Work Experience – Top Tips from Phoebe

Veterinary Work Experience

Phoebe Russell, with her horse, LuckyPhoebe Russell

My name is Phoebe Russell and I’m from Norfolk, currently in year 12. I’m hoping to apply to vet school this September, for a 2015 deferred start, after a gap year. I work at a local petting farm, and have a pet snake called Casper, among a menagerie of other pets, including a horse too, called Lucky!

We all know the journey to vet school is a challenge; the course is competitive, and everyone applying is going to have tip top grades. So, to set yourself apart from the crowd, you really must get some work experience under your belt. Although not always an easy task to find placements, they are so valuable and will pay dividends when it comes to writing up your personal statement, and during interviews.

Obviously there will be loads of keen vetty hopefuls who are also applying for placements at your local vets or farm, for example. So how do you get the establishment to notice you? I’ve found it best to generally write a formal letter to them, one directly tailored to the particular institute you’re applying to, not merely a one for all. This proves you have genuine interest in their business, and you’ve not just sent a stock letter out willy nilly, and hoped for the best. Also, it may sound obvious, but remember to include:

  • Your name
  • Your age
  • Address
  • Email
  • Telephone number
  • Reasons for wanting the experience
  • What you are currently doing (e.g. sixth form/college)

It could also be beneficial to mention previous placements if you have any, and that you are willing to send a CV or references, if required. Better still, you could send them with the letter in the first place. Lots of contact information gives the person you’re writing to very little reason to not get in touch. After all, you’ve made it so easy!

However, do not expect that by merely sending this letter, you will actually get a number of responses. In fact, you’re lucky to get any offers at all. Vet practices in particular want to see that you really do want the placement, and you’re a worthy and willing candidate, so you should write a follow up letter, a week or so later, if you’ve not heard back. Otherwise, give them a call, drop them an email, or go straight in and ask! Being confident enough to do so would be admirable by potential placement establishments, and what’s the worst that can happen? They tell you no? Suck it up!

 The same issue stands with farmers or abattoirs too; they’re incredibly busy and you’re not their prime concern, so your letter may be at the bottom of their “to-do list”, so get in touch!

In a desperate panic in mid June, I realised summer was quickly approaching, and I needed to fit in some placements! So I hastily picked up the phone, called two vet practices, an abattoir, and a research centre. Straight away I was given the opportunity to organise placements, with email addresses of the person who I directly should contact thrust at me! Fab!

Remember your “pleases” and “thank yous”, before, during and after your placement; it will be completely appreciated and you never know, you may be offered a job at the business, which is always great. A card or phone call afterwards shows you truly are grateful, and the experience has been beneficial- the place is more likely to accept future applicants if you’ve not been a hindrance to them!!

So, my top tips are:

  • Be enthusiastic!
  • Be organised and get booking early!
  • Be polite!
  • Be confident and go that extra mile to get where you want to be: vet school.

In The Hot Seat

People are interesting, especially when they’re at vet school studying to do what they have always wanted to do. One of our clinic’s regular work experience students, Guy Wolfenden, very kindly agreed to be placed in the Vet School Success Hot Seat recently so that he could answer questions about studying in Australia and his life as a vet student.

vet student, Guy WolfendenGuy Wolfenden

Murdoch University Vet School – Perth, Western Australia

4th year of study

I did A-levels at a British school in Dubai, completing Biology, Chemistry and Mathematics with A grades, and an AS level grade A in Art & Design.





Had you always wanted to be a vet?

In theory yes, however, there was a stage in my school life where I pondered over Law or Veterinary science – however, I’m not the biggest fan of reading, so Law went out the window as I was told most lawyers spend most of their evenings and any other free time reading!

I also had a toss up between Medicine and Vet Science, but I feel as though I would prefer to help animals instead of humans and I’m not sure I would want to be forced to treat dying patients (humans) who could not legally be humanely let go to a better place.


Did you find it easy to source useful info to help with your preparations for vet school applications?

My university applications were done from two different sources. I applied to British Unis through UCAS at school during sixth form – a straightforward process that was shown to us by our teachers and careers advisors.

However, I also applied to Australian Universities externally, using the Internet as my sole source of information. Applications were done through individual university websites and I had to contact and seek advice and Visa approvals from Australian education agencies here in Dubai. All in all, both ways were relatively straight forward, just with lots of different forms to fill out and send off to respective Universities. The Internet is an extremely useful tool.


How much work experience did you have before applying?

I had worked at a vet clinic in Dubai as part of my Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, it was my ‘Service’ for Bronze, Silver & Gold – so all in all I had spent approximately 6 weeks at a veterinary clinic. However, most of this time was spent doing tasks completely unrelated to veterinary science itself, more so to help out the clinic staff with tasks and cleaning. I undertook a game-ranger course in South Africa the year prior to university. This was a two-week intensive course that gave me vast knowledge of wild life and game reserve management at a very busy national park in Africa.

To be completely honest, I enjoyed working/helping out at the vet clinic prior to university, but I could have just as easily started university without the experience as it didn’t serve to bolster or give me a head-start when Uni started.


What have you enjoyed most about the vet course so far?

Up until busy and intense 4th year, my favourite aspect of vet school was my friends and the fun we had both in and out of vet school. The people are fantastic and all in the same boat, so everyone wants to be learning and getting good marks, everyone wants to help each other and get as much experience as possible in practical classes. However, since the beginning of 4th year (approximately 6 months ago), surgery has been my favourite thing! There is nothing quite like the high when you finish a surgery and admire (in some cases!!) your work!


What have you found most challenging?

Finding the right study technique – I must confess, the first year or two I didn’t work hard enough during term time. I spent a lot of stressful nights, close to final exam time, cramming as many missed lectures into my head as I could! Even know, attending all lectures and being proactive with study and keeping up with the workload, it is often difficult to find the right way to study and retain the knowledge when it comes to exams. Keep up to date, and make notes during term time – good ones!


What is great about living and studying where you are?

Its Australia! I’m English, but there’s no denying, the lifestyle in Australia is a lot better! Studying in the sun and being able to unwind in the sun and play sports is a great bonus.

In terms of studying, Murdoch University is one of only a few Vet Schools that has its own farm and production centre on campus. That means no travelling to and from practical classes or to farms. It is just a two-minute walk down to the farm! A great bonus and I would highly recommend Murdoch University to anyone interested in studying within Australia.


Where do you see your career taking you?

I’d personally like to specialize in small animal surgery and open, or at least become a partner in a clinic(s) where I can set up a cat-friendly environment and offer the best possible service to all those purring-creatures!

But the great thing about vet science is that there are so many different avenues. I have friends in my class who have no desire to practice veterinary science, but use their degree to do research and pharmaceutical work to help advance the drug side of the industry.


Any helpful hints?

Keep focused on what your overall goal is, but don’t let the idea of ‘vet science is so difficult’ get the better of you. It’s a great degree and offers you a great outlet for meeting new people, learning great subject matter and most of all, having fun!

Also, MIND MAPS are a great study technique, for both school and university!

Work hard at A-level/IB – the hard work is rewarded in the end – the 1st year of vet school is basically one big party, so its definitely worth the hard slog at school!

Results Day – Scariest Day Ever?!

Exam results day is the culmination of all of the hard work done to date and hopefully the confirmation of the fact that you’ll definitely be heading off to vet school, either this year or following a nice relaxed and interesting Gap Year. As such, there is rather a lot riding on it all and the stress can be quite overwhelming. I should know as I have been there.

The first thing to point out is the obvious fact that you will be nervous. Even if you’re Mr or Miss Super Cool and Unflappable, the mere fact that you don’t actually know what it says on that results sheet will lead to some nerves. Embrace it though and recognise the feeling of nervous anticipation. It is, however, important to realise when nervousness is morphing into panic and act to prevent it. At the end of the day there is nothing you can do at this stage to change the results and reminding yourself of this fact is useful. Reassure yourself that you have worked hard and that this hard work will be reflected in your results.

Preparing for the Big Day:

1. Get a good night’s sleep – such a mum and dad thing to say I know but its true. Being rested and alert on the day will enable you to either react swiftly and decisively if the results don’t pan out quite as you’d hoped or to at least savour and enjoy every moment of success assuming you do as well, or better, than expected.

2. Arrive early – if your results don’t come out as expected and it looks as though your conditional vet school offer is at risk then being one of the first to be able to ring the vet schools will place you in a much stronger position compared to being one of hundreds later in the day. Similarly, if your grades turn out to be stellar and you don’t have a place or were on a waiting list then getting straight on the phone as early as possible is the surefire way of turning that opportunity into ultimate success. Surely it’s worth getting up nice and early just this once 🙂

3. Take a list of the vet schools’ contact details, especially the Admissions Offices – having the essential information to hand, such as who to call, will save valuable time and could be the difference between being one of the first to get through to the vet schools or being in a frustrating queue. When you’re in a bit of an emotional state on results day, the last thing that you will want to be doing is scrawling through the internet looking for the correct telephone numbers to call. Do the legwork beforehand and save yourself the headache.

4. Charge your phone and ensure you have call credit – rather obvious you might say but you’d be surprised how many people will turn up to results day, need to or want to call someone and find that they can’t as they’re out of battery. How rubbish would it be if you were on the phone to a vet school admissions tutor and the phone cut out? Pretty rubbish is my assessment. Don’t let it happen.


The Big Day itself:

1. Eat something – you’re likely to be super nervous and as such not feel like eating. That would be a mistake. Your brain needs fuel to work properly and if you need to step to it and be all proactive in calling the vet schools then you’ll want your brain along for the ride. Feed it beforehand.

2. Check you have everything you need – charged phone, contact details (as above), car keys etc. I am bit of a nerd and so tend to set out everything I need the night before so I can see if I am missing anything. That way, on the morning in question I can simply scoop everything up safe in the knowledge that it’s all present.

3. Arrive early – not only will you get to open your results in relative peace without the entire school buzzing about but you’ll also be in a great position to act quickly if necessary and call the vet schools before half the world has the same idea. You can, of course, then stay on and enjoy the buzz as everyone else arrives to get their results – after all, it’s potentially a great day of solidarity and celebration between friends so should be enjoyed.

4. Opening your results – the MOMENT OF TRUTH! Take a deep breath, relax and embrace the reality 🙂 I remember time slowing right down and the words and letters taking a few moments to really come into full focus, and then for my brain to compute them. What I remember really feeling, more than elation, was just pure relief. Relief that I had done what I had set out to do by getting the required grades and confirming my place, and also relief that I hadn’t let anyone down. As daft as that last statement might sound I don’t think I was, or am, alone in feeling that way. We place so much pressure on ourselves and the expectations placed on us, either real or imagined, from everyone around us is often huge. As such, when I saw my results I just thought “phew!” It doesn’t mean to say I didn’t enjoy the fact that I had achieved something big, just that the response was a bit more complex.


What if you do better than expected?

First of all pat yourself right there on your back – you legend! If you have not got an offer from a vet school then get on the phone immediately and see if that situation can be changed – you owe it to yourself to try, right?! Otherwise you may have another plan in place, in which case good luck and enjoy the rest of your summer.


What if I miss out on my conditional offer?

I sincerely hope this doesn’t happen to any of you as I know the crushing disappointment that comes with not achieving what you really had your heart set on. First of all, expect to ride a huge wave of emotions, from disbelief, to bitter disappointment, to anger and many more emotions still. Again, the key is to get on the phone immediately to the vet school that you have an offer from and see whether you can still take up the place. Sometimes the schools will have liked you so much that they are prepared to look past the black and white nature of your results – the only way you’ll know is to ask the question, so get on it. If you are not successful then your options at this stage are to either take a Gap Year and reapply, take up a place doing another non-vet course at uni, or do something totally different instead.

So, there you have it. A potted guide to how to handle what can be the single most stressful day of your academic career (so far). All that remains to be said is GOOD LUCK and ENJOY YOURSELVES 🙂

Gap Years – A Vetty Perspective

Anyone who has read my books will know that I took a Gap Year before starting vet school in Bristol and absolutely loved it. In fact I would go so far as to say it was one of the most important years of my life in terms of preparing me well for life away from home as a confident, self-reliant student whilst at university. I had, however, been set to go straight from A-levels into the vet course but when results day came around I suddenly had this overwhelming sense of needing to press the pause button and just take a breath for a bit before diving head first into several years of intense training and a major life change.

Thankfully, Bristol was open to the idea of me deferring – in large part due to having been oversubscribed that year from what I understand – and so I had the green light to go off and fill a year before taking up my (now confirmed, phew!) place the following Autumn.

So….. what to do? I had been so used to having a structure to my days and a firm, fixed goal in mind – do well in exams, get grades, go to vet school – and yet now I had a blank slate on which to create something. Where on earth do you start?! I had initially advised the university that I intended to spend the year working, primarily in order to save money to pay for what I knew was going to be a very expensive stage in my young life, and complete some more work experience, perhaps somewhere overseas. Other than that basic ‘plan,’ if indeed that’s what you could call it, I was clueless.

Where to Start?

When contemplating the unknown it’s never a bad idea to do some reading and see what others who have trodden a similar path before you did and look for inspiration from them. I guess that’s what you are doing when you read Vet School, for example. So, a trip to the library and a pile of ‘Gap Year’ titles was the result. This was, however, all done against the backdrop of finding a job as I knew that whatever I decided to do I would need some dosh. Agency sign-up complete. Rather dull but regular office temping job secured. Now time to do some dreaming and planning.

What to do?

It quickly became apparent to me that the idea of spending an entire year just working for the sake of saving was about as appealing as documenting paint drying and I started to get those classic twinges that come with the travel bug. I had always enjoyed seeing new places but until then my experiences were very very limited indeed. I had never really traveled properly or been out of Europe, unless you count my time as a foetus in Florida or my first 3-4 years in South Africa, of which all I can really recall is hiding out in a large laundry basket (odd what you remember!). As such, the world very much was there to be explored. But where should I go? What should I do? Should I be going off and engaging in some selfless charitable work? I quickly decided that the cost alone of signing up for some of the expeditions on offer was prohibitive and would only have enabled me to spend a very short time ‘traveling.’ Well, I knew I wanted adventure and I was sensible enough to realise that chucking myself in at the very deep end of the global traveler experience might have been a little much. My dad had, for a period in his hairier days, spent time living and working in New Zealand and so I had always been a little intrigued by the land of the long white cloud. A little research later and it was confirmed – New Zealand was perfect!

It was English speaking, which as a first time traveler made me feel a little more confident, far away so as to feel like I really was going on a huge adventure, and had so many options for doing crazy, nutty, adrenaline-fueled activities that it was as if it had been designed as an adventure playground. I had always wanted to try skydiving and bungy jumping and skiing, and all of the other such sports that Kiwis just get to do almost as a matter of normal life. With the where confirmed, I then did some more research and discovered that you could apply for a working holiday visa for a year. Perfect! Adventure that was going to pay for itself. Rather than jump on a plane myself and jet off into the unknown I did, again, think somewhat sensibly and found out about an organisation called BUNAC, who ran trips out to various parts of the world, including New Zealand. The advantage of booking through them was that they helped with every aspect of putting the trip together, from the important work visa, to booking flights. The most important reason, however, for electing to go through an organisation rather than be all independent was that a) I got to travel out to New Zealand with a diverse group of like-minded individuals from all over the UK, providing not only some semblance of reassurance – remember, I was a fresh faced naive wee young thing from Norfolk, UK – and a great social circle from the get-go. Meeting so many interesting and varied characters at the very start of the adventure was a great introduction to the experience of truly traveling and being somewhere new and embracing the rich experiences on offer – much like starting university where meeting and getting to know new and unknown people is so vitally important. The other advantage of traveling with an organisation was that I had a known support network in place once in New Zealand. Although my time in the country was ultimately very independent and I soon headed off on my own adventures, I knew that should things go awry then I had the backup of a team of professionals in the UK and Auckland in New Zealand. The other advantage was that I often ended up bumping into many of my original ‘BUNAC buddies’ during my travels round the country, which was lovely.

I guess the take-home message here is to a) have some idea of what you might like to do during a Gap Year – is there anything you’ve always wanted to do? Anywhere you’ve always wanted to visit? A Gap Year is the perfect time to indulge in such dream activities. However, the other thing to try and remember is to b) keep an open mind – do some research, talk to people who have had Gap Years and this way you’ll be surprised at how much inspiration and how many ideas you can generate that you wouldn’t originally have come up with. A Gap Year is, ultimately, a very personal experience and it is very much your blank slate on which to etch on to. Of course, if you’re planning on taking a Gap Year in order to resit exams or apply/ re-apply to vet school then there are some restrictions. Having said that, it is still a great chance to organise something unique, perhaps a “golden ticket” work experience placement.

Deferred Entry

As I mentioned, I had intended to enter vet school straight after my A-levels and so I guess I ended up deferring by rather unorthodox methods. I think the chances of being able to do the same are slim and if you apply to go this year then I daresay you will be expected to turn up this year. The options when it comes to deferred entry are therefore two-fold:

1. Apply for deferred entry – some vet schools will consider applications for deferred entry, the advantage being that you have an offer confirmed and can head off into your Gap Year safe in the knowledge that you have a place at vet school to come back to. Not all do so it is worth checking the latest applications info on each vet schools’ website to see if they clearly state their position on deferment.

2. Take a Gap Year and apply during it – after getting your results you could then take those stellar grades and submit an application for the following year’s intake. Obviously you would then need to be on hand to attend interviews and deal with any other associated administration, such as work experience questionnaires and university accommodation, and finance matters, but there would likely be more than enough time and opportunity – especially once final offers have been made – to indulge in some great Gap Year activities.

Include in your application/ Personal Statement?

I am asked often whether students should mention their Gap Year plans in their application personal statements or not, and my answer is “it depends.” If you have something firmly planned and confirmed, and it is of relevance to your vet school application then absolutely include it. The key with personal statements is reflection and illustrating your suitable and favourable qualities for vet schools so if you have organised a trip to go off and do some amazing experience somewhere, not even necessarily animal-related, then mention it and say what it shows about you (eg adventurous, determined, charitable, eager to educate etc etc). Simply stating that you are heading off to kayak the Zambezi without any further explanation does nothing really for your application, even though on the face of it is awesome. If you don’t have any plans for a Gap Year or they’re just unconfirmed ideas at the moment then I would pause before writing anything. Remember that it is easy to say what you’re going to do – for example, I am “going to” complete an Ironman next year – but universities are only really interested at the end of the day in what you have done as this is all they can realistically and fairly assess candidates on the basis of.

What are you up to? Any ideas?

What ideas have you got for an amazing Gap Year? Share your ideas and plans here or on the Facebook page so that others can feel inspired. Some ideas that I can think of to get you started include:

  • go to ‘Safari School’ in South Africa
  • work on a ranch in the USA
  • spend a year on a working holiday in Australia and New Zealand
  • learn to dive and volunteer at a small animal clinic in Thailand
  • build a school in Africa
  • teach English in Peru

The options are endless…..!

Summer Planning – Laying the Foundation for an Awesome Application

The sun is shining (occasionally), the weather is sweet (yeah), makes me want to move my writing hand…. and produce an awesome application in September.

Perhaps not the lyrics to an epic summer anthem but surely summer is indeed a great time to be thinking of and preparing for the application obstacle course that is soon approaching. It is truly amazing how rapidly deadlines can loom – I only have to think of the ones I impose on myself for writing the newsletter (and have, to my shame, occasionally missed spectacularly) – and the one for your vet school applications will be no exception. In fact, as far as deadlines go it probably represents one of THE most important ones you will have at this stage in your young lives.


Personal statement preparationSo, when is the deadline? Well, when it comes to applications submitted through UCAS to Cambridge, Oxford and professional courses, including Veterinary, the final deadline for application submission is 15th OCTOBER. Go ahead and write that somewhere prominent in BIG, BOLD lettering as it is very very important to keep that date firmly in mind.

Although many deadlines are there to be actually reached, this is one that you should really aim to come well under. In other words, you would be wise to aim to get your application finalised and submitted in advance of the deadline, with the best time to do so actually being when applications start to be accepted, which is September. “Why so early?” you might ask. The fact is that most applicants will leave theirs until the very last minute and as such the admissions tutors at the vet schools literally receive huge tsunamis of applications close to the deadline. They only have a finite amount of time in which to carefully read and appraise each and so naturally the time available to really appreciate your carefully crafted masterpiece is limited compared to much earlier in the process.

If you had a million and one (thankfully not literally) applications to read through you would be very keen to skim read and quickly assign submissions to either the “yep, lets interview them” pile or the “nah, not feeling it” pile. You have a much higher chance of being in the former the earlier you submit, in my opinion, purely due to fact that tutors will be able to spend a little more time actually reading your statement properly, thus enabling all of the wonderful things there are about you and your prospects as a future vet to be fully appreciated, much like taking the time to really savour a fine wine as opposed to quickly glugging it down.

Planning to Succeed

Okay, so you know that you should aim to get your application in early. What next? Well, planning and writing is the key step here and this time of year is the perfect time to start doing both. How do you write a masterpiece? Funnily enough authors tend not to just sit down and have a bestseller flow effortlessly from their fingertips in the first sitting. They ponder, plan, jot, scribble, cross out, proof read and generally go through several drafts before they are finally happy with the finished product. That, as it turns out, is also the key to a great personal statement. I won’t go into too much detail here about what should be your statement as that is a whole blog post, and actually chapter, in and of itself. Instead, the key take home message here is to prepare yourself adequately for success by starting early and preparing well. The old saying “to fail to prepare is to prepare to fail” is so true but the good news is we can do something positive to avoid it applying to us.

Key Steps to Preparing to Write an Awesome Personal Statement:

1. Be aware of the character and line limit – as much as you want to tell the vet schools everything about everything, there is only a finite amount of space for you to effectively state your case for why that vet school place should be yours. Being aware of the limit will help you get used to being succinct and to the point.

2. Summarise your work experience to date & identify lessons learned – vet schools want to see evidence of reflection following work experience and not just a meaningless list of placements completed. They want to know that you actually paid attention and identified what important traits go towards making a great vet and why you have shown evidence of such traits. I would advocate taking a large sheet of paper, making a big table and writing down what placements you have done so far, when they were, what key experiences stood out from them and what important lessons or skills you took from them. For example, working with the nursing team to prepare a patient for orthopaedic surgery at your small animal placement may well have highlighted to you the importance of effective teamwork and communication. By tabulating your experiences in this way you will also be able to spot at a glance any areas of experience that might need adding to, with time over the summer to hopefully do so. The other advantage is that you have a very simple to refer to summary of all of your work experience placements for when it comes to completing any additional supplementary work experience questionnaires, which some of the vet schools do ask you to complete.

3. Identify skills and attributes that you demonstrate through school and extra-curricular activities – the vet schools are keen to see that you bring more to the table than just an impressive ability to ace exams. What else do you do, both at school and outside of it and what do these activities tell the vet schools about the kind of person you are, and the sort of vet you might make? Again, summarising with the use of a large sheet of paper and a table can really help to pick out the key points when it comes to writing your initial drafts.

4. By all means be inspired by what others before you have written – the key word there was to be INSPIRED, not simply plagiarise. There is nothing wrong with taking a look at what others have written, including their style of writing, the flow of their statements and the kind of information included. What is not acceptable, however, is simply copying the work of someone else and passing it off as your own. Your statement should read and feel like it is actually you speaking and if it doesn’t then it will certainly become obvious come interview time. As I say, there is nothing wrong with gaining inspiration from others and there are a number of sources of previous veterinary personal statements that you may be able to use, from friends or family who have already been through the process of applying to vet school, to the example statement included in my Vet School book, or even to other example statements that become available. We all need a little inspiration sometimes. This, however, is definitely something to do at an early stage in the writing process as you will want to be focused on your own words later down the line.

5. Write drafts, scribble notes, read and read again – it is highly unlikely that you will produce a perfect statement on your first attempt so several drafts are to be expected. Write something initially, read it and then you have the basis for tweaking. The earlier you start this process then the easier it will seem and the better the results you will see.

6. Do a little each day – the cumulative effect of spending small amounts of time each day working on a project, such as your personal statement, can be incredible and I guarantee that by applying yourself in this way, as opposed to panicking and trying to bring everything together in one last minute mammoth effort, will lead to you producing better work and feeling much happier in the process. Don’t worry if it feels as if you’re not achieving huge amounts initially – that’s the beauty of cumulative effort: it adds up over time to a big, impressive result. Why not start or end each statement preparation session with a short period of reading up on scientific and veterinary current affairs, thus applying the same cumulative principle to your interview preparation. It will barely feel like work.

A few sage bits of advice I am sure you would all agree. The hard bit, however, will be implementing them and practicing what I preach. It will be worth doing so though. Good luck and enjoy your summer – you’ve earned it!

Revision & Exams: Show them who is boss

Revising for examsYou want to be a vet. You want to go to vet school. Exams are one of the big ogres that stand between you and your goal. They will also be hiding under bridges at various, regular points along your journey through vet school itself, and even beyond into your professional lives. No-one likes exams. Well, that’s not strictly speaking true. I know some strange people who actually do like them. What I meant to say was that the vast majority of us dislike them intensely, myself included. However, they are as inevitable as taxes and English rain in August so we just have to endure. So, if you can’t avoid them and you know that you have to do well in them if you are to achieve your aim of getting to vet school, what tactics can you employ to show exams that they don’t rule you but you rule them?

The following advice is what I have managed to distill through years of trial and error with exams and what I found to, on the whole, work out best for me. This isn’t to say that what I suggest is the right or the best way to go about approaching revision and exams – I daresay many of you have far more elegant techniques and tips to propose. We will all have our own unique coping mechanisms for exams and if my suggestions merely serve to act as seeds of inspiration then so be it – I have achieved my aim. Feel free to share your own tips for getting through both revision and exams, either by commenting on this post or via the Vet School Success Facebook page.


Be the Boss Tip 1: Plan, Plan, Plan. Then do.

There is so much truth in the saying “to fail to plan is to plan to fail” that we have to consider it first. Not thinking ahead of time and preparing a revision and exam plan is tantamount to insanity. That’s not to say that you’ll end up sticking to your plan. In fact, the opposite is more likely, but the point is that even having a basic plan in place prepares your mind for the task of revising and ultimately sitting the exams that come at the end of it all. I am yet to meet anyone who has ever done well in exams – or indeed anything – without spending time in advance carefully planning their approach. Even if you only have a week to go before your exams start and are yet to start revision (good luck with that by the way), taking a couple of hours out to plan exactly what needs to be done and when you’re going to do it will be worth it. If anything, having a plan in place at least makes sure you remember to eat and sleep, both of which oft get neglected as exams approach.

It’s all well and good planning but you will ultimately then have to just crack on and do. The plan provides the direction and structure but is no substitute for actually sitting down, dusting off the books and actually doing what needs to be done.


Be the Boss Tip 2: A Poorly Maintained & Fueled Car Breaks Down

Exams rely on brain power. Brain power relies on fuel and rest. Eating and sleep are usually the two activities that fall by the wayside during revision, especially as the exams draw closer, meaning that many of you will enter the ‘exam period’ tired, stressed and feeling pretty ropey, all of which are not great hallmarks of being fighting fit. I’m going to sound like your mother here but she has a point: eating properly and getting enough sleep are vital. Oh, and FYI: chocolate does not constitute a square meal.

Caffeine drinks are another thing to try and avoid if at all possible. Your brain will not work any faster or more efficiently by being jacked up on rocket fuel. All that is likely to happen instead is that you crash, feel shite and perform poorly in the exams. Oh, and if you’ve seen The Inbetweeners then you’ll be aware of another potential side effect of too much caffeine. Not pleasant.


Be the Boss Tip 3: Prioritise

This will be a major part of your planning but knowing what is vital and what is nice-to-do-if-possible can make the difference during exams. You’ll have copies of the various syllabi and so will know exactly what needs to be revised in order to pass the exams with flying colours. If you don’t have this information then you need to do yourself a big old favour and get it by asking your teachers. Spending half of your revision time drilling down into some fascinating bit of knowledge whilst neglecting some important (ie, on the syllabus) subject matters because you didn’t know they were important is a really great way to feel all clever but still under-perform in exams. Know what needs to be done, do it and then build on this with the extras. It’s like planning work experience for your vet school application – there’s no point spending six weeks following round a specialist if it means you fail to spend any time on a diary farm. The vet schools will not give you extra marks for it; they will just give your place to someone else.


Be the Boss Tip 4: Be Your Own Boss

Do you think Usain Bolt gives his fellow sprinters a second thought in the lead up and running of a race? No, he doesn’t. The fact is he can no more determine how they will fare as they can him and so what point is there in expending energy and thought on their race plans. Usain focuses his full energies on perfecting his own preparation and execution. That is how you should approach revision and exams. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take an interest in what others are doing or engage in group learning activities, such as shared revision. What it means is that you shouldn’t allow yourself to be distracted from or directed away from your own, specific revision goals and exam plan. I was always wary at uni of spending too much time in the evenings discussing revision with others as the result was usually that one or all us would end up feeling as though we hadn’t done enough and had to fight back the desire to scurry back to our rooms in order to rectify the perceived gaps in our knowledge. The simple fact is that we had probably done the revision already, or had it in our plan at some point, but we had allowed ourselves to be mentally highjacked by someone else and divert our focus away from our own race. Be wary of this happening in your own exam preparation.


Be the Boss Tip 5: Learn the Best Way For You

Do you retain knowledge and understand concepts better if you see them drawn? Or maybe you’re a listener and respond better to hearing things. I personally found that I was much better able to remember things when I drew them out on large sheets of white paper, creating elaborate A3 sheets of graphical notes whilst one of my flatmates wrote everything out and would view my graphical revision sheets as complete gibberish. We all learn differently and it is important to identify the modality that works best for us as individuals. Find what works best for you, whether it even be something like standing to revise, or revising in short ten minute bursts with a five minute break in between, and you’ll be surprised at how much more effective you will be at revising and performing well in your exams.


Whatever tips work for you, good luck for any exams you have coming up and all the best for your Vet School preparations.

Reasons NOT to be a vet

Grumpy clientThere are times during every professionals’ working week when they might, in an exasperated moment, despair that they could, and should, be doing something – anything – other than the job that they are doing. We have all been there and you shall as well once you make it out of vet school and into the world of paid veterinary employment.

Being a vet is a stressful job – there is no denying that. Many people think that much of what we do day in and day out is stroke and cuddle cute fluffy kittens and roll around with adorable puppies whilst everyone else has to toil and struggle through the daily grind that is their working lives. The truth is that for most vets, their days are long, frantic and full of stress from start to finish, much like many other people, and this is perhaps something that is not made clear to those of you considering joining our ranks.

So, I thought it would be cathartic, and possibly even a little entertaining, in a dark sort of a way, to take a look at some of the reasons NOT to be a vet. If you’re not put off by the end then you know what, I reckon vet school just might be right for you after all 🙂

Reason 1: You’ll be in debt for most of your life

Studying to become a vet is hideously expensive with tuition fees for undergraduates standing at £9000 per year at most of the UK vet schools and multiples of that if you’re a graduate student looking to train as a vet. One student I have been speaking with recently is facing the dilemma of either accepting a place which will require them to find funding to the tune of about £27k per annum (£120k in total!!!) or forfeit their place and try reapplying to those vet schools charging graduates less. It is easy for politicians to dismiss the cost of going to university by pointing out that “you’ll only pay it back once you’re earning,” but the fact is that debt is corrosive to the soul and starting your working life so heavily indebted has a negative effect. For a profession that wants to widen access and encourage more applicants from poorer, under-represented sections of society to attend vet school, we have a tough sell if the costs of training to become a vet continue to remain as high as they are, especially when clever, motivated and ambitious young people see peers in other professions and industries earning significantly more for apparently as skilled, or less skilled, work. On the flip side, everyone will assume you get paid a fortune, drive a fleet of sports cars and live in a palace. So it’s not all bad.


Reason 2: Grumpy, Unreasonable Clients

About 80% of a vet’s clients are wonderful, easy to deal with, reasonable human beings who listen to the sage advice offered and act as directed by their vet, who is, after all, a trained medical professional and so does actually know what they’re talking about (gasps of shock ensue!). Sadly not every one of the clients that cross over our clinic thresholds is such a joy to deal with and there are some individuals who seem set on being difficult from the start regardless of how professional, knowledgable and nice you might be. They will be the people who turn up late then whinge about having to wait. Or expect to drop in and for their pet’s repeat prescription to be issued there and then regardless of the fact the vet is actually with other clients. They will be the people who quibble over the bill in spite of lengthy discussions at the outset about potential costs and estimates, and regular updates. Or perhaps the ones who will only see one specific vet and will then be downright rude to all when they find themselves in the position of having to see another vet, in spite of them being as qualified and capable as any. We all know them and we all deal with them, and they can make our working days a nightmare. But they do provide good anecdotes, so perhaps every cloud.


Reason 3: Aggressive Animals

It personally makes my blood boil when people chuckle in response to a vet or nurse getting bitten and say the immortal words, “well, it is part of the job.” No. It is not part of the job. In the same way that getting electrocuted is not an acceptable part of an electrical engineer’s job, or being run over isn’t part of a mechanic’s job, being mauled by our patients is not part and parcel of carrying out our duties. There will be times, unfortunately, when you may receive a bite or a scratch that simply could not be avoided. In fact, only the other day one of my nurses had to (very carefully) remove a cat who had decided that my chest made for a wonderful climbing wall, an outcome that was nobody’s fault but the cat’s. What is possible, however, is to do everything reasonable to reduce the chances of our patients getting at us, and that includes pet owners giving fair warning about their animals’ behaviour. It is not acceptable to let a vet assume that a pet dog or cat is friendly (the default position thankfully for most of our charges) only to point out that actually Fluffy does have a problem with vets as he has his jaws clamped around said vet’s hand. Animal bites are horrible. Cat bites often require hospital treatment and can, in extreme cases, ruin careers. Be warned: you will have to deal with some really shitty patients so be vigilent and if it’s a career free of any bite risks that you’re seeking then become an undertaker instead.


Reason 4: Animal Cruelty & Suffering

We go into the profession to prevent animal suffering and to ensure that, as far as is possible, we fix and protect animals under our care. Unfortunately there are times when we see the very worst that people can be and do to animals. Whether it be dog fighting and the horrific wounds that result, irresponsible breeding for the sake of making “easy money”, or abandonment and neglect cases, which every vet will have tales of, it is always staggering just how shit some people can be to animals and how little regard they can give to the fact that as humans we have incredible powers to either do what’s right or intensify suffering. It is important to be aware of the fact that during your veterinary career you will see things that will make you fume and despair at how awful people have the potential to be, and if this is something you will not be able to cope with then think hard about your career options. Thankfully, however, the vast majority of our experiences are the right kind of animal-human interactions, focusing on caring for and curing, as it should be.


I hope that this post hasn’t come across as being too miserable and whingy. As we all know, it is cathartic to unload sometimes and if my examples of some of the challenges we face as practicing vets serve to prepare you more fully for an application to join our profession then it has been a useful exercise. At any rate, I feel a bit better for having vented a little so thanks 🙂 In all seriousness, the veterinary profession does have a shamefully high level of both alcohol abuse and suicide amongst it’s members, all borne, I am convinced, of the sorts of trials and tribulations described above. It is important to have people you know and trust to talk to about any problems you might have and to not let them get to the point of causing long-term damage. Organisations such as the Veterinary Benevolent Fund are on hand to offer advice, guidance and just a friendly ear should it be needed.

Right, I’m off to find a kitten to stroke.

Vet School Parts 1 & 2: Why you NEED these books

“Why on Earth should I buy Vet School?”

Nerdy Vet ProfileOkay, so you’ve always wanted to be a vet and know that you need to go to vet school in order to study. You may already be aware of how competitive it is to attract an offer of a place at vet school. Every year many young people just like you, all of whom would probably have made fantastic vets, fail to win a place at university to fulfil their dreams of becoming veterinarians. For some it may simply have come down to the cruel ‘numbers game’, in as much as there are only so many places available and significantly more applicants than places – they have to draw the line somewhere after all. For many, however, the chances of them having any success were slim from the start, for a number of reasons, all adding up to a below par application. It is the active pursuit of creating the very best application and ensuring you are as well prepared as you possibly can be for your application to vet school that is the raison d’être of Vet School and Vet School Success.


Chris ‘The Nerdy Vet’ Queen

My name is Chris and I am a vet. A number of years ago I was sat in exactly the same position as you are right now, dreaming of going to vet school and fulfilling my ultimate ambition of becoming a vet. It wasn’t particularly clear what I had to do in order to start my path to Vet School Success. There was a bit of information available from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and I called up the universities to ask them to send me their prospectuses. Aside from that it wasn’t as if the information and advice was flowing my way and no one at college or school really had any idea about what was required for a successful application to vet school, and that was even in the face of the fact that my college had a couple of students who had gone to vet school over the past few years, which is actually considerably more than most schools or colleges are usually able to boast. Anyway, I started early, completing work experience placements, reading and re-reading vet school prospectuses, keeping an eye on the news, especially for science and animal health related stories, and generally knuckling down at school to achieve the high grades that I knew were needed to get a place.

Little Advice Available

Completing my application was a bit of a hit and miss affair, and it was only by being able to look at a vet student friend’s personal statement for inspiration that I was able to pen anything worth a look. The interviews were, again, relatively nerve-wracking and although I was able to keep myself generally informed, there was no help with regard to preparing properly for interviews and no source of advice, guidance and example questions specific to veterinary.


Anywho, long story short, I received a couple of offers and selected Bristol, where I started after a last-minute decision to take a Gap Year (there is more about this decision in my personal account of applying to vet school, ‘The Nerdy Vet’s Vet School Success’, which is available through the website). Fast forward six awesome years, complete with the euphoric highs of university and vet school life and the deep chasms of dullness that accompanies exams each year, and I found myself at the end of one of the best periods in my life.

Filling a Need

I had, for a number of years, even whilst at vet school, been advising prospective students on vet school and how best to go about their applications, delivering lectures at conferences during some of my vacations, and this continued following graduation. It was in 2009 that I first decided that there was clearly a real need for an honest, reliable guide to vet school that was written from those who actually knew it best: vets like me and vet students. As such, I set about putting in print the advice that I had been honing and developing over the years, with the very first edition of Vet School the result.

Mission Accomplished

The book was a great success and the students who were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to get Vet School really gave it the big thumbs up, with many even offering to contribute to the next edition. In fact, the new books feature many profiles from vet students who, themselves, found Vet School instrumental in their own journeys to vet school success. In fact, it is this feature of the Vet School books that has been one of the most original and novel, and I know for a fact that the real-life profiles and interviews with vets and students represent one of new readers’ favourite parts of the books.

A ‘One Stop Shop’ for Vet Careers Advice

Vet School, as a concept, basically puts all of the very best advice about vet careers and successfully applying to vet school in one, or in the case of the new books, two places, answering any and all questions that you may have about how to go about getting in and training as a vet. The first and the best premier guide to vet careers and studying veterinary at university, Vet School literally is like having your own, personal career guide by your side from the start, with the sole aim of getting you into vet school.

Not ‘just another career guide’

Like many others you may have already purchased a ‘career guide on veterinary’ and be wondering what the benefits of paying more for ‘just another’ guide are, especially given that Vet School is more expensive than the other books. You’re right to ask such questions and in fact if you are the kind of person who doesn’t ask questions then being a vet might prove to be a challenge. So, what are the benefits of getting yourself a copy of Vet School, even when it means buying two books when others seem to suggest one will do? Allow me to answer such questions….

Author = Vet

For starters the book has been written by a vet (me) and as such by someone who has been where you are right now and successfully come out the other side with a vet degree – mission accomplished! So I know what I am talking about and am not just another general careers advisor. Veterinary is a unique course to apply to and it makes sense that the path to vet school is a bit unique and quite different to applying for other degree courses. I have been writing Vet School in it’s various forms for the best part of six years now and so am confident that I know what advice is needed and works. If the feedback I receive is anything to go by, anyway.

So much advice there are TWO books!

Secondly, Vet School is packed full of proven advice and tips for maximising your chances of success. In fact, it’s so jam packed with advisory gold that the decision was made to publish Vet School in two parts, so that you get to access everything without having to carry around a single book the size of an encyclopaedia! The simple truth is that I literally couldn’t, and wouldn’t, cut out any of the advice and content of the book this time as it is all, in my humble opinion, essential reading and vital to your chances of successfully applying to vet school. One of the benefits of being both author and publisher of my own book is that I get to decide what is best for my book and for you, the reader. Previously I had to edit down Vet School whereas this time I simply felt it was doing you a disservice not to offer up everything. This is, as far as I am aware, the FIRST veterinary career guide to be published in TWO parts, a bold decision that I feel strongly will strengthen the offering to you.

Choice is a good thing

Thirdly, it offers you choice. Some of you may be at the very start of your vet school journey and only really interested in learning more about how to start out, perhaps turning your thoughts to work experience. If that describes you then Vet School: Part One is going to be the book you choose. Others of you may be preparing your actual applications and preparing for interviews, or even to start vet school, in which case Vet School: Part Two is the book for you. Of course, like many people I prefer to read a book, including a series, in it’s entirety and so you may, like myself, actually elect to get both books to read them at your leisure. The key point, however, is that you have a choice whilst still being assured of having all of the information available – how many career guides honestly offer that?

How much?! Why should I pay for your books?!

Now I know there will be some naysayers who will argue that a) the books are overpriced, b) you can get all the information free on the internet, or c) I am only even writing them to line my own pockets. I have heard all of these criticisms before, albeit from very few and, rather tellingly, none of whom I am aware received vet school offers. I will, however, pre-emptively quell some of their concerns here so that they can go away and find someone else to bother.

Reassuringly expensive

1. Vet School is more expensive than other books on the market. That is a fact and I make no secret of it. I am a great believer in the adage “you get what you pay for” when it comes to most things. Knowledge and advice is one such ‘product’ where value is crucially important. Why are students prepared to pay more to attend the Harvards and the Oxbridges of this world? Because the quality of the teaching and the ‘product’ that is being paid for is better than that available on Main Street. I am fiercely proud of Vet School and the quality of the advice provided. I know without hesitation that my books are better than any other vet career guides on the market and are therefore worth more than the others. The fact that I am told consistently by readers that I should, and could, charge more than I do for the books serves to reinforce this viewpoint. I know that for some of you paying more than the going rate is not something you feel comfortable with, and that is fine. There are other books available and I wish you all the very best with your personal journeys. Many of you, however, are savvy enough to recognise real value when you see it and will, I am confident, make the shrewd investment – for that is what it is – in purchasing Vet School and giving yourselves the very best start to your vet school quest.

Limited Numbers of Copies

As a minnow in the publishing world, the number of copies of Vet School that are even available is actually very small. This pushes up printing costs, which is another reason for why Vet School is more expensive than other guides. It does also mean that your copy of Vet School is relatively exclusive and previous editions have become somewhat collectible, with many people actually coming back and ‘adding to their collections’ with each new edition. I like quality and so vowed to print my books at a high spec, meaning that the book you read is clearly one that feels as premium as the information contained within it. I personally detest books that are printed on cheap, thin, rubbish paper and so my books are printed on quality paper – go ahead, compare Vet School to other books and see for yourself.

Sure, you can find any information for free

2. Some of what I cover in Vet School, parts One and Two, is indeed there to be found free of charge on the internet. In fact, it can be argued that any and all information is out there if you a) have the time, and b) the inclination to go searching for it. Why then do we still choose to pay for information and why is it a great idea to get Vet School? Well, the simple truths are that you are paying for the fact that someone with a wealth of knowledge and experience – an expert if you will – has taken the time and effort to collate, process and present all of the most pertinent and useful information available in one easily accessed place and format, meaning that you can feel confidence in the advice you’re receiving and only have to look in one place for it. Simple. You also know that what is written in Vet School is reliable and accurate. It is not faceless info and I have a personal interest in ensuring that you receive the best advice available – I want you to succeed. The random bit of advice or information that you might stumble across on some anonymous website or forum, from an unknown source, may be free but what could be the real cost of acting on it alone? Again, it comes down to a value call and is one that you have to feel confident in yourself.

Any expert does what they do because they believe passionately in their chosen pursuit – I am passionate about ensuring prospective vets have the very best advice and guidance available, something that was not available when I applied, and so this is the main factor that drives me in writing Vet School. I do, however, also wish to make a return from my huge investment in terms of time, professional energy and personal risk (I pay for all of the printing, website and marketing costs) and so need to charge for my work, as any other expert does. If I am to continue to do what I do and make Vet School available as the very best guide there is then it has to provide a return. By purchasing Vet School you are offering me a vote of confidence in my ability as someone to bring you the best advice and information there is and to offer it to you in a form that is attractive, easily accessed and useful from the minute you start reading.

No ‘Get Rich Quick’ Scheme

3. I have been writing Vet School in one form or another for six years, in addition to lecturing and advising scores of students on vet school and applications. The honest truth is that I have made virtually nothing from the books to date, with any profits actually having been ploughed back in to publish other books, such as the Med School and Psychology guides, which I published with my former business. You may imagine that Vet School has bankrolled a lavish lifestyle featuring sports cars and expensive holidays. Not so. I work as a vet and, truth be told, if I were to do the maths and calculate how much the book pays me per hour that I work on it, both before and after publication, I daresay I would be better off, financially speaking, to simply work more hours as a vet in practice than to write. So it’s clearly not about the money for me. Like many entrepreneurs I enjoy what I do and it is the pleasure in doing a great job and seeing my efforts result in positive results for you, my customers, that drives me. Obviously, if I can make a return from my efforts then that’s a great bonus but it isn’t the tail that wags the dog. If any of you are still convinced that I am sitting atop a mound of gold then I will happily send you a copy of my latest student loan statement, which makes for rather sobering reading 🙂

A Collaborative Experience

Vet School is a pleasure to write, in large part due to the fact I get to meet and work with some incredible contributors, all of whom have provided profiles and content to make Vet School the premier guide out there. The best way to learn and emulate those you aspire to become like is to hear their stories and benefit from their experiences and advice. That is exactly what I always wanted Vet School to do and is something that I know it does. Many students who were sat just where you are now, contemplating the purchase of a little known book by a little known vet a few years ago now feature in these new editions, having benefited from the advice and insights offered and choosing to generously return to offer the next generation the value of their experiences. I am sure that many of you will choose to do the same and I personally look forward to working with you on the next edition.

Step by Step

So, what does Vet School actually offer? The main thing that Vet School achieves is to offer a great overview of what it is to actually enter the veterinary profession. What are the truths about being a vet? What does a vet actually do? What are the career options? What are the perks and the downsides of being a member of the veterinary profession? What will you get paid? Every question that you are likely to have will be answered in the two books. Once you are satisfied that vet school is for you, we then explore, in the order in which things will happen, the application process and the stages that you will need to go through in order to win that place at university to study to be a vet.

Everything from what types of work experience placement you should be doing, to how to actually book them, right through to choosing which vet schools to apply to, how to write the very best personal statement you can, including a real-life example statement which led to the student who wrote it receiving offers from vet schools, all the way through to interviews and beyond. The interview chapter alone, which opens Part Two and covers nearly 100 pages, is more comprehensive a guide to vet school interviews than you will get anywhere else. With over fifty pages of example interview questions, if you don’t feel prepared for your interviews after reading Vet School then there’s not much more that can be done to help you do so. I have often been told that this one chapter, which has had to be edited right down in previous editions, is worth the price of the book alone! And you know what, I agree – it is!

Check out the sample pages for yourself and if you like what you read and feel like making a great investment in your future then go for it – getting your own copies of Vet School: Parts One and Two is super simple.

Thanks for taking the time to listen to me and for supporting Vet School. All the very best with your own Vet School Success and whether you choose to buy Vet School or not be sure to keep in touch, whether through the Facebook page, Twitter or website, and good luck.

Yours in nerdiness and vettiness

Chris Nerdy VetChris (The Nerdy Vet) Shivelton Queen


Work Experience – How do you get placements?

Farm vet, bannerOkay, so you know WHY you need work experience in order to apply to vet school, you know WHAT placements you should be looking to get, but the big question that is likely forming in your minds right now is HOW to go about actually getting said placements.

Applying for and successfully booking work experience is not rocket science – trust me. However, it does require a high level of organisation, forethought, planning, targeting, meticulous attention to detail and, most important of all, follow-through.

Ok, so from the top:

Organisation, Forethought & Planning

The first thing you should do is have some idea of the breadth and type of placements that you want to complete as a minimum. You can find details of what constitutes this minimum in the earlier work experience post, or in the book. Once you know WHAT you need to achieve, the next step is to sit down and work out how much TIME you have available in which to fit in work experience. If you’re starting nice and early and have a few years in which to gradually build up experience with animals and vets then great. However, many of you will have decided you want to be vets either around the time of your GCSEs (or equivalent) or A-levels (or equivalent), and so many only have a finite number of school holidays in which to fit placements around your other commitments. This is why planning how much time you have available is important, as it enables you to identify the really important placements and focus your maximum efforts on securing them.

Ok, so lets say you have a total of 10 week’s vacation time before applying and you know you need to get at least two weeks at a small animal vets and a week on a dairy farm, what next?



Where do you want to do your various placements? You may have no idea, and that’s fine, but you will need to draw up a list of places to apply to and know why it is you want to do so. There is little point applying a scatter gun, one-size fits all, generic model to applying to placements, as it is less likely to work and will probably just see your email or letter land in the bin. Do a little bit of research on the businesses and establishments that you are planning on applying to, taking note of who it is that you need to address when applying to do placements – many vets, for example, will have a dedicated member of staff assigned to placement requests so a letter or email directed personally at that person would be a smart move.

If it’s not clear from their website, assuming they have one (many farms, for example, would be unlikely to have a web presence) then jot down their phone number and put in a polite call to ask a) whether they take students and b) if they do, who to address a request to, ensuring that you check any non-obvious spellings of names. One key piece of advice here is DO IT YOURSELF. I personally hate it when parents come in asking about work experience for their sons and daughters. Those same young people wish to be veterinary professionals and so will be expected to interact with people on a daily basis. Why not start that process of development now – you’ll get far more attention and kudos by being the one to pick up the phone or write the letter. Trust me.


Attention to Detail

You now have a comprehensive list of target placements (do yourself a favour and don’t pile all of your eggs into one basket – apply to several of the same type of placement so that there is a better chance of success with one) and know who to address your email or, preferably, letter. Now comes the slightly dull part: writing them. As stressed before, don’t just write one generic, catch-all letter and fire it out to everyone. It just screams “couldn’t be arsed,” and usually winds up in the bin. Obviously include all the key info on all of them, such as your name, address and other contact information, what stage you are at school, and which dates you are actually available for any placements they can offer. Open the correspondence with ‘Dear [name of the key contact you researched for that placement]’ and introduce yourself. If you have any personal connection with the establishment, such as your pet is treated there, then it can make a nice, personable opening sentence to a letter, but is not essential. State very clearly, but politely, that you are intending to apply to vet school (this is important as it will differentiate you from the applications they will undoubtedly receive from vet nursing candidates and other, general animal experience students. Give some indication of any previous relevant experience, and then state what it is you want (eg I am looking to book a placement with you for two weeks, either continuously or over the course of more than one placement) and the options for when you are free. These two steps are important as they a) enable the person reading the letter to decide straightaway if they can even consider your request, and b) whether they have any free slots on the dates given. Simply saying “I would like some work experience,” tells nobody anything and unless the person reading is particularly generous and hasn’t got much else to do with their time than come back to you with a range of options, it is likely to be too much like hard work to bother with.

Close your letter with a simple thank you in advance, and by saying that you look forward to speaking with them soon. There will be no surprise on their part then when you follow-up your letter or email a few days later.

End your request with a polite sign-off (eg yours sincerely), sign your name and type your full name at the bottom.

Proof read what you have written, thus ensuring any spelling errors are detected and corrected, and that the information, including the addressee is correct. Now, you can send 🙂

Wait. Wait some more. Probably wait longer than you’d like.

It sucks but it has to be done.



This isn’t a description of a good golf swing, but rather the oft ignored practice of following-up on previous correspondence. People are busy and it is not their job to remember to get back to you and make your desires a reality. The simple truth is that most of the time they will have had good intentions of replying to you but life and the busy professional nature of their work simply intrudes and distracts them, resulting in your request inevitably getting pushed further down the priority list.

A simple, polite follow-up email or, preferably, call to the person anything from 3-7 days after they would be expected to receive your letter/ email (remember to allow postal time for letters) is perfectly acceptable and will likely just prompt them to give you the answer you’re longing to hear there and then, or at least a commitment to get back to you asap. Try and time your call wisely though, in order to avoid bothering them when they’re likely to be at their most stretched. That means calling on a Monday morning or Friday afternoon is probably not the best times. Needless to say, if the answer is that they will get back to you and you don’t hear anything for another week, then there is no rule against following-up as many times as is needed. Basically, follow-up until you either get a yay or a nay.

ps: if you get a “no” then politely ask why (if it’s something you can change then you’ll be better placed to do so) and if they could suggest anyone else to try (a personal recommendation/ referral tends to be more successful than a random, cold call).


Some Tips for letter and email writing:

  1. Ensure spelling (especially the name of the addressee) and grammar are correct. If unsure then ask someone to proof-read it for you.
  2. Try and limit any requests to no more than a single side of A4. Any longer and a busy person is unlikely to bother reading till the end.
  3. Use an easy to read, clear font and make it a decent size (11 or 12 is fine). Again, if they have to pull out the microscope to read your letter, the chances are that they won’t bother.
  4. Expect to send out lots and receive very few, if any, positive responses. The competition for decent placements is fierce and it sometimes just comes down to playing the numbers game. With perseverance and application of good methods there is no reason why you won’t be the one who comes out on top though.

Good luck 🙂

Work Experience – How to get the best from placements

With the half-term break upon us and many of you either busy arranging work experience placements for the next break or currently on one as we speak, I thought I’d delve into the chapter on Work Experience from the brand NEW Vet School book that I am currently finishing, in order to bring you some helpful advice on how to get the very best from your placements…


During placements

There is nothing more aggravating to a vet, or any other placement provider, than having students present who clearly do not wish to be there. I have worked in clinics when we have had work experience students who couldn’t be less interested and it ends up being more work trying to enthuse and share insights and knowledge with them. Thankfully, the vast majority of you are not like this as you are genuinely motivated to become vets and learn from your experiences. That would be the key message here: show an interest. Even if you find some aspects of the placement dull, frustrating, or unsavoury – and you will, especially when asked to help with dirty jobs such as cleaning up muck – remember the end goal and show willing. If we can see that you’re keen then we’re far more likely to put in an effort to explain things to you, get you involved in cases and, ultimately, offer you a unique insight into the profession. There are, however, some limits, which it is a good idea to just bear in mind. The following applies specifically to small animal practice, but the same principles can easily be applied to all placements:


  1. Show willing and enthusiasm – it’s guaranteed to result in a far more enjoyable and interesting placement.
  2. Ask questions – there is no such thing as a stupid question and if you find yourself wondering about something that you’re watching or have heard, then ask, assuming it is appropriate to do so at the time (see below).
  3. Listen to instructions and follow them – you will be given a briefing during your placement, including Health & Safety information. Yes, its all achingly dull but is important so take it in, as it is ultimately for your safety and means that the profession can continue to offer work experience. You may not get to do as much animal handling as you’d perhaps expect, mainly due to insurance concerns and the risk of injury such as bites. If you are clearly sensible and build a good level of trust with the vets and nurses, however, then you will be given more opportunities to get involved practically, so be guided by the staff and if in doubt ask before doing something.
  4. Be polite and your usual charming self – we know you’re a good sort because you took the initiative to organise the placement. Just relax and be yourself. After all, we really don’t bite and the vast majority of us like having students around.
  5. Ask for a reference either at, or just before, the end of the placement – character references are a good way of keeping a record of your experience, having an official statement of how nice, competent and suitable for vet school you are, and can be useful when it comes to interviews or completing work experience questionnaires. It is always better to ask for this to be done whilst you are still present as whoever writes the reference will a) know who you are, compared to if you ask in six month’s time by which point several other students may have passed through the clinic; b) have formed a good, strong opinion of you and thus be able to write a far more personal and enthusiastic reference than they would if they were having to dredge their memories back up; and c) you will have the reference safely in your possession, avoiding the need to go back round placements trying to collect them up when you suddenly decide you would need them.



  1. Turn up late or skulk off early – think of yourself as an employee during your time at a placement. An employer wouldn’t be impressed by such practices so don’t think that it’s okay just because it’s work experience.
  2. Become over-cocky or stray beyond boundaries set – some students are clearly more confident than others, which is no bad thing. The potential issue arises when that confidence strays into the realms of being cocky and too familiar with the placement and staff, resulting in decisions being made which are not sensible or appropriate to make. Remember that as a work-experience student you are a guest of the provider and so wouldn’t be expected to take it upon yourself to get animals out, handle them, walk in on operations or consults, or talk in consults unless invited to do so. That doesn’t mean you can’t be pleasant to clients and greet them when they enter, or respond to questions and conversation that they may direct at you. Rather, it is just a polite reminder to remember that the vet is the one running the show and it can be construed as rude to be seen to over-stepping the line if the vet finds you talking over them, interrupting, or otherwise disrupting their ability to do the job. Its really just a simple case of using your judgement.
  3. Discuss or disclose any information about clients or their animals outside of the placement – by being invited in to see practice, you are being given privileged access to confidential information about cases, and clients. It should be needless to say that none of this should be discussed outside of the placement, in exactly the same way that you would be really ticked off if you discovered people talking about your private medical history. Again, needless to say but be careful about inadvertently disclosing private information on social networks, blogs and the like. The vet schools take ‘Fitness To Practice’ very seriously and your status as a suitable future veterinary professional would be called into question if it were discovered that you were not shown to be trustworthy.


Its never a bad idea to take in cake on your last day – vets, and indeed any work experience provider, are suckers for such things and you’ll well and truly cement your status as ‘The Best Work Experience Student Ever’ by doing so. Some call it creeping, I just call it a nice thing to do. If that’s not your style then no worries – it’s not compulsory 🙂

After placements

The main things to do after a work-experience placement are: a) thank the placement, by sending a card or a letter, for example, and b) remembering to follow-up on a request for a reference, if you were not able to obtain one before the end of the placement. The sooner you can get your hands on a reference then the better, as the longer it is left, the greater the chances are of either not receiving one at all or it being bland, generic and basically written for anyone and everyone.

If you are keen to do further experience at a specific placement, then making them aware of this as soon after finishing as you can is a sensible idea. Many students find themselves able to book further placements or agree a long-term work-experience arrangement, such as coming in to help on Saturdays. This is one of those times when the saying “if you don’t ask, then you don’t get” is very apt.

Keep a good, organised and clear record of the placements that you complete, including dates, locations and the main activities you undertook or interesting things that you saw. Such notes will definately come in handy when it comes to completing your applications and especially the supplementary work-experience documents that many of the vet schools ask applicants to complete.


Enjoy your time on placement and use it to gain as much insight into the veterinary profession as you can. Good luck 🙂