Emily Cook, 4th year vet student, tells us what it feels like to prepare to enter the profession
I am mid-way through my 4th year at Bristol vet school, with the end in sight and thoughts of what to do when I qualify beginning to take shape, permeated by worries about the challenges still ahead of me in the next year and a bit. Rotations. Real clients. Finals. Terrifying.
It feels strange now that just a few years ago I was happily working at the BSAVA in the Publications Department, copy editing and proof reading manuals, when the niggling idea that maybe I could be a vet crept into my brain. After checking on UCAS I learned that actually this might be possible. I have a Biology degree that meant I could apply as a graduate.
From childhood I had loved animals and being a vet was always the dream; realizing this was probably my last chance to have a go (and if I didn’t try I might regret it) I applied, and was stunned and ecstatic to be offered a place at Bristol, already my home since coming to do my Biology degree here in 2007.
At this point in the course we have all started to think seriously about what we will do when we graduate. This date, which at one point was too far in the future to be worth thinking about seriously, is now quite imminent. I came to vet school with an open mind, unsure what I would like to specialize in. After learning more about the various disciplines and especially on EMS placements, I’ve decided that small animal medicine is the area for me. I hope to work in small animal first-opinion practice after qualifying, and have contemplated perhaps moving into research in a few years, after I have got some proper experience in practice under my belt. I am interested in oncology and immunology and would maybe like to take these interests further. But I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, I know that applying for and securing my first job will be a big task.
The first job
We have all heard horror stories about the first job after qualifying, tales of being uncomfortably thrust into the deep end with no support, dangerously high stress levels and very little sleep. I know that this is not the unanimous experience of all veterinary graduates and so I am hopeful that I can find a friendly practice in which to slot myself, where I will receive the help and encouragement I’ll need. I have been assured that these jobs do exist but, with the number of qualifying vets increasing every year, there will be significant competition for these positions. Vet school does help prepare us for this – we have CV workshops and mock applications and interviews, which I know will be invaluable. I’m also planning to attend the SPVS weekend in Lancaster next summer, aimed at preparing students for life after graduation. There will be lectures on things like different job types and how to apply, as well as the opportunity to mingle with students from other vet schools plus potential employers. It is reassuring that there is so much help at hand with what I know will be a big challenge in the now not too distant future.
Other challenges I know my cohort and I will be exposed to in the coming years are of a more personal nature. Mental health issues, especially stress and depression, are common in the veterinary profession and are experienced by many people during and after vet school. Indeed, the first year after qualifying will no doubt be especially trying. Recognition and prevention of mental health issues has been a continuing thread throughout vet school. We have received seminars on wellbeing and have been shown where to access sources of support, should we need them now or in our future careers. We also have Welfare Reps on the course, who we can contact if we need to. I am grateful that issues that were taboo only a few years ago are now discussed openly and, while I fully expect final year and my first year in practice to be challenging, I feel much better prepared to look after myself.
To wrap up
Although I am really excited that I am nearly ready to begin my career, I feel like I still have a huge amount to learn before I can enter the ‘real world’ and become a ‘real vet’. I appreciate that the next couple of years will be particularly tough, but I know (at least I hope) that if I continue to work hard and take advantage of the support offered by the University and resources from organizations, including BSAVA’s PDP programme, I will be well placed to succeed.
Student and graduate resources from BSAVA
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When joining as a first year qualified member (and beyond), you can gain access to our Professional Development Phase Resource Bank which has been developed to support BSAVA members, by providing a structured bank of online resources around General Professional Skills. To support new graduates, these are matched directly to each of the RCVS PDP competences.