November 2018: Vet's Advice
Have you got what it takes?
'What do you want to do when you finish school?'
After a while you lose count of the number of times you are asked. Some of you may have a clear career path but others may not know what they want to do. This can be frustrating but, at the same time, it’s an amazing position to be in - you could do anything!
Working with animals is a common choice and it doesn't take long for people to fill in your answer with 'so you want to be a vet, then.'
There are many roles that involve working with animals, a few of which are currently showcased in television programmes. These give an insight into the role but do not necessarily show the whole story. Working with animals involves long and unsociable hours (nights, weekends and bank holidays), often working outdoors in all winds and weathers. It is physically hard work, the animals do not always appreciate your efforts and it can be emotionally draining at times. It's not always what you think it will be. All work with animals involves contact with people, so good communication skills are essential. As with other vocational occupations, working with animals is not highly paid.
Food for thought? That said, for the right person, working with animals is the best job in the world!
If you are thinking of a career in veterinary practice take a look at the roles of the whole team: receptionists, veterinary nurses (including student nurses and animal care assistants) and veterinary surgeons. Each member of the team cannot fully complete their role without the others.
Generally, the first contact you have with the practice is the receptionist; either on the telephone or in person. Their roles are numerous but include greeting clients on arrival, assisting with client enquiries, arranging appointments, handing out the dispensed medication and taking payments. Our reception team are aware of medical conditions that require an urgent appointment and will act on advice from qualified staff to ensure prompt treatment of pets. They have a very important role of client liaison that requires skills such as listening, patience, remaining calm under pressure; owners are often upset or worried about their pets.
Veterinary nursing is not something you do if you are 'not clever enough to become a vet'; the roles are very different but we work together. Our veterinary nursing team comprises of registered qualified nurses, registered student nurses and an animal care assistant. There are now a number of ways to qualify as a veterinary nurse; via the 4-year degree route or 2-3 years 'on the job' training (paid or unpaid). Each route involves practical skills training as well as compulsory examinations to demonstrate knowledge. At our practice all students are supervised by qualified personnel at all times during their training. The role of the veterinary nurse is varied when compared to our counterparts in human nursing, but all duties are carried out under the direction of the veterinary surgeon. Our main role is to assist the vets with the diagnosis, treatment and care of pets. Nurses need to develop the technical skills to assist with safe patient restraint for examination, along with the hospitalisation and treatment of a wide variety of animals. Those skills involve laboratory work, taking and processing X-rays, monitoring anaesthesia and assisting during operations as well as caring for the inpatients. Again, good communication skills are essential to provide the information to the owner about the progress of their pet's condition.
During each day nurses also carry out nurse clinics (e.g. health and weight checks, post op checks, nail clipping), assist the reception staff with telephone and reception duties, dispense prescribed medication, order stock and assist with general cleaning of the whole building. I won't deny that there are many opportunities to cuddle an animal if the situation allows! Some of our nurses have special interests and qualifications in areas of nursing in relation to cats, rabbits and small pets, behaviour, weight management and anaesthesia and surgery. As registered qualified nurses we have to attend continuing education programs to ensure our knowledge and skills are up to date.
Our veterinary team are qualified, experienced veterinary surgeons. They have completed 5 - 6 years of university including practical placements in veterinary practices, passed their exams and are registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), which gives them their 'licence to practice'. It doesn't end there. They have to continually update their knowledge and practical skills by attending professional development sessions. Although described as 'general practitioners', members of our team have extra interests in cats (we are a 'Cat Friendly' practice), rabbits and exotic pets, dentistry, acupuncture and chemotherapy. Unlike doctors just dealing with people, vets deal with all different species - they never know what will come through the door next! The role of the vet is to try to promote the health and welfare of pets, determine what is wrong with the patient (may require laboratory or other further tests) and prescribe the most suitable course of treatment. Communicating their findings and the suitable course of treatment with the owner is vital so the owner understands what will happen next.
Veterinary surgeons have to work within the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966, which is an Act of Parliament that states that only qualified veterinary surgeons who are registered with the RCVS can diagnose and prescribe treatment (medical or surgical) based on that diagnosis, for animals under their care. It is in the best interests of your pet that we see them at the surgery to try to diagnose their condition and a legal requirement before we can prescribe certain types of medication.
So, what is the next step for someone who wants a career working with animals? Firstly find out as much as you can about the qualification you wish to achieve and the entry requirements for college or university - check you are on a suitable path. Find out if there is an opportunity to carry out work experience in your chosen field. Due to the nature of the work this may not be possible but it's worth looking on the website or asking. Work experience in veterinary practice is a popular choice and places are limited so you need to apply early! If you are over 15 years old (or will be during the work experience) and wish to apply to our practice for work experience then please send us a letter by December 31st.
Whatever you decide to do once you finish school, we wish you the best of luck!