Greetings budding vetlings! This is my first post in my ‘Getting into Vet School’ series. This first post is about work experience hints and tips which I’m hoping will lend itself to helping you get more out of your placements than just a farmers tan and a faecal facemask (Vet life isn’t always glamorous!)!
Before we start, a quick disclaimer… I do not work for any university administration department so unfortunately, I cannot guarantee that these tips and advice will give you a one-way ticket into vet school. I am basing my advice on my own personal experience of getting into and through vet school and the experience of fellow vets and vet students I have come to know during this time. However, there is no one singular way which works for every prospective vet. Everyone’s story is unique and although there are definitely certain things which will help, there will always be variation and what works for one person, may not work for another. I would also like to say that the advice I am giving is relevant to UK applicants at the time I am writing this. Always double check with university admissions what their current requirements are as information is constantly changing and if you’re hailing from overseas, I hope this series will be useful, but bare in mind I am not well versed in international application affairs.
OK, Now we can get on to the good stuff! Prior warning, it’s probably not going to be the most riveting post in the world but I’m hoping it’s helpful!
Work experience is an integral part of getting into vet school and helps to ensure you know what you’re getting yourselves into. After all, if you don’t enjoy getting up early to spend your weekend’s weightlifting wheelbarrows of manure or having your face licked by an over-exuberant canine, you are probably looking at the wrong profession! By work experience, I essentially mean volunteering at a company, business or charity to learn about the career, gain experience in a particular field and get a better idea what that job involves. It’s an incredibly useful thing to do, even if you don’t want to do veterinary, and not only provides great life lessons (as my mum would say “it’s great character building”) but also looks great on your CV and personal statement.
Variety is the Vet School Spice of Life
- My advice to any budding vetling is to do as much and as varied work experience as possible. For one, it gives you loads to write about in your personal statement and many things to talk about at interview. It will also show administrative bodies that you have a good, well-rounded view of the industry and that you’re committed to the cause. I’ll list here a few ideas of potential work experience placements, but remember, this is not an exhaustive list. Think outside the box, and if you have a particular interest then run with it (however, ensure you still get experience in lots of different areas), the possibilities are endless:
Science lab – university and drug company labs are the most sought after
Pet hydrotherapy unit
Open Farm for the public
Large, Small and Equine Vets
Exotic animal vets
Horse Riding Stables
Old People’s Home – good to show you can interact well with people as this is half of the job remember!
Doctors / Hospital – You are wanting to do a medical degree, after all, it pays to have an appreciation of both sides of the coin. Additionally, a common interview question is “why do you want to be a vet, not a doctor?” if you’ve spent time in both you may have a better idea of how to answer this question.
Diaries and Documentation
On each placement keep a diary of what you did. It may seem like the last thing you want to do at the end of a long day but it pays to write down as much as possible – what you did, what you learned, what cases you saw – trust me you will thank yourself later! This diary will become of infinite use when you need to write your personal statement and discuss your work experience at interview – a very common topic. In my opinion, the more you write down the better – try to add things to it such as drug data sheets, photos, food labels, anything you can that will aid recall (with permission from the establishment of course!). This diary will be your best friend come application time!
The other MUST DO on any placement is to get a reference. This serves as proof you’ve carried out the placement, which many vet schools will ask for. Get it at the end of your placement when they know who you are and how you’ve worked because there’s nothing worse than having to ring a placement in a panic 6 months later because you need a reference for an interview and the business has no idea who you are anymore – yes folks, I have been that impressionable! A good reference can also go a long way in getting you more placements, the animal industry is fairly small and people talk, especially farmers!
Look AND Act The Part
Little things often go a long way on placements. Firstly, how you dress. Think about the place you are going and what you may be expected to do. If you’re going to a farm think warm clothes, wellies and waterproofs (not skirts and stilettos) – ensure they are clean so you look presentable and aren’t at risk of spreading disease onto their farm, no farmer will thank you for that! If you are going to a vets, always dress in something smart but practical, remember there is a lot of bending over and there are still a lot of bodily fluids coming your way. You are usually on your feet A LOT so wear comfortable shoes and leave the jeans and trainers at home until you’ve been to a place and can assess the dress code. It’s always good to phone or email ahead of your placement to A. remind them that you’re coming (practices are busy, they often need a memory jog) and B. to ask what you need to bring so you’re always prepared.
As well as dressing appropriately you must also act appropriately. In other words, if you’re there actually BE THERE. By this I mean be engaged, interested and for heaven’s sake don’t get your phone out as there is such a stigma around them and you will not earn any brownie points. Ask questions, actively participate, show up on time and try and be as helpful as possible – places appreciate someone who is willing to make cups of tea and doesn’t think cleaning is above them.
You Can Never Do Too Much
There is no such thing as too much work experience. The year I got into Liverpool University they interviewed applicants with the most work experience and hardly any of these had only done the bare minimum( I had 46 weeks at the time of applying #overachiever). My advice would be to start as early as possible, this can be hard with new health and safety and insurance laws but keep trying, someone will say yes eventually – farmers and stables will often take younger students as helpers. The more experience you have the more it proves you are committed to becoming a vet and the more situations you will be able to draw off at interview and when writing applications.
I also found it a great help to have a regular placement – one I went to consistently. In my case, I went and helped out at a stables every Saturday and at a vets every Wednesday, this helped these establishments get to know me and therefore trust me with more responsibility. It also shows an even greater level of commitment and time management that week in week out I fitted these placements around studying, hobbies and my social life. Forming great bonds before vet school also means if you get in, you can go back to these establishments on placements to gain more experience, some people I know have gone on to work at some of the practices they once did work experience at many moons ago!
Seek and You Shall Find
“But how do I get work experience?” This is the age old question asked by many a prospective vet student. The unfortunate answer is time, effort, perseverance and most importantly, the font of all knowledge that is Google! Here are some tips on how to find placements – firstly if you live in a rural area, take a day to go around the farms and introduce yourself and ask if they would be willing to have you for a week or two to gain experience. Do a Google search of local vets practices in your area and then contact them to see if they allow volunteers. Some establishments offer accommodation so even if they aren’t nearby, they may offer you somewhere to stay during your placement. Utilise any contacts you have, ask friends and family if they know any farmers or vets, if you have a pet, ask your own vets if you can have experience there and once you get one placement, ask them if they know of anywhere you could go next. Finding placements is time-consuming and requires a lot of effort but it’s the only way to get what you want, unfortunately! Keep a list of places you’ve contacted and their responses – some may say no now but when you are 16 or 18 they may take you so keep note of these.
Making First Contact
Reaching out to a business can be a little unnerving at times but unfortunately, it’s another necessity. I’d say the best ways to make initial contact are a phone call, a posted letter with attached CV or a visit in person to inquire and hand in a CV. These three ways are more personal and show you’ve put in that bit more effort. Email is another way and is a lot quicker and less daunting, and I’ll admit I have definitely enquired electronically for a number of placements this way. It’s very convenient but is often harder to make a good impression. A covering letter also never goes amiss – it helps the establishment get a feel for who you are and what you’re about.
As a vet you have to meet new people all the time and will have to get used to ringing owners on the phone to discuss test results and care plans so all this reaching out to get placements is excellent practice as its a transferable skill – and they sure do love those at interview!
No One Is At A Disadvantage
Don’t feel that if you weren’t reared on horseback or brought up on a farm that you are in any way disadvantaged. Application boards look for well-rounded individuals who have explored the animal industry from multiple angles. An applicant who’s been milking since he could walk is on just as level a playing field in terms of application as a prospective vetling who grew up in inner city London.
Fancy Gap Year Placements Won’t Necessarily Help You
If you have the time and the money, by all means, go off on your amazing adventures, I mean as my name dictates I love exploring far-off places and always encourage others to do so too. However, if you’re applying to vet school, ensure you cover the basics as well because that’s what concerns the admission boards. At the end of the day, they don’t care if you’ve been tackling elephants and lions in the African bush or saving tapirs in Brazil because they make up a minute percentage of what most UK vets will see day to day. They want to know that you have a good understanding of the UK animal industry and if you do undertake placements abroad try and show how they are transferable to practices in the UK. So, take home message here is; by all means, take those once in a lifetime trips but ensure you do the time back in Britain too to prove your salt to the administration boards.
Be Prepared To Get Your Hands (And Everything Else) Dirty!
Veterinary is not a glamorous lifestyle so get used to this reality as soon as possible! Be prepared to repulse passers-by and family members with the clinging stench of farm. You will get poo in places you didn’t think was possible and worst of all, you probably won’t know about it until you look in a mirror 5 hours later or someone has been kind enough to point it out! When I spent a week on a pig farm my mum made me strip off at the door and marched me straight in the shower each night when I got home – being a vet is many things but will never be described as a clean career, and the sooner you accept this the better!
So that’s it for this post, more top tips coming soon, so stay tuned! I would love to hear from you, so if you have any questions or suggested topics you would like me to cover please let me know! But for now, I hope these little tips have helped inspire you to get out there and get covered in cow poo!