Work Experience – is it important?

Lots of the questions that I receive from you guys relate to work experience, whether it be what experience is necessary through to how to actually go about finding and securing placements. Some ask if it’s even really that important.

The answer to the last question is yes, it is undoubtedly one of the most important factors in a successful vet school application and should definately be taken seriously.

How do you really know that you want to be a vet?

How do you really know that you want to do something? The answer is by doing it. You might think that you know what being a vet is all about from watching TV shows, reading vet books and watching your pet’s vet in action on their annual vaccination trips, but the truth is that until you pop the hood and take a look at the mechanics of the car that is your chosen career option, then you’ll not be able to make informed decisions about what is actually one of the most important decisions of your life.

Vets work in many different capacities, from small animal practice to equine to farm, and beyond. Our training is still one in which we are taught, examined and ultimately qualified across the board. If you find that upon starting your training there are aspects of being a vet that you cannot cope with, such as meat production, then you’ll either find the course incredibly difficult to complete or feel compelled to leave vet school, with the heartache and stress of having potentially wasted a number of years of your young life that you could have spent focusing your efforts on a far more suitable career. The value of work experience is in drastically reducing the chances of this from happening by exposing you to the realities of the veterinary profession before you apply. This will either have the effect of confirming your wish to pursue a career as a vet, in which case your application will undoubtedly beam with passionate enthusiasm and wonderful examples of your dedication to and knowledge of the profession, or inform you that it perhaps was not quite what you had first imagined and that your future may lay in a different direction. This is what is mean’t by making an informed decision and is why I believe work experience is the most important aspect to anyones’ preparation for applying to vet school.


Do the vet schools really care?

Yes, they do. Training you to be a vet is a costly, lengthy process and it really sucks to have students drop out of the course during their degree. By focusing on recruiting students who have shown that they have seriously considered their options and made an informed choice that veterinary is what they want to do, the vet schools significantly reduce the chances of you not sticking with things. The drop-out rate for vet degrees is incredibly low, in large part due to the fact that in spite of it being really tough at times, each vet student accepted their place with eyes wide open to what lay ahead and the prize at the end.
Most vet schools will assess your level of work experience through reading your UCAS application and specifically your personal statement. If they see potential then you will likely be invited for an interview during which you may well be asked to expand on your experiences. Some, such as RVC and Edinburgh, request extra information on your work experience to be submitted separately to your main application.

This is such an important topic that I plan to bringing you more on the subject, in addition to it making up a rather large chapter in the upcoming edition of Vet School. If you have any specific questions about Work Experience, then please contact me via Facebook, the vetschoolsuccess website or Twitter.

Vet News – Equine News

Vet NewsThis month’s Equine news comes from our very talented reported, Pippa Lyons.






The Horse Meat Scandal

Equine Editor, Pippa LyonsPippa Lyon (Vet News Equine Editor)

The discovery of horse DNA found in value burgers at Tesco and Iceland in the UK earlier this month has come as a shock to many members of the public. A total of 27 products were analysed and 10 of them were found to contain horse DNA. Although both Tesco and Iceland have apologised and removed the products for sale, the offending goods could have been on sale for months!

But why are the British so disgusted by the idea of eating horse meat? Many European countries indulge in the practice frequently and there is no risk to health. Plenty of us are quite willing to eat pigs, cows, chickens and sheep but the thought of eating a horse is taboo. Dr Rodger Mugford suggests that as people see horses as pets we tend to give them extra qualities and values, “As soon as you give an animal a name, how can you eat it?” Horses were a crucial part of our country’s development, working in various different fields and helping in wars which gives them a sentimental value. The reality is, there is a lot of horse meat in our food chain. When horses are worn out or unwanted this is where they end up. In 2011 12,000 horses were killed for their meat in the UK alone and with supermarkets constantly battling for lower prices the suppliers are forced to give better deals which in the case includes horsemeat.

The problem escalates when horses are slaughtered without valid passports and enter the food chain. 8 of these horses have recently been found to contain the anti-inflammatory drug phenylbutazone or “bute” which causes cancer in humans. Any horse that has been administered the drug should have in recorded in their passport; however forged passports are becoming increasingly common for some people to sell horses for meat. Although none of these horses were sold on the UK market, they may have been shipped abroad. The sources of the horsemeat are currently being investigated, hopefully leaving the British public to appreciate where their food may originate and how the animals are treated.


Vet News – Farm News

Vet NewsThe third article from our Vet News Farm Editorial Team is by Pippa Plowright, on a study into illegal badger shooting.


10% of welsh farmers report killing badgers illegally

Emma Plowright (Vet News Farming Editor)

A study carried out by the University of Bangor, the University of Kent and Kingston University has shown that around 1 in 10 farmers and 14.5% of cattle farmers, in Wales admitted to killing a badger illegally in the 12 months preceding the study.

Previous research has suggested that badger culling may have a positive effect if at least 70% of badgers in an area are killed. This culling should be carried out by trained marksmen and is, at present, not permitted.

It is thought ‘Uncontrolled’ shooting such as that investigated in this study is likely to disrupt badger populations, causing the disease to spread further. This is because social groups within the population may be disrupted causing the surviving badgers to spread further than they otherwise would, passing on the disease both badgers and cattle.

A particular type of study was used in which dice are rolled in order to decide whether or not the respondent should answer truthfully. This means that those who behaved illegally are protected whilst giving only a five per cent error margin.

Researchers who carried out the study have stated that this information should be taken into account by policy makers as ‘studies investigating the effects of badger culling on TB outbreaks in cattle have not factored in the prevalence of illegal badger killing, and its potential to spread disease’

Last year the Welsh government opted against culls in favour of a badger vaccination scheme, which has been opposed by some due to its cost. It was announced this week that further measures will be put in place to prevent the spread of bovine TB.


Vet News – Farm News

Vet NewsThe second of our Vet News articles this month comes from our Farm News Editor, Hannah Johnstone:


Liver Fluke becoming an increasing threat to sheep in the UK

Hannah Johnstone (Vet News Farming Editor)

Liver Fluke is a flat worm which has a complex life cycle heavily dependent on prevailing weather systems, with the optimum being moist and warm. Liver Fluke infestation has a number of steps in the cycle, firstly eggs are deposited by both sheep and cattle in faeces, the eggs in the faeces hatch and are then carried on the intermediate host known as the mud snail. The mud snail then deposits fluke cysts onto grass which the livestock consume. Once within the livestock the young fluke hatch in the intestine to then migrate to the liver, the young fluke are now egg laying adults which takeover the bile system. The cycle covers a 6 month period but is very dependent on weather conditions.

Liver fluke affects both sheep and cattle and is mainly seen in western areas of the UK and becoming more common in eastern areas. Over the end of last year liver fluke infestation is increasing in frequency affecting sheep of all ages.  The disease has 3 different forms Acute this type is common around August to October; sheep die suddenly from haemorrhage and liver damage. It is the worst type and 10% of sheep are at risk having a massive knock on affect financially. Sub-acute; the sheep become weak; lose their appetite, depressed with rapid loss of body condition as well as poor fleece quality. Chronic; has similar affects as sub-acute seeing severe emaciation which can cause profits to half by reduction of lamb crop and ewe mortality. With the first 2 types; blood samples show raised liver enzymes and chronic liver fluke can be diagnosed by eggs in faecal samples. Liver fluke is treatable though use of triclabendazole and improved nutrition.

Vulnerability of sheep varies; farms with high stock intensity are vulnerable as well as areas prone to flooding. But the key factor affecting vulnerability of sheep in the UK is the weather. At the end of 2012 sheep were ten times more likely to suffer compared to 2011. David Wilson farm vet and spokesman for NADIS (national Animal Disease Information Service) stated “The very wet summer conditions will have resulted in heavy contamination of many pastures with Liver Fluke infective stages during the summer and autumn”. It is these infective stages that are putting livestock at major risks “many infected animals will subsequently suffer from chronic fluke disease, causing ill thrift and poor production if not effectively treated”. As the weather continues to become increasingly moist and wet, the figures of sheep with liver fluke will remain high having potentially a huge burden financially on farmers through not only loss of sheep but the cost of treatment needed.



Vet News – Farm News

Vet NewsAnother month has passed and quite an interesting month it has been, with several topics of interest to keep our intrepid Vet News Editors on their journalistic toes. Rather than lump all of the Vet News goodness in one post, it was thought that it might be best to give each article some more room to breathe, as it were. As such, each of our editors gets a whole blog post to bring you their article of choice – you won’t get that at The Times! (or maybe you would)

So, to kick start us is Els de Vrijer, with her article on Johne’s Disease.


Wet weather increases risk of Johne’s disease

Farm Editor, Els de VrijerEls de Vrijer (Farm News Editor)

Several studies have been carried out in Scotland recently, which show that the wet weather which has been seen throughout 2012 will increase the risk of Johne’s disease to cattle in the forthcoming year. Rupert Hough, from the James Hutton Institute, recently announced at a conference in Dundee that acidic and wet conditions are likely to increase the risk of the disease spreading. This is because these soils are high in iron and organic matter, providing perfect conditions for the disease to grow and survive in. The scientists took soil samples from eight farms across Scotland, and 75% showed the presence of Johne’s disease. What’s more, the studies have showed that the bacterium which causes the disease can live for up to three years in the acidic soils, whilst bacterium which live in alkaline soils are not likely to survive for longer than one year.

Johne’s disease is caused by the bacterium mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis, and does not only infect cattle, but other ruminants too. The organism is closely related to that which causes tuberculosis in cattle. The presence of mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis causes progressive changes to the intestine. In the lower part of the intestine, the ileum, infected tissues attempt to regenerate and produce healthy tissue, causing a thickening of the intestine lining, preventing nutrient absorption. The main symptoms are therefore profuse diarrhoea and weight loss, but also infertility. The presence of the bacterium can also make the cattle more susceptible to other disease such as mastitis, and causes a significant decrease (10%-25%) in milk yield.

Preventative measures should be taken regardless of the weather, such as rearing young calves separately to minimise risk of contact with adult faeces (calves are very vulnerable to Johne’s disease), and avoiding grazing young stock on land that has been spread with slurry or manure. In addition, from these studies it is clear that improving drainage, using double fencing and liming fields can avoid providing the optimal conditions for this bacterium. Testing for Johne’s disease is essential, as this disease is often fatal and results in massive losses for farmers; it costs the US dairy industry $200-$250 annually.




How about a Cold One? (Gap Year that is)

Chris on a snowboard on a railAre you contemplating a Gap Year before heading to uni? Do you already have ideas of what to do during your year off? Maybe you’re going to work, travel, start a business, launch a band, all of the above. Well, have you ever considered a working holiday? I did it and many others do the same every year, enabling them to fund their travels and experience life in a place as a local, often providing unique insights into the location.

I recently returned from an awesome week in the French Alps, where I was indulging one of passions: snowboarding. I actually learned to snowboard during my very own working holiday to New Zealand during my Gap Year, and without realising it at the time, I was treading the classic line of the ski seasonnaire. Our host for the week was a fantastic girl by the name of Sarah, who made our stay brilliant, with three epic meals a day, as well as cake on our return from the slopes, and immaculate rooms to boot. She was basically the difference between it being a week away and a proper holiday, and was out doing her second season as a host.

Signing up to go out and work a ski season can be a great idea on so many levels. For starters, you get to live in a ski resort for an entire season, which in Europe is normally from the start of December right through until April. This means that whether you already ski/ board or not, by the time you’ve been in the snow for five months learning and perfecting your sport, you should return a positive ski God. I had never set foot on a ski slope until I touched down in Queenstown, New Zealand, and in fact hadn’t even realised that you could ski in the country. However, by the time I left I was the proud owner of my own board and all the gear, as well as being able to rip it up with the very best of them, going from bruised beginner to confident rider by the time I left to come home, and igniting my passion for the slopes.

The second reason to consider a ski season is that it is the best of both worlds: paid employment, meaning you’re not having to fund an extravagent holiday and thus turn up to uni already in debt; and a wonderful demonstration of, and opportunity to truly develop, a sense of independence and freedom. A season as a chalet host, or similar, will see your culinary and domestic skills go from being non-existent or basic at best to you starting uni as the hall equivalent of Nigella Lawson! I had a job in a boutique hotel, which was basically the same as being a chalet host in as much as my day started with preparing and serving breakfast to guests, followed by cleaning and sorting out their rooms, afterwhich I was free to head up to the mountains if I had time or wanted to, before returning in the evening to be on hand to serve dinner and clear up afterwards. Long days but with time off to develop my boarding skills and some beer money in my pocket, it was pretty much what any eighteen year old with an adrenaline addiction could ask for.

Working as a seasonnaire is also an incredibly social experience. Whether you’re already a social butterfly, working a room like a networking pro, or desperately shy, by the time you return home you’ll be far more confident in social situations, including dealing with people that you might not necessarily like or get on with but who you may still have to work with – a valuable skill! Oh, and it’s fun. A lot of fun! Seasonnaires, from what I remember and understand, work hard but play harder, much like a typical vet student!

So, why not consider working a ski season during your Gap Year. With so many good reasons to take the plunge, it might just be what you’ve been looking for.

(We were out in France with Crystal, a UK company and part of Tui, who own Thomson. As such, they employ a large number of UK seasonnaires, although there are loads of different options, from other large companies to smaller, independent chalet providers and hosts. Some initial internet research is likely to be the easiest place to start. A humorous book to read if you are contemplating treading the pistes as a ski seasonnaire is ‘Chalet Boy’, by Andy Smith, who headed out to do a season a little later that many of you would be considering to do it, but his account of his time provides a great insight into the fun and frolics of life on the slopes.)

What can you do with a vet degree?

The answer is lots. You can, obviously, work as a vet. The true value, however, of a veterinary education is so much more broad-based than this and the fact remains that veterinary degree courses offer one of the most complete, well rounded, multi-disciplined scientific training programmes on offer. Not only are you taught anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, and all of the other ‘ologies’, but you also develop a range of transferrable soft skills, from leadership and project management to conflict resolution and effective communication skills. The transformation that is seen in vet students from when they start university to graduation is staggering, with the vet training system taking in raw talent and drive and turning out well rounded, competent and effective professionals at the end of it.

It is a direct result of this multi-skill training that vet graduates find it relatively straightforward to change from a vet career into other areas, something that many do at some point during their lives for many reasons. I personally know of fellow vet school graduates who decided towards the end of their degrees that they no longer wished to go into clinical veterinary practice, and chose to pursue other career choices. Not one of them found having a vet school training to be an obstacle and all opted to complete their degrees, safe in the knowledge that the vet degree is a widely respected and recognised qualification. Now, you’re obviously dead-set on being a practicing vet so we’ll limit talk of not doing just that, but it is important to realise the broad appeal of the vet degree and take pride and comfort from it.

To learn more about what you can do with a vet degree, be sure to sign up for the Vet School Success newsletter.

What is Veterinary?

small animal vet“Why do you want to be a vet?” It’s worth getting used to this question now as you are going to hear these eight words countless times as you start your journey toward becoming a vet. So, why do you want to be a vet? Perhaps you’ve grown up around animals, either living on a farm or owning pets, and really enjoy interacting with them on a day to day basis. Its possible that it was an early experience of visiting the vets, either with a new, healthy pet or, as is often the case with those who hear the call, with an ill animal who may have made a remarkable recovery or perhaps been put-to-sleep by the kind and sympathetic vet. Maybe you’re drawn to the sciences and see veterinary as an excellent route into pursuing science as a career option, of which it is an excellent one. You may feel very strongly about animal welfare issues and wish to dedicate your life to helping animals that can’t fight for themselves. You may simply have seen one of the many fascinating, exciting and touching TV shows that grace our screens from time to time and which offer interesting insights into the varied careers of today’s vets. Whatever your initial trigger to developing an interest in veterinary as a possible career, the fact remains that it is ultimately a wonderfully varied, exciting, challenging, intriguing, at times messy and emotional, and rapidly developing profession, with the kind of highs and lows that only ever come with both a medical career and one that brings us into direct close contact with both animals and humans alike.

Its probably worth, at this stage, telling you why I decided to become a vet. My story is one that is fairly typical of many veterinary graduates: I grew up with pets, initially a small family dog, followed by rabbits and a gerbil with a particularly unpredictable mood, called Ernie, and so liked animals from an early age and had visited the vets a few times with said pets. As such, the idea that I could spend my adult life with animals seemed like a pretty good one. I was also a bit of a nerd and am not ashamed at all to say that I liked school, and did rather well. One of the subjects I remember enjoying and being fairly adept in was science, and so the idea of doing something ‘sciency’ that also enabled me to work with animals led me to explore what I would need to do in order to become a vet. The more I read, saw and experienced, the more certain I became that there was simply no other career that I could see myself engaged in. The fact that veterinary was, according to my teachers and some of what I read, one of, if not the, most difficult courses to gain entry onto reinforced my determination to succeed. There are many character traits that vets seem to share and one of them is definately a steely determination and attraction to doing anything that others deem to be “too difficult” or, a particular favourite of mine, “impossible.” The combination of a course that was not only fiercely competitive and difficult to get onto, that offered the chance to work with animals every day and which meant I would be using my science skills and knowledge was impossible to ignore and so I set out down the long path to vet school. In spite of brief flirtations with other career options, namely the Household Cavalry, architecture, stockbroking and for a very short two-weeks, wanting to become a heart surgeon, inspired by a new TV medical drama, it was always veterinary that I was ultimately committed to pursuing. The rest, as they say, is history but one that now sees me qualified and working as a vet, and able to share my experience and advice with you as you set on down the path yourself.


What exactly does a vet do?

Essentially, a vet is qualified to diagnose and treat disease in animals, and basically is the animal kingdom’s equivalent of our very own doctors and surgeons. Most of us, when we think of vets, will likely see the classic image of a vet in a consulting top at our local small animal clinic, giving our pets their annual health checks and vaccinations, and occasionally seeing them if they are poorly and need medicine or surgery. The truth, however, is that a degree in veterinary is a ticket to a myriad of opportunities and career options beyond those that we classically imagine. Vets are employed in many capacities and across lots of industries, from scientific research, to teaching, to specialising in one specific area of veterinary, such as oncology or surgery, to marketing and sales in businesses, such as pharmaceutical companies, even to protecting the food that we eat and ensuring that it is safe to do so. The vet degree is, at present, still very much a broad-based, all encompassing education, which prepares new vets for future specialisation and any number of different and varied career paths. One thing that is worth developing an appreciation of now, at this early stage, is the fact that you are very likely to see your career change a number of times throughout your professional life and it is always fascinating to speak with vets and hear how their current career is often very far removed from what they saw themselves doing when they were fourteen, or even when they first started vet school. That’s one of the truly incredible things about a career in veterinary: the flexibility that it affords you, both in terms of what you might find yourself doing, but also where you might find yourself doing it, such is the international nature of animals and working with them as a professional. So, if its a career that offers huge challenges, variety, the option to travel and make real differences in both the lives of animals and people, then  veterinary may just suit you well.

(If you’re interested in learning more about my own personal experiences of applying to vet school, including top tips, then you’ll enjoy my book)

Vet Lessons

Sick dogContinuing on from my regular Nerdy Vet feature on a clinically relevant topic, this month I was reminded of an all too common condition that we see in small animal practice and which can be easily prevented. Unfortunately it is a problem that many pet owners are simply unaware exists and a lot find out for the first time when their pet is admitted to hospital for investigation and subsequent treatment, all costing a fair amount of money and anxiety for all concerned. What is it we’re talking about? Well, this month our vet lesson is on….


This literally translates as ‘pus’ (pyo) and ‘uterus’ (metra) so no prizes for guessing that it refers to an infection of the uterus, with the vast majority of cases we see in practice being in non-spayed bitches shortly after the end of their most recent season. The reason for this classic timing is to do with the changes in uterine environment and conditions associated with the hormones of oestrus, resulting in a really nice, nutrient rich environment for bacteria to proliferate with less hassle from the immune system. This doesn’t necessarily lead to trouble assuming that the body’s defences can keep any infection in check and clear it up once the animal finishes oestrus and all things return to ‘normal.’ It is highly likely that many dogs have bacteria present in their uterus around the time of heat, simply as a result of their cervix being wide open to the world, but thanks to the wonders of immunity and the fact that bad luck tends to occur far less than some pessimists might have us believe, they get on with life and no problems arise.

There are two main types of pyometra that we might consider. The first is what we refer to as an ‘open’ pyo, in which the cervix is still open and pus can, and does, freely drain from the uterus. This one is generally much easier to a) diagnose (they have pus dribbling from their bits!) and b) treat, as they will often respond well to antibiotics with the safety of being able to monitor the improvement (pus clears up generally equals dog better). I would then recommend neutering that bitch at the next suitable opportunity, most likely several weeks later once everything has involuted and it becomes a ‘safer’ surgical procedure to perform, as our standard advice on spay timing.

The bad boy scenario is the second type, which we refer to as a ‘closed’ pyo. Imagine having an infection raging on behind closed doors, in this case a closed cervix. The uterus, being an organ of finite capacity, fills with pus and expands. The result is an inflamed, pus filled, very unhappy uterus, with the bitch eventually showing signs of general illness. Some will present with signs much sooner than others, with some bitches apparently being as hard as nails and looking fine clinically in spite of having an abdomen full of pus-filled uterus! The bacterial toxins that are produced by the infection can enter the blood and lead to a host of clinical signs, including an increased thirst, malaise and lethargy, vomiting, diarrhoea, and generally just being off their food and out of sorts.


The normal presentation is a bitch who has been generally off colour for a little while and who has a history of being in season within the past few weeks, although pyometra can occur at any time so should always be considered a differential in un-neutered females. They may have clear aberations in their clinical parameters, such as congested mucus membranes, or tachycardia (higher than normal heart rate), and will often be reported as drinking more than normal, off their food and possibly even nauseous, all fairly non-specific signs of illness. If suspected, then a blood test, including haematology to check white cell count, is a good idea, as is an ultrasound scan. Classic cases will show a marked elevation in white cell numbers, especially neutrophils, which are like the riot police of the immune system, being the first to pile on in to areas of infection to start the fight. A scan will usually, but not always, especially if it is a ‘small’ pyo, show fluid filled loops of uterus, with a floculent (think static on your TV) appearance, as opposed to a nice dark liquid appearance. Such changes would be enough to advise rapid treatment.


In some cases, where there is considered to be no risk of uterine rupture, and where the cervix is open, allowing pus to freely drain out of the body, medical management can be considered as an initial measure, the aim being to bring the infection under control and reduce the size of all structures involved in preparation for surgery to neuter as per a normal elective procedure. This usually takes a couple of weeks and can be a very nice way of managing the patient. The cost is possibly a little less than immediate, emergency surgery, although when you factor in the revisits, medication used and the possibility of the animal not responding as planned, then the costs are often very similar. Most cases of confirmed pyometra are still taken to surgery immediately, in order to remove the infected uterus and ovaries (ovariohysterectomy) and thus solve the problem straightaway. These patients would be given antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and intra-venous fluid therapy both prior to, during, and if necessary, after surgery, and would almost certainly go home with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. Most, if managed sensibly by their owners at home, recover very well and within a week are the bright, happy, appetant animals that their owners remembered having. It is a very satisfying surgery to perform as you know that what you’re doing is making an immediate and clear difference to the chances of that patient surviving and recovering.


Pyometra, infected uterus, surgery

Infected, pus filled uterine horns being surgically removed from a bitch.

In terms of the surgery itself, the approach is the same as for a standard spay, with a midline, ventra (belly) approach to the abdomen and careful incision into the abdominal cavity. The risk with these compared to standard neutering ops is that the uterus is often very distended and may be punctured on your approach into the abdomen itself, which would be a disaster. Once safely in the abdomen, it is usually very easy to find the uterus (look for the big, fluid filled loops of ‘sausages’). Thus starts the very careful task of exteriorising the loops and finding the ovarian pedicles (the ligamental and vascular attachments of the uterus and ovaries to the kidneys on both sides. The risk is that the turgid, fragile uterus could rupture at any moment, spilling it’s toxic contents into your patient and effectively signing their death warrant, so we handle the tissues as if they were made of rice paper, with gentle, smooth movements and avoiding anything that could result in them being torn or punctured. Having an assistant can be extremely helpful in such situations. The ovarian pedicles are clamped and ligated (I personally prefer to transfix, which means I anchor my ligatures in the pedicle itself) and the ovary and uterus separated from it’s attachment, allowing the safely ligated pedicle to be returned to the abdomen. The same is repeated on the other side, followed by the careful clamping and ligating of the cervix. Once free of all attachments my aim is to get that horrid pus filled uterus as far away from my surgical site as I can, but doing so very carefully as it can still rupture and spoil the party at the last minute. Once it’s out of the danger zone, then assuming we have no bleeding or other issues, the abdomen is closed as per usual and the patient recovered.


Neutering. Simple. Unless owners are planning to breed their bitches then there really is little good reason why they should need to remain entire. Ask any owner who was hesitant about spaying their bitch before they had a pyo what their thoughts on neutering are afterwards, then I would confidently guess that the vast majority would be strong advocates of neutering. Yes it can be risky surgery but then developing pyometra, or mammary cancer for that matter, is no walk in the park either and both can be prevented by the application of veterinary knowledge and skill.

So, there you have it. Pyometra is this month’s Vet Lesson and is one you are bound to see at some point during your time on work experience.

Vet School Interviews – Question Time

There are several different types of question that you might be asked at interview and although it is impossible to predict exactly what will be asked, you can certainly ensure that you are generally prepared so you know not to panic if you are asked a particularly testing question on veterinary ethics, for example. There are several broad categories into which you can divide most interview questions:


Questions that you must prepare an answer for.

These questions are so likely to come up that failing to consider them beforehand would be foolish. They are nice questions – assuming you are prepared for them – as they allow you to settle in to the interview. For example, being able to explain clearly and confidently why you want to study veterinary, and especially at that particular university, will enable you to tackle tougher questions with more confidence when they are asked later in the interview, as you will be in your stride.


Questions you will be expected to know quite a bit about from either your A-level (or equivalent) syllabus or from work experience.

This type of question is hard to prepare for specifically and you will need to rely on the academic ability and hard work you have done to date in your studies to help you. Similarly, you should have done a decent amount of varied work experience by the time you are called for interview so try and relax and remember that if you’ve done the basic preparation beforehand then you’ll be fine. This type of question is often expanded to move into the next type of question.


Questions that take you out of your comfort zone

You will inevitably get this type of question at interview and they tend to be the ones that students complain about afterwards! Being asked a tough question, or one without an immediately obvious answer, is actually a really good sign as it means that the panel want to stretch you and really see how your mind works. This means that they’re seriously considering you for a place and want to make sure you have the aptitude and attitude for the course. The aim of these questions is for you to extrapolate your current knowledge, either from your academic work or work experience, and apply it appropriately to the question at hand. The important thing to remember when faced with a question to which no obvious answer exists is to avoid getting flustered and either blurting out the first thing you think of or just sitting there like a rabbit stuck in headlights. There is no such thing as an impossible interview question but it is vital that you take a moment to think it over before answering. It often helps to talk through your thought processes as this will enable the interview panel to see how your mind works and they may even subtly prompt and guide you to help keep you on track.


Questions that can trip you up.

There are certain questions that offer you the potential to really stick your foot in it if you just blurt out the first thing that pops into your head. We will see some examples of this sort of question later in the chapter.


Questions which open up a debate.

These questions have no correct answer and you need to be able to show an appreciation of both sides of an argument and discuss them rationally, before offering your own balanced opinion. Questions on ethics often fall into this broad category.


It is the latter type of questions which tend to really help differentiate you from the other candidates and make the interviewers remember you at the end of a long day speaking with multiple students, all of whom will be broadly similar. The course is a lengthy one and they will likely be teaching you for a large proportion of it. As such they will want to admit students who can think for themselves, approach topics rationally and engage in interesting and lively debates rather than just being fact-regurgitation machines. If you are able to be this type of student then you will make their lives far more interesting and increase your chances of being offered a place.



There are about a million and one questions that you could be asked by the interviewers, and some vet schools seem to have their own unique style and preferences for their interviews. What follows are some examples of questions students have been asked and which may come up in one form or another in your interview.

1. Have you been to the university before?

If you attended one of the open days then say so and take the opportunity to elaborate, for example, by telling them which part of the open day you found most interesting. It is also a great opportunity to tell them if you have been to the vet school or university before in a non-official capacity, for example, to visit a friend who is studying there. This will demonstrate your determination, resolve and resourcefulness in finding out as much as you can about all aspects of the course and specific school. Needless to say, however, if your only visit to the vet school involved a midnight ninja-style climb over the wall then probably best not to mention this!

2. How do you think you’re doing with your exams?

This is a great chance to really sell yourself, so if you’re doing well then say so and highlight that you are working hard. If you’re not doing so well then unless it’s glaringly obvious in your personal statement, referee report or general application then it’s probably better to just gloss over this and reassure them that you are doing well – you don’t, after all, want to offer them any excuse not to offer you a place. If it’s possible try and steer the conversation onto a subject that you are particularly interested in and that has some veterinary focus.

3. Tell us something about your work-experience.

This isn’t an invite to just list your placements – they will have your statement in front of them. What they want from you is to hear what lessons you learnt and whether there were any interesting experiences.

4. Name an interesting operation you have seen.

This will likely be in response to some mention of seeing some “interesting surgery” in your statement and/or if you happen to have a surgeon on the panel. If you specifically mentioned watching a particular type of operation (eg. a TPLO procedure, which is one technique used to manage cranial cruciate ligament injuries in large dogs) then be fully prepared to expand your answer and discuss it with the panel. This does not mean you should go away and memorise chapters from surgery textbooks. Asking the vet who performed the surgery to explain the main principles and being able to understand and relay this information will be sufficient. After all, you are applying to be trained as a vet, not demonstrate that you already know everything.

5. What are the main lessons you have learned from your work-experience?

This is a potential follow-up question to the first and it is important to highlight the breadth of experience you have. Try to make it clear that you have learnt that veterinary isn’t just all clinical and that there are numerous hats that modern day vets must wear, including that of business-person. It is also a people-centred profession so demonstrate your awareness of that fact in your answer. Where possible try to illustrate your answers with specific examples. For example, “When I saw practice with a small animal vet doing a heart scan, I….

6. ”What causes mastitis?

Like the neutering question, this requires a moment of careful thought before just jumping in with the obvious answer, that being ‘bacteria,’ which although correct is not the entire story. Mastitis is inflammation of the mammary tissues and is something we occasionally see in all animals, including pets, but are most familiar with when talking about dairy cattle. It is a particular problem in dairy practice as the milk from cows with mastitis cannot be added to the tank and so represents lost revenue to the farmer. Cows with mastitis also cost the farm money through the need for antibiotic treatment and the fact that they still need feeding etcetera even though their milk is not being sold. It also represents a welfare issue for farms, with nine out of every ten cases currently seen being due to cow-adapted strains of the environmental bacteria Streptococcus uberis. This bacterium enters the mammary gland via the teat canal and ‘hides’ in white blood cells. The main problem is that when the cow is treated with antibiotics, the bacteria remain within the white cells with the antibiotic being cleared faster than the infected white cells meaning that recurrent cases are common. As such, a lot of vets extend the treatment period in cases where Strep.uberis is confirmed, the aim being to ensure that the bacteria emerge into an antibiotic rich environment and are thus killed. The bacteria that cause mastitis can be broadly divided into two categories: environmental pathogens, such as Streptococcus uberis and E.coli, which are present in to the environment; and contagious causes, including Staphylococcus aureus, where it is generally better to dry the cow off than risk having it potentially spread the bacteria to other cows in the milking parlour.


For more example questions and extensive advice on vet school interviews, be sure to get your copy of Vet School (parts 1 & 2 available from www.vetschoolsuccess now in both print and e-book format)