Work Experience – Top Tips from Phoebe

Veterinary Work Experience

Phoebe Russell, with her horse, LuckyPhoebe Russell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, my top tips are:

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

Summer Planning – Laying the Foundation for an Awesome Application

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

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


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

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

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

Planning to Succeed

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

Key Steps to Preparing to Write an Awesome Personal Statement:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 🙂

The NEW vet school in Surrey

Tonight seemed to bring the new vet school at the University of Surrey, Guildford very much to the forefront of everyone’s attention. One thing that it highlighted, however, was how little many actually know about the new school and it’s plans to start accepting applicants this year.

I recently spoke with a representative from the new school, following my visit to the main University of Surrey campus, and put some questions to them:

1. What is the anticipated annual intake for the new school? 

In year one (2014) we will have a small intake of 25 students, rising to 100 students per year in subsequent years.


2. Is the vet school to offer just one veterinary degree programme, and what will this be (eg BVSc), or are there plans to offer additional options, such an integrated intercalation?

Surrey already runs a BSc programme in veterinary biosciences and a MSc in veterinary microbiology. In the new School we will initially offer a veterinary medicine programme but in future years we wish to offer integrated intercalation. We will also use our clinical expertise in the school to offer a range of CPD programmes for veterinary graduates, veterinary nurses and technicians.


3. What will the minimum entry requirements be? (Grades, work-experience requirements) 

Our entry requirements are AAB (with A grades required in chemistry and biology).  Applicants are expected to have gained at least four weeks animal-related work experience, which could include general veterinary practice, farm, stable yard, kennels, rescue centre, research laboratory, or abattoir work.


4. Will there be any provisions made for widening participation, eg lower entrance requirements for eligible students?

The University runs an In2Surrey scheme which is targeted at able students with widening participation profiles, applied on a national basis and aims to support students through on-campus advice, guidance workshops on applying to university and writing personal statements.  The potential of qualifying students is recognised by making an offer one grade below the standard offer for the course the student applies for; this scheme will also be open to any future candidates entering the scheme that wishes to undertake the Veterinary Medicine programme. The University has a strong record in providing targeted bursaries and is investing more to support students from low-income backgrounds to ensure that tuition fees do not deter talented young people from considering university.  The University offers a package of bursaries and fee waivers to students to ensure they are not disadvantaged by their financial circumstances.


5. What teaching style is likely to be applied? Problem-based learning, or more traditional lecture based teaching?

This will be a new curriculum based on the current best teaching practices. There will therefore be a mixture of teaching styles including some traditional lectures and problem (or case) based learning, as well as an emphasis on building both clinical and research skills through hands-on practical teaching.


6. How will clinical teaching be delivered? Will it be via the Nottingham system whereby this is provided by commercial practices or are there plans to establish clinical facilities at the university itself? 

We will be adopting a Nottingham style delivery mode for clinical skills training; students will have the opportunity to build their skills from the start of the course in practical teaching sessions, our new clinical skills centre and through working with clinical staff at a number of associated partner practices and veterinary hospitals.


7. Where will students be taught? Will the full course be taught at one site, like Nottingham, or will there be two sites, like Bristol ? 

The students will be taught in a brand new School of Veterinary Medicine on campus offering state of the art facilities that will include a clinical skills centre, a surgery training suite and a learning environment that is built around the needs of the student of today and focused on using technology to enhance learning.


Applications for the new course can be submitted via UCAS (as with any of the other veterinary degree courses) from this September (2013) for the initial intake of just 25 students in 2014.