Vet student masterclass - learning about careers in public health

Public health masterclass Nottingham
It’s not often that vet students get the chance to mix and mingle with students from other vet schools, so it was nice to be able to do so as part of our week-long masterclass in veterinary public health.

Public health careers

The Veterinary Public Health Association (VPHA), which sponsors the week, offers one student from each UK vet school the chance to find out about various aspects of a fulfilling career supporting the physical, mental and social wellbeing of people.

Home for our week was a group of apartments in the centre of Nottingham, which allowed us to explore the city and socialise in the evenings. Our guide was Rodrigo Nova – assistant professor in veterinary public health at Nottingham university. He organised a range of visits that took us from Derbyshire to York. Teaching associate Amelia Garcia-Ara accompanied us on some of the trips and also provided delicious cake.

Food production

Our experience began with a visit to the Leicestershire Handmade Cheese Company, which makes cheeses using raw milk. We heard about the procedures that ensure its products are safe to eat, and the challenges of competing in a flourishing market. We also got to try some cheeses, which were fantastic.

Dairy farm

At a dairy farm – owned by Hannah Kinston, a current vet student at Nottingham – we learned about high welfare veal production. Having explored ways of using dairy bull calves, which are a byproduct of the dairy industry, she now produces rose veal, using careful marketing to reduce consumers’ negative perceptions of veal production.

Badger culling

The next day was themed around bovine tuberculosis and badger culling, starting with a group discussion involving Malcolm Bennett (professor in zoonoses).

"It was a fascinating week, giving us a peak into a broad-ranging topic and helped put veterinary public health teaching into context"

It was good to be able to bounce ideas around with other students and look at the evidence involved in the decision making within the badger culling programme.

We continued the conversation by speaking to the National Trust and the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust about volunteer-run badger vaccination programmes. They explained badger ecology, ways of spotting signs of activity at badger setts and how badgers are trapped for vaccination.

The role of vets in the FSA

On Wednesday, we had an early start to travel to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in York, where we learned about the roles of vets in the FSA, and the interaction between the agency and the public. I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to ask questions about careers in the civil service.

We were surprised to hear that the majority of official veterinarians employed by the FSA come from EU countries, and we heard about the challenges of getting vet students to consider careers in the public sector. The FSA has been promoting careers within the agency to counter a lack of knowledge about what’s involved.

In the afternoon, we had time to explore York, and then enjoyed a meal out, provided by the VPHA. It had been a busy three days, so it was nice to sit and talk and consider our abattoir visit the following day.


At the abattoir, Steve Powdrill the beef and lamb specialist at the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, introduced us to the ways the board supports farmers through training. For example, it teaches farmers how to produce lambs with a desirable carcase for consumers and promotes lamb consumption.

Vet students lamb consumption
Vet students had a go at classifying lambs according to their conformation


Having heard how meat carcases are classified, we took part in a ‘live to dead’ practical, which involved having at go at classifying lambs according to their conformation (pictured, right). We then changed our protective clothing to try our hands at classifying the carcases of the same lambs following their slaughter.

We were shown examples of problem carcases and learned how to examine offal, such as identifying liver fluke. It was an incredibly useful day, especially as this is an area where the role of the vet becomes more of an advisory one.

Cow welfare

The final day was spent at Nottingham university. Its farm is a magnificent facility, having benefited from a lot of investment to improve cow welfare.

The herd is a low capacity, high yield enterprise, where welfare is of paramount importance. The cows had plenty of scratching posts with extra wide passages that allow the animals to pass one another comfortably.

PhD vet student Jake Thompson explained some ongoing research on the ways that cows use space. It was interesting to chat to him about public perceptions of cow husbandry versus scientific evidence.


Our last visit was to the university’s beehives. The bees are used for clinical teaching during the final-year rotations. It was great to see them in action and Rodrigo explained what to look for in a healthy bee population and the problems to be aware of and to look out for.

Putting veterinary public health into context

It was a fascinating week, giving us a peak into a broad-ranging topic and helped put veterinary public health teaching into context. The opportunity to investigate things more deeply and ask lots of questions was great, and the staff at Nottingham were helpful and accommodating.

"I recommend the masterclass to all vet students, even those who don’t see their future working in public health"

I recommend the masterclass to all vet students, even those who don’t see their future working in public health. It is well worth finding out about the types of roles that will be available to vets, and this week came with the added bonus of broadening our knowledge with information that will be useful in clinical practice.

About the Masterclass

The Masterclass is sponsored by the Veterinary Public Health Association (VPHA) and this year was organised by the U of Nottingham. One vet student from each vet school in the UK can apply to attend a week-long immersion into veterinary public health (VPH), supplementing what they are taught at vet school to encourage students to consider working in this area in the future.

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