Work Experience – The Cornerstone of Your Application

Work-experience is still the most reliable way of being sure that training to be a vet is what you really want to do, as it lets you see and experience first-hand exactly what you’re letting yourself in for by choosing a veterinary career. In spite of the challenges associated with securing placements, it is a vital part of your vet school application and should be taken as seriously as your academic work. This means careful planning, determination and showing enthusiasm at every stage. If you really have your sights firmly fixed on a place at vet school then you’ll relish the challenges and opportunities presented by work-experience, and have a lot of interesting experiences to discuss at interviews.

Do the vet schools really care?

In a word: Yes. Yes, they do. Training a vet is a lengthy and expensive process, and with the competition for places the vet schools really do have their work cut out differentiating between all those students who eagerly submit applications each year. They need to feel confident that those applying to study veterinary really truly know what it is they are letting themselves in for, as the commitment from both sides is HUGE! Seeing that applicants have completed a broad range of practical experience goes some way to reassuring the admissions tutors that the student they are reviewing has given the idea serious considered thought and knows, to a lesser or greater degree, what being a vet and working within the profession actually entails. Of course there will still be aspects of the job and career that one cannot possibly glean from a relatively short period of time ‘seeing practice,’ but the surprises should be far less marked than if people simply decided to apply to vet school on a whim convinced that the job simply involved petting puppies all day.

So…… What type of Work Experience should you do?

Excellent question. The answer is a broad range of different placements is best as opposed to weeks and weeks of one type. For example, two weeks spent at a small animal practice, a week at a dairy farm, another at a riding stables, and another couple shadowing a large animal vet or doing some lambing will be far more informative and useful experience than spending 8 weeks following around the world’s greatest small animal surgeon. At the end of the day the vet schools are not looking to offer places to students who already know all there is to know about veterinary – there would be little point in trying to educate such accomplished people anyway! Seeing evidence of understanding across a broad spectrum of professional functions is the key, as this will enable applicants to speak about their experiences and lessons learned with conviction.

Placement Types:

  • First Opinion (small animal, farm, equine) – time spent shadowing and working with both vets and nurses on the frontline of clinical care is an essential. Expect to pitch in with some of the less glamorous jobs such as cleaning kennels in addition to getting the chance to see some very interesting cases.
  • Farm placements – whether calving, milking, lambing or working on a pig farm, time spent on the farm is very important. Large animal vets interact with farmers and their livestock on a daily basis and are instrumental in establishing and maintaining long term animal health.
  • Stables – shadowing a horse vet will permit some experience of working with horses but the very best way to learn more about their husbandry, health and handling is to spend some time helping out at a stable.
  • Kennels & Catteries – again, as far as gaining vital animal handling and husbandry knowledge and skills, both options are fantastic.
  • Laboratories – from quality assurance to genuine research and development labs, time spent gaining an understanding of laboratory practices is useful and could certainly help set you apart from others applying at the same time. Vets play a vital role in both disease detection and surveillance, and also in original research, all involving laboratory time.
  • Specialist Veterinary Placements – if you fancy getting your teeth a little more into veterinary then there is no better place to look than specialist, or referral, clinics. Vets will be much more specialised and focused on a narrower area of expertise, meaning that time spent at this kind of placement will certainly see you at the cutting edge of the profession.
  • Zoo/ Exotic – generally very hard placements to secure but can be fascinating. With more people keeping exotic species the demand for vets with such specialist interests appears set to rise.
  • Abattoir – vets play a vital role in ensuring the hygiene and safety of our food, with abattoirs being their stage. Gaining even half a day at one will be viewed favourably as they are important placements but very hard to secure.
  • Other/ Non-typical placements – these could be considered as the icing on the work experience cake. The type of placements which will help you really stand out from the crowd but which should not be completed at the expense of satisfying the fundamental basic requirements, such as good quality farm work or time spent in a first opinion practice. The placement that I felt helped me stand out when I was applying was the two weeks I got to spend at the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket after completing my GCSEs – fascinating and the kind of placement that had I not taken a chance by writing to them and then benefited from a smattering of luck would not have happened.

How to actually secure a placement

Basically by asking. The overused cliched saying of “If you don’t ask, then you don’t get” is absolutely spot on. Do your research on a particular placement provider, for example by checking out their website, and ideally ascertain who it is you need to write to/ speak with that can make the decision as to whether or not you can do a placement with them. It might be the owner, for example, or maybe a junior member of staff who has been charged with the role of work experience coordinator. Find out who you need to contact and please ensure that you know how to spell their name correctly for the purposes of writing to them. A few rules for securing a work experience placement:

  1. Do your research – at the very least look at the website and know the basics about who you’re applying for work experience to and which person you specifically need to direct enquiries. If it is not clear from the website then pick up the phone, call and ask who you need to contact.
  2. Main contact – confirm who it is you should direct your request and ensure you know how to spell their name correctly. A person’s name is a precious thing to them and mis-spelling it can be an easy but sure way to make a poor first impression.
  3. Write a letter or email – my preference is for a letter as emails are so numerous these days that yours may simply get lost in the avalanche of electronic mail that your addressee has to wade through each day. Nicely written letters are such a rarity these days that I believe they make an impactful and lasting first impression.
  4. Write/ apply yourself – trust me when I say you get far more respect when you’re the one to actually write in rather than leaving it to mum/ dad/ auntie/ everyone else. For a start it actually proves you’re interested in the first place as opposed to being a vet simply being an idea that your parents think might be a good one. If you’re unsure of what to write or how to write a decent letter/ email then by all means seek some help but dodging the bullet of actually plucking up the courage to put yourself out there will not stand you in good stead for vet school or life in general.
  5. Follow-up – ok, so you’ve written ten letters and not heard a single reply after a week. Clearly everyone you wrote to is an a*&%hole, right? No, not necessarily. The truth is that they have probably just been so busy with their own jobs and lives to have realised that the nice letter they received from you is yet to be replied to. Do them a favour and remind them, politely of course. There is nothing pushy about follow-up. In fact, it is expected and further demonstrates maturity, pro-activity and a desire to advance. A polite enquiring phone call is usually all that’s necessary, with many placements being booked and confirmed there and then. I would give it at least a week before ringing though as there needs to be some time for your letter to actually arrive, reach the top of the ‘to read’ pile and then have a reasonable chance of being dealt with.

And after placements?

Simple really. Thank them. Again, a well written letter goes a long way to showing your gratitude and is always well received. A decent cake or some biscuits on your last day probably won’t hurt either 🙂 The other key thing to remember to do following your placement is to request a reference to be written, preferably as soon after finishing as possible whilst you’re as fresh in everyone’s minds as possible.

Work Experience is not only an essential part of any serious application to vet school but is also often good fun, so do remember to HAVE FUN and ENJOY YOURSELF.

(Remember to check out Vet School: Part One for an even more extensive look at Work Experience)

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 🙂