Becoming a Veterinary Surgeon is a long process. As well as studying for top grades, you need to gain relevant work experience within a practice or farm and becoming fully qualified can take years.
Zoe Williams, a Veterinary Surgeon from Hampshire, says it’s worth the wait. She speaks with CV Surgeon to share her career journey and reveals some useful career tips.
What Made You Want to Become a Vet?
Both a love of and desire to work with animals and delight with all things anatomical or surgical. As a child if a fish died in our pond I would cut it up to have a look. At mealtimes I was also obsessed with what we were all eating and I really enjoyed biology at school so I knew I wanted to become a Veterinary Surgeon!
How Did You Get Into The Industry?
When I was 14 years old I did lots of work experience. I was lucky because our local Vet was very supportive. You also need to do lots of equine and farm work to show you can cope with this side of the job. As well as this I also worked part-time in a pet shop. Obviously academic achievement is a must and you have to get top grades to progress in the industry. You can study a variety of GCSE’s as long as it includes sciences. At A Level you should really choose courses like Biology, Chemistry, Maths and Physics. If you are desperate to be a Vet but haven’t done the above then there is a slim chance of entering as a Post Grad – with a degree in sciences – but obviously the expense of this is enormous.
There is a Lot of Studying Involved Isn’t There?
Yes tons! If you want to study to be a Vet you should prepare for total depression when everybody else at University is socialising and you have lectures from 9am to 6pm (when doing pre-clinical studies) and then moving on to crippling night duties in the clinical years. It is well worth it though!
What’s The Most Rewarding Part of The Job?
It depends on the Vet but I love both talking to people (people skills are actually more important than animal skills as top communication is a must) and surgery is the icing on the cake for me. Also if you are doing farm work it’s (usually) lovely to work outside. The top rewards are obviously making very ill animals better, who might not have survived without you.
What’s The Most Difficult Part of Being a Vet?
Everybody thinks its euthanasia but most of the time this is not the case. My opinion is that when you are presented with a sick animal that cannot be helped by other means it is kindest to alleviate their suffering. The most difficult part is people who mistreat their animals and it is also very difficult to deal with an animal that could be helped but the owner is unwilling or unable to pay for treatment. That can be very frustrating.
What’s The Career Progression Like?
It depends on which path you take – only 50% of Vets work in Practice – the remainder are in industry/research and education. Career progression is better in larger companies but in a Practice it isn’t great. Unless you can afford to buy into a Practice (become a partner), set up alone or do lots of post-graduate qualifications there isn’t really anywhere to progress to. Being an employed Vet won’t necessarily make you rich but as a rule people pick the profession for other reasons.
What Advice Would You Give to Someone Wanting to Work In this Industry?
Do lots of work experience so you know it is right for you and be realistic; there are about 20 applicants for every place at University and unfortunately they all have or are expecting the same top grades. If you are initially unsuccessful it helps to show commitment by working with animals for a year after school and re-applying. If you can’t make it academically there are other animal professions too, from Pet Care to Veterinary Nursing. It is worth looking at these as they can be very rewarding.
What Three Personality Traits Do You Think You Have to Have to Become a Successful Vet?
Top of the list is an ability to never panic. When an animal is doing its utmost to die in front of your eyes and the buck stops with you, you must appear calm and in control even when you don’t feel it. Communication skills are crucial. There is no point being brilliant at diagnosing illnesses and making treatment plans if you cannot pass this on to the owner effectively. Lastly I think a sense of humour is essential as sometimes you need to laugh or you’ll cry – it’s important to smile!
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