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To Vet School and Beyond

Extract taken from To Vet School and Beyond by Lorna Clark, available through the links at the end of the post

 

To be a vet you need a specific qualification – a university degree in veterinary medicine which usually requires five years of study. That sounds like a long time, but there is a lot to learn, and it goes quite fast!

One of the things that I really enjoyed about studying veterinary medicine was the variety of learning.

The first two years are spent mainly learning anatomy, physiology and animal science and becoming familiar with animal handling and animal management, and then the final three years are focused on building on that knowledge, and learning about pathology (the cause and effect of disease), how to make a diagnosis and treatment, and applying it to becoming a vet.

Usually, the last year of vet school is lecture-free, and spent on work placements, usually in veterinary practices or other veterinary establishments.

These placements are called ‘rotations’ and provide a really practical learning experience. I think this is the year that I enjoyed the most when I was at vet school – it really felt like becoming a vet was just around the corner.

Vet school was a long time ago now for me, so I met up with Katie Macauley who is a vet student in her third year, to find out what learning to be a vet is like for her.

 

Hello, my name is Katie. I live in Surrey and I’m in my third year of study at the vet school there. I have one dog – a red Labrador called Alfie who eats absolutely anything and everything! I am a very active person and when I am not at college or working – I love running, cycling and horse-riding.

 

Wow! You sound like a very busy and motivated person. Did you always want to be a vet?

 

Yes, I have always wanted to be a vet, from as long as I can remember. I think I’ve been really lucky, knowing what I’ve wanted to do – as I’ve always had a goal to work towards. It’s been really helpful through school, having something to keep me focused.

 

So, how did you get on in your GSCEs and A levels?

 

I got 11 GCSEs, including all of the sciences, English and maths, and then geography and French, because those were two subjects that I really enjoyed. I also got four A levels in biology, chemistry, physics and home economics.

 

That’s brilliant! What work experience did you do in preparation for applying to school?

 

Lambing and calving are both really good fun and you often get to do lots of ‘hands-on’ things like delivering lambs and calves, and administering medicines. I spent a week at a canine hydrotherapy centre where I learnt about and got to do some dog massage, which was pretty cool!

I enjoyed spending time in vet practices too – watching what a vet does day to day is a great way to see whether it might be the right job for you. If you don’t have time to do more experience than the vet schools require it doesn’t matter. The key really is quality over quantity. A few weeks where you learn a lot is much more worthwhile than spending a year somewhere where you don’t learn anything.

 

That’s really good to know. Can you tell me a bit more about the university application process?

 

I applied to vet school in October 2015. The first part of the journey is writing your personal statement, which is basically just a piece of writing about yourself, including why you would make a good vet, and what strengths and good qualities you have. In the UK you apply through an organization called UCAS. You do this online and it is pretty simple: it just involves a lot of filling in details and exam grades and then selecting your universities and keeping your fingers crossed until you hear back.

 

Your application was obviously successful then?

 

Yes. I got two interviews, one at Liverpool and one at Surrey. Both were MMIs (multiple mini interviews), where you don’t just sit in front of a panel of people and talk to them, you move around the room and sit at different tables for 5 minutes each, answering one interview question at each table.

All of the universities have slightly different interview processes so it is well worth reading up beforehand so you are prepared for each. Most of them involve an interview aspect, where you chat a bit about why you want to be a vet, your opinions on vet issues, and maybe interesting cases you have seen, and some include practical parts like group discussions, skills like building a Lego® model, and simple maths calculations.

The university then get in contact with you within a few days or weeks to let you know their decision, and you can then decide which offer to accept and which university you want to go to. I got one offer, from Surrey, which I was very happy to accept!

 

That’s really interesting – who’d have thought you’d build Lego® at a vet school interview! It’s great news when you get a place – as it can be quite difficult to get in. Do you have any advice for the readers of this book on applying to vet school?

 

It felt amazing to receive the offer! My advice would be – don’t be disheartened if you don’t get in the first time! Lots and lots of people at vet school have applied two or three times before – some have done different courses beforehand, some take gap years, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that at all.

Veterinary medicine is a tough and competitive degree to get a place on, and just because you get rejected one year does not mean you aren’t good enough! So, don’t give up, reapply and you never know!

 

Good advice! What are the bits that you most enjoy about being a vet student?

 

I feel really lucky to be a vet student, and it is a lot of fun. I find the work really enjoyable and I have met some wonderful people, both friends at university, and vets and vet nurses while out on placements. It opens so many opportunities for you to get involved in different things no matter what field you are interested in. Some of the best parts are the practical bits, like animal handling, which at Surrey starts right at the beginning of the course, as well as getting to have a go at clinical skills like suturing, scrubbing-up for surgery and working through cases, because those are the parts that really make you feel like a vet.

 

And what are the least positive aspects – the things you find the most difficult or stressful?

 

Being a vet student is intense and you won’t love it all the time. It is a long course and sometimes it can feel like it is never-ending or that the things you are learning aren’t going to be useful in the future, but there is always something that will pick you up and remind you why you are there in the first place.

Most of our university holidays are taken up working in practices on placement, which can be really tiring and annoying, especially if you have non-vet friends who have a lot more time off than you do.

Sometimes, you feel like you don’t know much and can’t do anything, but it is important not to forget that you are there to learn and aren’t expected to do everything right straightaway.

Finding the right revision strategy is also difficult, because what worked in school might not work at university due to the amount of work you have to do. However, there are lots of resources available to help.

 

So, what’s been your favourite bit so far, and what are you looking forward to in the future on your course?

 

My favourite bit was probably scrubbing into my first surgery while I was on placement, because after all of the hard work and long hours I had been putting in at university, it made me feel like I was one step closer to my goal of becoming a vet! I can’t wait for the fifth year, where I don’t have any lectures at all. I spend the year in practices and get to take on my own cases and put all of my skills and knowledge into practice to make animals better.

 

Sounds exciting! I must say, I really enjoyed my final year. It really felt like you were almost there! On another note – what would you say are the three most important skills you use being a vet student?

 

The ability to laugh, both at life and at yourself, is really so important, especially for vet students. It is a long journey to become a vet and it isn’t easy for anyone, with lots of exams to pass, skills to develop and information to understand. Even when you have graduated, it doesn’t get much easier, with long hours and hard situations to deal with. You won’t always get things right all of the time; every vet makes mistakes and we all have our fair share of embarrassing stories about situations we’ve been in, where we’ve been kicked or scratched or soaked in blood, cow poo or something equally disgusting, but being able to have a laugh when these things happen makes you so much happier.

The ability to motivate yourself to work is also really important because university isn’t like school where it is very structured and you have someone telling you what work to do and when – all of that now comes from you.

Communication skills with people from all walks of life are also so important. We are in a very important position to advise people about making the best decisions for their animals, and discussing difficult topics like euthanasia, so being able to communicate clearly and compassionately with people is something any vet should be able to do.

 

Can you describe a typical day at vet school?

 

Usually I get up around 7am, have a good breakfast and get ready. A typical day at vet school is 9am to 4pm, with three hours of lectures in the morning, an hour for lunch and then two to three hours of practical classes in the afternoon, which are usually all on the same topic to help you put the information you learn in the morning into practice.

Practical classes are either in the laboratories with dead animal tissue to work with, learning anatomy or pathology, practising clinical skills like suturing or injecting, or examining the live animals we have on site, which are always my favourites! Wednesday afternoons are kept free every week for sports and general chill-out time. I am usually home by 5 or 6pm, then go for a run, and then have dinner. Some evenings I will write up lectures or do some revision, and others I like to spend watching TV before heading to bed, because it is really important to let your brain have a rest!

 

So, what other things do you get involved with at university apart from studying?

 

While it is true that you have a lot of work to do, it is so important to have hobbies alongside vet school so you have good work–life balance. In my first year, I was a member of the veterinary society, which ran events like trampolining, ice skating and pub quizzes, which were all great ways to make friends and get to know the area.

I also had a membership to the sports centre that Surrey University has, with all sorts of options from climbing, a gym, a swimming pool, tennis courts, horse-riding – you name it, they have it! There are also loads of non-sporting clubs so there is pretty much something for everyone! The university also run all sorts of interesting talks covering a range of topics like wildlife rescue and animal first aid, which I love to go to (plus the free cake and pizza you get are always a bonus!!).

 

Sounds brilliant! Lastly, will you just finish this sentence off for me. I really want to be a vet because …

 

I want to be able to make a difference to people’s and animals’ lives – and this is a job where I feel I can make an impact!

 

Thanks Katie. It’s been great chatting to you! Good luck with the rest of your studies!

 

 

If you enjoyed this excerpt and you’d like to read more, To Vet School and Beyond by Lorna Clark is available here.