A week in small animal practice

One of the key requirements for getting into vet school is work experience. The amount you need varies – some universities like “as much as possible”, whilst others set a specific amount and if you don’t have it, they’re not going to consider you. Liverpool, for example, want ten weeks of experience and Bristol want eight: four in animal keeping/husbandry and four in practice.

Of course, meeting entrance requirements isn’t the only reason to go and get the experience. It’s really important to help you decide if you’re making the right career choice. This is especially close to my heart as although I have wanted to be a vet since I was very small, going back for a second undergraduate degree is going to be incredibly expensive. I have to know what I’m doing before I sign up to pay £45,000 in fees and take five years out of my career!

With this in mind I wrote to several small animal practices over the summer and arranged a week of leave from my job. A local practice very kindly took me on and let me see what they do.

Pretending to be a vet already!

My favourite part was definitely observing surgery. The expertise of the vets is always really impressive when you see them open up an animal and find what they’re looking for inside! I asked if they got used to the routine proceedures and their answer was yes on the whole, although sometimes things got tricky – there was one bitch spay whose ovaries just did not want to be found while I was watching. I was really impressed by their confidence in knowing what to do, how to do it and what to look for – I really hope that can be me one day!

I really picked up on how a practice need a good team this time around, more so than when I was on work experience as a teenager and just fascinated by the animals and the science. The pet health assisstants and nurses are just as important as the vets to making sure everything runs smoothly, from consultations to surgery to kennel care. I also really liked how well the team I met got along and seemed to be friends as well as colleagues. Most days we had a twenty-minute catch up in the afternoon to see how everyone was doing, discuss any issues (mostly maintainence related as they had recently moved to a new building) and talk over any difficult cases.

The biggest surprise was probably how different an urban practice is to a rural one. As I mentioned before, I did experience in mixed practice in a small country town as a teenager. The vets there switched from dogs and cats in the morning to cows and livestock over the course of the day and I also think they saw more small furries, although I’m not sure why. We spent whole afternoons on farms testing dairy herds as well as individual pets at the surgery. During my most recent experience we saw dogs, cats, one rabbit and one guinea pig. I wasn’t expecting anyone to bring a sheep in, but I was still surprised at the lack of variety. Although I think I’d enjoy seeing a wider range of animals, it is obviously easier to get in depth knoweldge if you specialise.

Of course, I also enjoyed getting to be around animals for a week, helping run dogs up and down for lameness assessments, petting friendly dogs and cuddling cats… I mopped and cleaned kennels and swept floors a plenty, but there are definite advantages to being at the vets all day long!

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