Year of graduation: 2012
Home region: Barnard Castle, County Durham
What did you aspire to do when you applied for Vet School?
I wanted to be a farm vet and there was absolutely no question in my mind that this was not my calling. Growing up in a rural area and being from a farming background had cemented this in my mind from a very young age. I loved being outside, I loved the animals but most of all I loved having the ‘craic’ with the farmers!
I always loved dogs too, that was not the issue, but I just loved farm work more. 100 times more! I would not bare the idea of being stuck inside doing consult after consult for the rest of my life. I also struggle with keeping my emotional distance in small animal cases so I was adamant I didn’t want to be upset on a daily basis.
This plan did not change for me until I was 6 months qualified. All the way through vet school, I focused on large animals, doing as little small animal EMS as physically possible and even having my dissertation published in ‘Cattle Practice’. When I graduated, I genuinely thought that I would never do a small animal consult again. Until, due to my partner’s job, we had to move to the city and there were no farm jobs anywhere around. I took a mixed job and everything changed from there. I had not given small animal medicine or surgery a chance until then but I gradually found myself preferring to miss a PDing session to stay in and spey cats- what was happening to me?!?! It took me a while to accept that I was starting to become a ‘smally vet’ as this changed my whole life plan that I had had since I was 11 years old. I then took a huge step (not really, but it was for me at the time!) and moved to a small animal practice. I absolutely love my job and I doubt I will ever go back to farm work.
What are you doing now?
I am still officially an employee at my small animal practice, Westway Veterinary Group, but I have done something a little bit crazy! I have moved to Sri Lanka and set up a charity called WECare Worldwide, in partnership with Westway, that provides veterinary care to stray dogs and cats. I spend my days neutering and vaccinating street dogs and cats as well as treating sick and injured animals that I find in the street or that are reported to us by a member of the public. I sometimes carry out complex ops which is great for me but there are also a lot of limitations in a country like Sri Lanka, which is very frustrating. I also educate the younger generation on responsible pet ownership, animal welfare and animal handling.
What is your favourite thing about being a vet?
The best thing about being a vet, for me, is the relationships you build both with the pet and with the owner. These are not superficial ‘work relationships’ that you may get in other jobs- you are helping a member of their family and you see (and are part of) all of the emotional lows and highs. You get to know them on a different level. It is not the best thing when you are lying awake at 4am worrying about a certain case but ultimately it means that you care. Not just about the clinical outcome but about the family you have become a part of for a short while.
I also love working as part of a team. My practice in the UK is large and when I am in Sri Lanka I miss every single one of my colleagues. We are a hard-working, sociable team and it makes my job what it is. It is so important to enjoy work and, having a supportive group of people around you, makes a huge difference. I could have the ‘best’ job in the world but if I worked alone, I would hate it. Technically, I do now work alone but I still have their support every day even though I am a 13 hour flight away.
What is the worst thing about being a vet?
For me, it is the limitations that are applied to certain cases. Be it financial, owner related or availability of drugs etc, it is the most frustrating thing not being able to do your very best for an animal. However, it does teach you to think outside of the box and it also means that you have a knowledge of a range of treatment options, not just Gold standard.
I am totally outside my comfort zone in Sri Lanka where I have to do everything at minimal cost with minimal drug availability and with dogs that live on the streets. You may see them one day and then not see them for a week. If they need an operation, you can’t send them home with the owner at the end of the day with a post-op care sheet! You have to think about where these animals will stay during recovery which, in a country with only one animal hospital with boarding facilities, is a huge limitation in itself.
I think that, no matter how frustrating this is right now, ultimately, I will be a much better veterinary surgeon. And hopefully I will have developed some patience!!
What has been the most memorable/interesting experience of your career so far?
Probably what I am doing now! It is different on a daily basis and it is very interesting to work in a completely different culture. We are very spoilt in the UK and I did not realize this until I came here. I will never, ever, ever moan about owner compliance in the UK ever again!!!
Do you have any future career goals?
My long term aim is to do a Surgery Certificate and specialize in soft tissue surgery. But for now, there are far too many street dogs in the world that need ‘boring’ things like vaccinations and speys for me to even consider spoiling myself with specialized surgery!
If you could give one piece of advice to current vet students, what would it be?
If I had £1 for every time someone told me when I was at vet school that I shouldn’t be so set on being a farm vet, I would be a millionaire. I’m embarrassed to say and I’m sorry to be such a cliché but I’m joining that list of people. PLEASE don’t put yourself in a box and cut yourself off from certain disciplines. I cannot stress how certain I was that I would be a farm vet for the rest of my life and the fact that this has changed, makes me realize that it can happen to anyone. So many of my fellow graduates have found themselves in the same position- we were all adamant that we knew what we would be doing when we graduated and, for a lot of us, this has changed. Please just get experience in every area, just in case!