How to reinvent your veterinary career when practice isn't for you
Most veterinary professionals will work in primary care practice at some point in their career, but what other options are available?
It is not as uncommon as it was previously for people to change career paths through their working lives, and vets own a huge range of skills (including but not limited to communication, leadership and business skills), that can be applicable to the range of career options open to non-vocational degree students. Many vets enjoy a varied career progression away from and outside of clinical practice.
The vast majority of the vets polled in BVA’s Voice of the Veterinary profession survey, who are now in non-clinical roles (92%) had worked in clinical practice in the past and, on average, these vets decided to make the move to non-clinical roles 7 years after qualification.
Finding a new challenge was the most popular motivation for making the career change. The figures from the BVA Voice survey showed that 43% of vets who had moved were looking for a new challenge through a non-clinical role.
1 in 10 leavers reported that they found clinical work incompatible with family or outside commitments, which fits with our previous research work that identified a desire for more flexible working, and nearly one in five were looking for less stress at work.
But there are many things you can do with your vet degree if you find vet practice isn’t for you.
Non-Clinical charity work
Nicola Martin is chief executive of the charity Canine Partners, which works to ‘transform the lives of people with physical disabilities’ by partnering them with assistance dogs.
She says people are often fascinated to find such a leadership position held by a trained vet.
“I think the great thing about the vet degree is it provides you with so many different skills, be that leadership, team working and collaboration, and those different aspects set you up to be able to really go anywhere and do anything you want to.”
Having worked in the veterinary pharmaceutical industry, vet David Renney set up his own company to explore a niche area that involves bringing new or neglected ideas, products and technologies to the veterinary market.
“My career has taken an unusual course for a vet. How did I come to be able to start a veterinary products business? I have always enjoyed veterinary science as a subject. But, even as a student, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a practitioner.”
In my final year, I went to a talk about vaccinating calves against respiratory disease, given by the manufacturer’s veterinary adviser. I realised she was an expert on an interesting subject, and that her job was to talk about it. Then I knew what I wanted to do.”
“For any vet who loves the subject of veterinary medicine, but also wants to be a developer and communicator of ideas, I recommend a career in industry.”
"I mapped out what I wanted from life and from my career and thought about what motivated and challenged me. I then looked at every career I could find and how they mapped against my own personal criteria. I knew I wanted a career that could be perpetually challenging, interesting and stimulating and I wanted to escape the pigeonhole of ‘being a vet’."
She decided that moving in to business was ultimately the best way to give her the widest set of options and opportunities. Having started from the beginning and worked her way up, Julie is now commercial director at Pets at Home Vet Group.
"The scale of my career transition is not right for everyone, but it was right for me. I’m passionate about letting vets know about the options that are available to them and helping people understand the transferable skills they have."
Amy Barstow's friends and family always knew she was destined for veterinary medicine. Her aim initially was clinical practice; however, an interest in equine lameness has led her into a PhD in equine biomechanics.
“My story is a cliché in that I have always wanted to be a vet. I included it in every school essay I had to write about what I wanted to do, and friends and family often say: ‘Amy was always going to be a vet’. To me and everyone I knew, being a vet was to be a clinician, in practice, like the ones who treated our pets. It was only when I arrived at the Royal Veterinary College in September 2008 that I realised there might be more to being a vet; that there was a range of career options available for veterinary graduates. For the first time, scientific research actually became a tangible activity as opposed to an abstract idea.”
“If you are considering a PhD, the best advice I can give is to get an idea of what your prospective research group is like beforehand and speak to other students your potential supervisor has worked with. I would encourage anyone who is thinking of doing a PhD to go for it.”
Jason Aldiss entered vet school in New Zealand knowing that he didn't want to go into general practice. Despite that, after qualifying, he did spend two years in large animal practice. Having taken a keen interest in the role vets can play in society, he came to the UK to become an Official Veterinarian.
“I knew by the time I entered vet school that I did not want to go into general practice. I had volunteered at a local vet clinic every weekend for over five years while I was a schoolboy – this experience confirmed to me that I was simply not cut out to be a clinician.”
“I started to understand the vast array of ‘alternative’ career options that a vet degree can provide. I began to take a keen interest in veterinary public health and the key societal roles that vets play in protecting consumers, influencing government policy, improving animal welfare and working with other like-minded professionals for the general betterment of society as a whole through what is now referred to as the ‘One Health’ concept.”
“There is no simple pathway to becoming a public health vet; it is a matter of layering experiences, qualifications and roles such that one's veterinary public health knowledge and understanding grows over time. What I do know though is that this is a most professionally rewarding and fulfilling career choice and I can thoroughly recommend it to anyone who is looking to change their career path or is just setting off in life.”
Joanna Reid is head of office in Somalia for the UK's Department for International Development. She says she is just an ordinary civil servant, and that she has the best job in the world
“I applied to be a graduate management trainee with the Greater Glasgow Health Board and so began the next phase of my career, which lasted nearly 10 years. I used my degree as that – a degree rather than a vocation – and soon started an MBA, which was my way of formalising a change of career direction. I then embarked on a series of jobs at a large general hospital.”
“In career terms, I started at the bottom all over again, but this time it was my choice and it was exciting and liberating. There were times I could hardly believe what I had done: I had no real idea of what I was letting myself in for, but I knew I could do it. There have been times when my overseas career has really tested my personal and professional resilience, but I know I haven't reached my limits.”
Clinical content manager
Lauren Davis is a clinical content manager for the corporate group Vets4Pets, but she got there by what she admits was a ‘crazy’ route.
Davis says people often assume those who leave clinical practice behind must have hated it or been having a ‘horrible’ time but that wasn’t the case for her.
“What I was starting to find was that I was stagnating a little bit and I got a bit of compassion fatigue. I’m sort of a long-term goals kind of person and the short-term cases weren’t enough.”
In 2016 she moved into industry, becoming an international technical advisor, before moving to Vets4Pets, building on strengths she developed as a vet, particularly in communication.
“I’m home a bit more so the work/life balance is easier to manage but I’ve also found a job that I’m very good at, I enjoy and it doesn’t feel like work a lot of the time.”
Reinventing your career? Or just diversifying?
Too many vets are in a fixed mindset about their career, said VSGD founder Ebony. They needed to be encouraged to explore their potential: ‘We are like a Swiss army knife. We have many implements/skills – we can choose an implement we want to sharpen and drive it forward. Then, when we’re done, we can pop it back and take out the next tool.’
Whether working in a small animal practice, researching a new drug, studying parasites in the Serengeti or sitting on a government public health committee, as a veterinary surgeon you can offer something to society that few other people in this world can.