“Why do you want to be a vet?” It’s worth getting used to this question now as you are going to hear these eight words countless times as you start your journey toward becoming a vet. So, why do you want to be a vet? Perhaps you’ve grown up around animals, either living on a farm or owning pets, and really enjoy interacting with them on a day to day basis. Its possible that it was an early experience of visiting the vets, either with a new, healthy pet or, as is often the case with those who hear the call, with an ill animal who may have made a remarkable recovery or perhaps been put-to-sleep by the kind and sympathetic vet. Maybe you’re drawn to the sciences and see veterinary as an excellent route into pursuing science as a career option, of which it is an excellent one. You may feel very strongly about animal welfare issues and wish to dedicate your life to helping animals that can’t fight for themselves. You may simply have seen one of the many fascinating, exciting and touching TV shows that grace our screens from time to time and which offer interesting insights into the varied careers of today’s vets. Whatever your initial trigger to developing an interest in veterinary as a possible career, the fact remains that it is ultimately a wonderfully varied, exciting, challenging, intriguing, at times messy and emotional, and rapidly developing profession, with the kind of highs and lows that only ever come with both a medical career and one that brings us into direct close contact with both animals and humans alike.
Its probably worth, at this stage, telling you why I decided to become a vet. My story is one that is fairly typical of many veterinary graduates: I grew up with pets, initially a small family dog, followed by rabbits and a gerbil with a particularly unpredictable mood, called Ernie, and so liked animals from an early age and had visited the vets a few times with said pets. As such, the idea that I could spend my adult life with animals seemed like a pretty good one. I was also a bit of a nerd and am not ashamed at all to say that I liked school, and did rather well. One of the subjects I remember enjoying and being fairly adept in was science, and so the idea of doing something ‘sciency’ that also enabled me to work with animals led me to explore what I would need to do in order to become a vet. The more I read, saw and experienced, the more certain I became that there was simply no other career that I could see myself engaged in. The fact that veterinary was, according to my teachers and some of what I read, one of, if not the, most difficult courses to gain entry onto reinforced my determination to succeed. There are many character traits that vets seem to share and one of them is definately a steely determination and attraction to doing anything that others deem to be “too difficult” or, a particular favourite of mine, “impossible.” The combination of a course that was not only fiercely competitive and difficult to get onto, that offered the chance to work with animals every day and which meant I would be using my science skills and knowledge was impossible to ignore and so I set out down the long path to vet school. In spite of brief flirtations with other career options, namely the Household Cavalry, architecture, stockbroking and for a very short two-weeks, wanting to become a heart surgeon, inspired by a new TV medical drama, it was always veterinary that I was ultimately committed to pursuing. The rest, as they say, is history but one that now sees me qualified and working as a vet, and able to share my experience and advice with you as you set on down the path yourself.
What exactly does a vet do?
Essentially, a vet is qualified to diagnose and treat disease in animals, and basically is the animal kingdom’s equivalent of our very own doctors and surgeons. Most of us, when we think of vets, will likely see the classic image of a vet in a consulting top at our local small animal clinic, giving our pets their annual health checks and vaccinations, and occasionally seeing them if they are poorly and need medicine or surgery. The truth, however, is that a degree in veterinary is a ticket to a myriad of opportunities and career options beyond those that we classically imagine. Vets are employed in many capacities and across lots of industries, from scientific research, to teaching, to specialising in one specific area of veterinary, such as oncology or surgery, to marketing and sales in businesses, such as pharmaceutical companies, even to protecting the food that we eat and ensuring that it is safe to do so. The vet degree is, at present, still very much a broad-based, all encompassing education, which prepares new vets for future specialisation and any number of different and varied career paths. One thing that is worth developing an appreciation of now, at this early stage, is the fact that you are very likely to see your career change a number of times throughout your professional life and it is always fascinating to speak with vets and hear how their current career is often very far removed from what they saw themselves doing when they were fourteen, or even when they first started vet school. That’s one of the truly incredible things about a career in veterinary: the flexibility that it affords you, both in terms of what you might find yourself doing, but also where you might find yourself doing it, such is the international nature of animals and working with them as a professional. So, if its a career that offers huge challenges, variety, the option to travel and make real differences in both the lives of animals and people, then veterinary may just suit you well.
(If you’re interested in learning more about my own personal experiences of applying to vet school, including top tips, then you’ll enjoy my book)