sure your referees are contactable and happy to back your cause. Having a written reference can be very useful.

* Include extracurricular activities – it’s important to show you have a balanced personality and life outside of work.

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