Get Results. Get Coached.

I am a big fan of good coaching. I have seen the results first hand in both my sporting and professional lives, with the majority taking place in the athletic and outdoor pursuits areas of my life.
This week sees me take on the A-race of my current 2015 triathlon season: Challenge Dubai, a half-iron distance race that follows on from the event I attended in December in Bahrain. I had a great race in Bahrain, posting a significant improvement on my time from the race before. I know that some of the improvement came about as a result of simple environmental factors but most of the improvement I am certain was the direct result of having heeded the advice and guidance of my triathlon coach.
Another fine example of the power of skilled coaching in bringing out positive change was experienced when I recently indulged in another of my favourite activities: skydiving. I had gone out to the drop zone early one morning with the basic plan to do a couple of jumps before cracking on with the rest of my day and in a bid to chip away at the 100-jump target that I am tantalisingly close to reaching. Following purchase of my lift tickets and thinking of what I wanted to achieve from the jumps I thought that simply falling solo, as would have been the case if I am honest, just for the sake of doing the jumps, seemed like a wasted opportunity for growth and development. I could pay a little extra and enlist the expert direction of a coach in order to actually work on improving my skydiving skills.
Thankfully I was in luck and experienced freefly coach, Stefania, was available to teach me, with the emphasis on tracking, a discipline that I had touched upon with friends the month before, but that I had been somewhat frustrated by as I didn’t seem to be able to fly as well or in close proximity to the others as I’d have liked. Something could clearly be improved.
Almost immediately the benefits of the coaching became apparent as the ideal body position for effective tracking was explained to me and a plan made for the first jump, which I was both excited and a little apprehensive about, not really expecting to pull anything particularly special out of the bag on the first go.
Coached tracking jump over Dubai

Coached tracking jump over Dubai

The jump couldn’t have gone better! I was first out of the door at 13,000 feet, remembering Stefania’s advice about body positioning as I stepped out and instantly adopted the tracking pose, banking sharply left to enter a smooth, stable and comfortable track. I quickly spotted Stefania, who was flying just to the right and slightly below me, with her camera trained on me and issuing instructions on direction and body position tweaks. The theory that we discussed before the jump, and the visualisation that I spent time doing in the plane during the climb to altitude, really helped as I found myself adopting the tracking position, which is counter to what we learn when flying belly, with the difference between my jumps the month before and this time plain to see and feel. I loved it! Nothing comes close to the true feeling of flight as we soared across the Dubai skies, turning at will and feeling as close to being Superman as I can ever hope to.

That single jump was the only one that was possible that day, as the winds whipped up and grounded the skydive centre, so I was so glad that I had invested in a coached jump and absolutely cannot wait to get back in order to pick up where Stefania and I left off, working further on tracking and getting even more out of my sport. With a good coach you see faster results. You feel progress being made much more rapidly and you actually gain significantly more enjoyment out of whatever it is that you are doing. We’re all achievers and enjoy the feeling of development and progress. Coaching, I believe, adds to this enjoyment in exponential terms and is worth the time, effort and money. I could have jumped ten times in a row on my own, or simply in a social capacity with other fun jumpers and I would not have made anywhere near the progress I did in one single coached jump.
I guess the takeaway from this little tale is to urge you to consider seeking the right person to help you, even if it means making a real investment in both time and money, if there are areas in your life where you wish to progress and see real, tangible improvements and results. Once you go the coached route I assure you that you’ll not look back.

US Vet Schools

Colleges in the United States of America offering Veterinary courses

Veterinarians in the US train by completing a 4 year (different to the UK where undergrad vet courses are typically 5 years) DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) course. This is a post-graduate training program which is, again, different from most UK vet training.

The following colleges offer veterinary courses in the US:

USA vet schools




















PDF version with clickable links to websites

Vet News – Small Animal News

Vet NewsOur Small Animal News editor, Harriet tackles the fascinating and important topic of rabies and the Pet Travel Scheme in this month’s installment of Vet News.





Rabies & The Pet Travel Scheme

Harriet Woodhall (Vet News Small Animal News Editor)

Rabies has been frequently in the news over the past couple of months due to increasing concerns that it could enter the UK and due to the presence of World Rabies Day on 28th September.  There have been several cases of rabies in the Netherlands and other EU countries recently that have led to increased Government pressure to review UK quarantine laws that were previously relaxed to save pet owners money.

Dog being vaccinated against rabiesRabies is a fatal disease that can potentially affect all mammals, even humans. Due to the variable incubation period and ranging characteristics, it is often difficult to diagnose and predict the spread of the disease. Rabies has a wide range of clinical signs; meaning it has to be confirmed in a laboratory; however typical signs include sudden behavioural changes and progressive paralysis leading to death, if without treatment. The disease is mainly transmitted via saliva from a bite of an infected animal; dogs being the source of 99% of human rabies deaths.

Under the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) dogs, cats and ferrets are allowed to enter the UK without being put in quarantine, provided they have a microchip, rabies vaccination 21 days before travelling and a pet passport; dogs also need tapeworm treatment. If the requirements are not met, the animal is then put into quarantine on arrival into the UK. Only once the requirements of the PETS scheme are met can the animal be released.

A blood test and a wait of 6 months following vaccination was previously needed to enter the UK from the EU or approved countries; this was relaxed in January 2012: blood tests are no longer needed and the wait before entering is now only 21 days. The relaxed wait could be seen as a risk, seeing as the rabies incubation period is so variable and can often be longer than 21 days.

rabies, dangers, posterOne of the biggest concerns is the increasing numbers of smuggled dogs and puppies entering the UK with forged passports, often without vaccination or vaccination at a too young age. It is thought that since regulation changes, people are less concerned about being caught due to the shorter quarantine time. This is a particularly big problem when the dog’s origin is unknown, as rabies is still endemic in parts of the world. Many vets are now suggesting that quarantine regulations are not strict enough, and are warning of the increased risk of rabies entering the UK. BVA President, Robin Hargreaves also stated that this increase and the case in the Netherlands should “be a serious wake-up call to potential pet owners who must always ask about the animal’s background and ask to see it with its mother”.

Government officials state that the risk of rabies entering the UK is still very low, but several animal welfare charities are still concerned that they are putting their staff at risk, now suggesting that staff themselves are vaccinated against the disease.




Picture Credits:

Scaling New Heights

For those of you keeping up with my adventures via my blog, The Nerdy Vet, you may know that I have recently been to Europe, and specifically the Alps, during which I spent some time not only jumping from planes (as I am prone to do from time to time), but also a spot of paragliding, mountain biking and alpine climbing, something that I had never really done before.

Climbing to the summit of Gran Paradiso

On the ascent to the summit of Gran Paradiso

I had always wondered what the fuss was with climbing mountains, especially given the obvious fact that it has always looked so hard, just to stand on top of a bit of snow, ice and rock. Yet humans seem almost obsessively driven to drag themselves up ever higher in the name of conquering a plethora of peaks. Having now experienced first-hand the feeling of incredible achievement, in addition to the breathtaking views that are afforded to those who summit, I have newly discovered appreciation for the motivating forces that drive people to push themselves beyond their levels of comfort in pursuit of alpine success.

Danny Uhlmann, First Light Mountain Guides

Danny Uhlmann, First Light Mountain Guides

My mountain guide for the week, an effervescent American by the name of Danny Uhlmann (First Light Mountain Guides), was brilliant, not only in terms of his knowledge and ability as a guide, but also as great company, something that is important to have when tired, aching and uncertain of the extent of your own physical abilities. From advising me on initial preparation, kit and discussing the kind of climbs that we could do, to literally coaching me up my first alpine ascent, Danny was the perfect guide. One of the pivotal moments for me came on our very first day’s climbing, during the first bit of proper alpine rock climbing that I had ever done, complete with crampons and ice axe. There was a section of the climb that involved edging out onto and up a crazily exposed sheer cliff face, with nothing but a vertical drop of what seemed like forever below us. Danny explained the route and although I was trying my best to listen all I was really able to focus on was how intense the next section seemed, considering that all I really had keeping me attached to the mountain was my hands, feet, the sincere desire not to fall, and a rope between my guide and myself. As Danny headed off first I had several moments to quietly contemplate what it was that I was expected to do in the coming minutes. I was genuinely concerned that I was going to freeze and not be able to actually push myself to do the climb – the prospect of fear getting the better of me was real. But what if I didn’t do it? What then? I couldn’t come this far and not give it my best, especially on day 1. As such, I focused on the task immediately in hand, concentrating 100% on exactly where every foot and hand hold was going to go, and edged out with my back facing the endless expanse of the valley thousands of feet below. Well, I did it and the rest of the climb went well, a perfect introduction to alpine climbing that set us up well for the following days and the eventual ascent of Gran Paradiso, the highest peak in Italy and the crowning achievement of the week in Europe.

Gran Paradiso, summit

Gran Paradiso summit

I will be the first to admit that at the time of doing it and being there at the summit I was not having the best time ever. In fact, it would be safe to say I was crapping myself and very much looking forward to getting down again. In spite of that fact I would wholeheartedly recommend the experience to every one of you. The journey, including the preparation for the day itself, was an enriching experience of highs (both metaphorical and physical) and lows, with fatigue, fear and doubt always present. Now I am no stranger to heights being a skydiver. In fact I think nothing of leaping into thin air from 13,000 feet for fun. Alpine climbing, however, was truly scary for reasons that I am still working through in my mind.

There are so many factors in play with a mountain that danger literally exists at all times. From navigating glaciers and avoiding (hopefully) crevasses, to climbing round an exposed spur of rock thousands of feet up an exposed cliff face with little more than a bit of rope looped around and just careful placement of both hands and feet, I have come to the conclusion that mountaineers truly are impressive athletes. Danny did a sterling job preparing me and coaching me up, down, over and around obstacles that at times I seriously doubted I could overcome. He was patient and calm, yet encouraging and pushy enough at times when all I needed was just a good kick up the arse. It is amazing what can actually be achieved with the right support and belief in what you’re capable of.

One of the scariest moments of the trip was traversing a lengthy yet impossibly narrow and exposed snow ridge en route to the start of our second alpine climb at the Aguille du Midi in the Mont Blanc massif. Imagine, if you can, the prospect of walking along a path of snow and ice that is no wider than a standard school ruler, with a precipitously looooooooooong drop either side which would literally send you down to your death with enough time during the descent to truly comprehend the fact, and add to that a biting, bracing and strong wind that is trying to push you off said path. Oh, and then throw into the mix fun little features such as a deep crevasse over which you have to step, and quickly at that, because to fall down said crack in the ice would also lead to certain death. When you consider that this experience was at the start of this one day’s climbing then you get a flavour for the sort of challenges that awaited.

Applying to vet school is much like climbing a mountain: a lengthy, at times, demoralising preparation period, culminating in the actual attempt at the big prize, with the trials, stresses and concerns that go along with the process, and with no guarantee of ultimate success. Much as I would either have never reached the summit of any of the peaks I climbed, or faltered spectacularly along the way, without my mountain guide, your chances of Vet School Success are so much greater with the right help, support, nudging and advice along the way.

Those of you about to start vet school are much like those climbers who have reached the summit and are about to start their descent to base camp. The feeling of incredible achievement really starts to sink in as you take in the fact that you have done it, you have reached your goal! However, there is still much work to do during the next critical part of the journey and there is no guarantee that you’ll make it through safely – there are still all those crevasses and rocky drops (exams etc) to test your resolve, focus and determination along the way. Having said this, the descent is always more relaxed and enjoyable than the ascent, as you can beam and glow at the pride of having achieved what seemed so insurmountable before. If you could bottle that feeling then I would implore you to do so.

Gran Paradiso ascentI left the Alps aching but incredibly proud of my achievements, having pushed myself above and beyond what I thought I was capable of. Having had my first experience of mountain climbing I can certainly envisage returning for more and totally now get the addictive nature of the push for ever greater heights that comes with mountaineering. There is something deeply humbling about being in and on mountains, an environment in which in spite of the best laid plans and preparation can be cruel and unforgiving yet can serve up priceless moments of beauty. You’ll face trials, tribulations and moments of doubt during your own ‘ascent’ to the peak that is a successful vet school application but with the right planning, preparation and action, there is no reason why you won’t make the summit and enjoy the ultimate high that comes from achieving that which you’ve been dreaming of. Go and climb that mountain!

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!

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…..!

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.)

Treating Chimpanzees in Sierra Leone

Treating chimpanzees in Sierra Leone

Jenny Jaffe, VetJenny Jaffe, DVM, MSc

Jenny Jaffe graduated from Utrecht University, the Netherlands in 2007. She has spent three years in British small animal practice. After wildlife vet jobs in Ecuador and Indonesia, she completed an MSc in Wild Animal Health at the RVC. Currently, she works at Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Sierra Leone.


The sanctuary where I work was founded 17 years ago by Bala Amarasekaran to enforce the laws that protect chimpanzees in Sierra Leone. We currently home and rehabilitate 103 chimpanzees that were either confiscated or handed in after being kept illegally.

Staff is almost exclusively Sierra Leonean. With barely a handful of vets in the country, the post of resident vet is filled from overseas.

Recruited fresh from an MSc in Wild Animal Health at the Royal Veterinary College in London, I was eager to put my new skills and knowledge to use. I had initially applied for the same position a few years ago while still in small animal practice in Oxford. The MSc and recent experience working at wildlife rescue centres in Ecuador and Indonesia meant I was a more prepared candidate this time around.

I am fortunate to have arrived at a relatively well equipped clinic. We have a pretty decent library with reference volumes and relevant scientific articles, as well as airconditioning which we have on for a few hours a day to keep the pages from getting mouldy! With limited funds and few laboratories around, we do our own faecal and blood exams. This is not like in my old practice in the UK where you would place a tube of blood in a machine and get the results neatly printed out after fifteen minutes! Here we use tried and tested techniques which involve a lot of manual counting, which takes time. My laboratory skills needed a bit of brushing up… After close perusal of the instructions and the laboratory reference books, I am now more confident in doing white blood cell counts, differentials, haemoglobin measurements, Gram staining and more. We do need a diesel powered generator to be on to supply the extra power needed for the centrifuge and autoclave, but the solar panels at Tacugama provide enough energy for microscopes, laptops, fridges and plenty more.

Chimp eyeAt present, to anaesthetize the chimps we normally hand inject the smaller ones with medetomidine/ketamine and use the blowpipe to dart the older individuals. However, apes are smart and after catching a glimpse of the blowpipe, they know what is coming and do everything to prevent being darted. They seem to know we need them to be still for a bit and have a thigh or an upper arm exposed, so they move around a lot and avoid sitting with those bits towards us. They are also incredibly quick at pulling out the dart when it hits them and appear to enjoy snapping it in two or chewing it to pieces. All of this can make the process of darting quite challenging. We do have several senior staff members who are very adept at it after many years of practice, so I am learning a lot from them.

When do we need to sedate a chimp? Well, first of all during the three health checks we perform during their quarantine period, which involve intracutaneous tuberculin administration in the eyelid. This site is chosen so that, on subsequent days, the results can be seen easily and no hands-on sessions are needed to ‘read’ the results.

We also sedate when the time has come to insert contraceptive implants. As our priority is to ensure we have the space and resources to care for our rescued chimps, we try to prevent births at the sanctuary. We use contraceptive implants which normally inhibit reproduction for 3 to 4 years.

Jenny Jaffe, Chimp VetOccasionally, clinical cases require sedation. During my first weeks here, the youngest chimp at the sanctuary, developed a quite alarming exophthalmus (protruding eye). I turned out to be a retrobulbar abscess! What now? Within a day, I had received advice from both veterinary and human ophthalmologists by email. Most advised to drain the abscess surgically as soon as possible.The abscess resolved completely after surgery and a week of treatment.The left eyelid is still a tiny bit droopy, but this seems to be resolving slowly over time.

Though in small animal practice I have had to dissuade owners from thinking they can just give their cat a paracetamol, in apes a lot of human medicines and dosages apply due to their similarity to us. We work with a lot of human drugs, which are sometimes donated to us by a local pharmacy just after they go out of date. Most difficult to come by are the veterinary formulations of drugs that I had become used to in the UK.

We are very interested in keeping in touch with British vet practices (maybe if you were seeing practice or doing volunteer work with some nice vets?). Donations such as ‘just out of date’ drugs, old uniforms, etc. are invaluable. If you’d like to find out more about how to help, please contact me at or check out You can also follow what’s happening at the sanctuary on our blog