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.
There are few challenges bigger or tougher than undertaking an Ironman race, which is exactly what a good friend of mine from my days at Bristol Vet School has just undertaken. Hers is an inspirational story and she is a role model for anyone looking to apply to vet school, juggle athletic and academic pursuits, or simply take on a colossal challenge. The Iron Vet in question is Adelle Isaacs, Junior Partner at Larkmead Veterinary Group, based in Oxfordshire.
Who are you? Where did you study? When did you first decide to be a vet and what kind of vet you are now? Where do you work?
I decided that I wanted to be a vet when I was 7 years old. I loved animals and had a menagerie of small pets. A family friend was a vet and I was lucky enough to be allowed to hang around the practice after school, I never really looked back. I went to my local comprehensive school, got the necessary grades and studied at Bristol between 2002 and 2007. I am still in my first job at Larkmead Veterinary Group in Oxfordshire, which happens to be at my foster practice from university. In January I became a Junior Partner in the practice. I am a large animal vet and spend 90% of my time working with cattle and sheep.
I read Chrissie Wellington’s book (for those that don’t know she is one of the greatest ironman athletes of all time). There was a chapter in the book about a nun who was 80 years old and still competing in Ironman events. I was reading this book on a flight to Auckland, I was on my way to represent GB at an age group level in the World Championships for Sprint Distance triathlon. My brother, and training partner (Danny) had also qualified and had read the book. We had a conversation about this nun in New Zealand and both decided that if an 80 year old could do it there was absolutely no reason why two fit people in their twenties couldn’t do it too. Once we were back in the UK we signed up within a couple of days. Then there was no going back! We chose the race at Mont Tremblant in Canada as it was late in the season, giving us time to prepare, and the scenery looked beautiful. We decided we would try to raise some money for cancer charities in memory of our older sister who unfortunately lost her battle with cancer a few years ago.
How did you first get into triathlon? Why?
I was swimming, mountain biking and running to get fit and I wanted a challenge to keep me motivated. My first race was in 2010 and was a super sprint at Dorney Lake near Eton. Since then I have competed in all of the mainstream distances (sprint, olympic, half ironman and ironman) as well as a half marathon and a few cycling sportives. Triathlon is an amazing sport, it is competitive, but for many (including myself and my brother) the most important contest is with yourself and challenging yourself to give the best performance that you are capable of. Triathlon has a hugely supportive spirit and the atmosphere at races is always really friendly and encouraging.
Were you a sporty/ athletic person before and during vet school?
Whilst I was at school I played lots of girls’ football, I absolutely loved it. I played for our county team and had dreams of going to America (where ladies football is massive) and becoming a pro (I was never really talented enough to do this!). I tore my cruciate ligament in a game the season before coming to university and had it surgically repaired the summer before I started at Bristol. Once I was at vet school I kept thinking I would join the ladies team, but it never really happened. Free time wasn’t really something we had in abundance and I spent more of my time at the bar then exercising and as a result I got really unfit!
I am hugely lucky to have an incredibly supportive and understanding boyfriend, and family and friends that are second to none. My colleagues at work have been amazing also, offering to cover some duties so that I can fit in long bike rides every weekend and just generally encouraging me. Without these people I could not have even made it to the start line of the Ironman. Balancing the training and increasingly responsibilities at work has been challenging, sometimes more so than the actual training. I’ve had to improve my skills of time management hugely and I wasn’t exactly disorganised before.
What have been the highlights of both your professional and sporting lives to date?
The highlight of my professional life is gaining a place a Bristol Vet School, professionally everything else has followed on from here really. Obviously I am really excited to have joined the partnership at Larkmead Veterinary Group. In terms of my sporting life the major highlight has to be crossing the finishing line at Ironman Mont Tremblant, the race was pretty eventful and there were times when I thought I wouldn’t make it so it was a very emotional moment. We also raised over £6000 for Cancer Research and Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research and this is something I am hugely proud of. My brother and I also represented the GB age group team for sprint distance triathlon at the World Champs in New Zealand last year, racing in the GB trisuit was a very proud moment and I was so happy to share the experience with my brother.
What are your sporting and professional ambitions following Ironman Tremblant?
I want to focus more on work next year, everyone has been very supportive and understanding during my Ironman training but I feel I owe the practice more of my mental attention going forward. Becoming a partner has taken a bit of getting used to, but I am enjoying it and I hope to progress to Senior Partnership within the next 5 years. I will focus on olympic distance and half ironman distance racing next year as these distances are a bit more compatable with a ‘normal’ life. I hope to return to Ironman racing in 2015 and maybe even a shot at Ironman World Championship (Kona) qualification in the future.
How was the race?
Eventful!!! The swim started really well but half way through my hat came off which unleashed my hair! Every time I turned my head to breathe I almost choked on my own hair and it made it very difficult to ‘sight’ and swim in a straight line. I was pleased to get out of the water and looked like a drowned rat by the time I made it to transition. The bike started really well, I felt so strong after a couple of weeks of tapering and I was flying along! This was until then 40km mark when I was hit by another cyclist and knocked off my bike at an aid station! The bike went flying as I landed on my shoulder, elbow and head. I quickly realised that I ‘wasn’t that bad’ and was relieved to see my bike was fine. I got back on and although my arm was really stiff I was confident that I would make it through the remaining 140km on the bike and tried not to think about the marathon that awaited. I got to T2 feeling pretty sick, the energy drink offered on the bike course was slightly different to what they had advertised and it didn’t agree with me!! This really frustrated me as my brother and I had imported some of the advertised product from the USA to try during training to avoid this very scenario. Anyway, there was nothing I could do, I felt awful and seriously considered pulling out after the bike. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to make it through a marathon feeling how I did. I made myself start the run, I couldn’t have lived with myself if I hadn’t even tried to run. After 2km of running I realised that the energy drink was now making its way through my system, I was having serious stomach cramps and as a result I had to visit the portaloos at every aid station in the first half of the run. As well as being really painful and disgusting I found this so frustrating as I just couldn’t get into a rhythm and my legs actually felt fine. Things got really bad at the halfway mark, I could run more than about 50m without doubling over in pain. I decided at this point to walk until my stomach settled, this took about 30 minutes, during my walk I discovered that my shoulder was actually seriously painful after the crash. It was just one thing after another! I got really low at this point, but after seeing my friends and family I attempted to start running again. I felt fine for the first time in about 6 hours. I ran the last 15km of the 42 km marathon well and finished strong. Running down the finishing chute felt totally surreal. I couldn’t believe I had done it. I knew my brother had finished about 2 hours before me, so crossing the line I knew we had both done it! It felt incredible! I’m so glad I didn’t drop out after the bike, the human body is capable of more than our minds give it credit for!
Achieving a place at vet school is not easy! It takes dedication, commitment and hard work, but if it is something that you are passionate about and you are willing to put in the effort it is achievable. Getting a broad range of work experience with many species is vital. It is important to get some longer work experience placements to show that you have the required commitment, for example, work at a farm every Saturday for a prolonged period. I would assume that all those applying have similar grades to you and probably similar work experience, so you need to do something to set you apart from the masses. This is where extra-curricular activities come in handy, whether it be sport, music or drama, anything that demonstrates that you are a balanced individual with a passion for non-veterinary matters will stand you in good stead. These activities may also demonstrate that you have developed some skills such as teamwork and communication, which are so important as a vet. If you are lucky enough to be invited for interview, prepare for it meticulously, read up on current affairs and key cases you have seen during work experience. Prepare for it as though it is an exam and then try to relax during the interview so that you can communicate clearly and allow your personality to shine through.
If you are an athlete thinking of applying to vet school don’t be put off. Your skills of time management will probably be more developed than those of people who have applying for vet school as their sole focus, this skill will be invaluable at vet school when spare time is very limited. Dedication to sport will teach so many of the transferable skills that you will be able to use during the application process, at university and during your working life. Sport will also keep you sane!
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.
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.
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.
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.
I 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!
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.
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…..!
There 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.
Are 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.)
As we move a mere four days from when Santa has to dust off his boots and coat, down an energy drink (or five) and ride around the globe picking up where Royal Mail left off, I thought it might be fun to take a quick look at Vet School and offer a few facts – some you may have known, others may well be new.
1. Most courses are 5 YEARS, although the exception to this is Cambridge, where you’ll study for 6 YEARS. You do get a lovely intercalated degree for your troubles though. Which is nice.
2. Vet training involves learning about all species so that when you qualify you can, in theory, treat any animal that is presented to you. The question of whether specialisation earlier in the training will happen is always a topic for debate.
3. One thing that comes as a surprise to most new students is that suddenly getting more than 50% in exams is considered an achievement – vet school is tough! You may no longer be the top of the year…. but that’s ok 🙂
4. At most of the vet schools, you technically get a degree after the first three years, with the final part of the course completing the ‘vet’ aspect of your degree.
5. The range of subjects you cover at vet school is vast, from those you’d expect, like anatomy, physiology and pharmacology, right through to topics as diverse as farm animal housing, small animal orthopaedics, and communication skills. As such, vet school is packed and your time at university will FLY!!!
Social & Fun:
1. Vet students work hard but play harder. Fact. It is a tough course so it is important to be able to unwind and enjoy yourself when you get the chance.
2. The range of socials that are on offer to vet students is immense, from those organised by your specific vet school to national events, such as the (in)famous AVS Sports Weekend. This last example is the mother of all costume parties, with fancy dress being an established essential part of being a vet student.
3. Vet Schools have very well organised and established student societies, who look after much of your entertainment, as well as representing your views on university committees, and other such official stuff.
4. Vet School traditions are a big part of the culture of being a vet student. It is almost impossible not to quickly develop a very strong sense of belonging to an awesome club when you first join your university, and it is this sense of family and community that is the envy of many non-vets.
5. The veterinary profession is, in itself, one big family of professionals and it always amazes me how easy it is to bump into someone that you know, regardless of where you are in the world. As such, vets work hard but definitely play harder!