How to become a vet working in non-clinical charity work

Nicola Martin with a cat
I always wanted to go to Art School and be a professional artist but was convinced by my family that sciences would offer broader opportunities in the future. Having missed out on the A-level grades I needed to get into Vet School, I spent 2 gap years gaining experience and working in a whole range of jobs before finally securing a place at Liverpool Vet School.

Throughout Vet School I always thought I would go into mixed practice but a job offer from my main EMS practice was too tempting and so I spent the first two years after graduation working across 5 branches in a small animal practice. I really enjoyed the charity work we did in the practice for several animal welfare and rehoming charities, and started looking for opportunities within the charity sector.

The charity sector

I managed to secure a job at my local PDSA Pet Hospital and quickly settled in, enjoying the busy days prioritising workload, learning new surgical skills and making the most of having a team of experts around me. I quickly grew in confidence and skill and took on a whole range of additional opportunities such as student supervisor, staff committee rep and health and safety champion. I also had the opportunity to take on the  Senior Vet role for a year which gave me a whole range of new skills and challenges but made me realise that I could contribute to the charity in other ways, rather than just as a clinician.

Moving to non-clinical practice

Moving to a Head Office based role was a real dilemma for me, I loved my clinical role, enjoyed carrying out complex surgeries and had great relationships with many of my clients but was also excited at the opportunity of a more strategic role developing PDSA’s pet welfare activities and getting involved with other aspects of the charity. Over the last 7 years my role has developed and expanded and I now lead our Community Engagement, Policy and Campaigns and Corporate Partnership teams as well as being involved in strategic business planning for the charity. No day is ever the same, I could be working on the latest  PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report, presenting a funding proposal to a potential donor, visiting one of our Community and Education Vet Nurses presenting a Canine Communications session to a room of school children, or even planning budgets for the following year. I love the variety and working on projects that aim to improve pet well-being on a national scale with a team of really engaged vets, vet nurses, communications specialists and fundraisers.

PAW Report success

The launch of the very first PAW Report in 2011 was a special moment and it has been great watching that develop and see it used by a wide range of people across the sector to help inform decision making on pet welfare issues. I take particular pride in watching my team deliver a wide range of behaviour change initiatives and was especially excited earlier this year when we opened a veterinary careers experience with our corporate partner Lily's Kitchen at KidZania.

In addition to my work at PDSA I am also a trustee of the Animal Welfare Foundation (AWF), a great opportunity to work with like-minded welfare focused veterinary professionals for a charity that aims to improve animal welfare through research, debate and education. The annual  Dicussion Forum is always a highlight in my diary and it is great to see so many new vets getting involved.

"Working in charity practice is extremely fulfilling, fast paced and offers great opportunities for development"

PDSA is a very diverse organisation that offers a wide range of opportunities for clinical staff to get involved in roles and activities outside of day to day running of the Pet Hospitals. From Regional or Area Manager, Clinical Operations or Community and Education Vet Nurse roles to Pet Wellbeing Champions and Client Action team members, clinical team members can get involved at many levels, from an hour a week to 9 month secondments or even permanent roles. 7 years later and I love the variety and continuous development that I still get from my role.

Trying a different career path

I would encourage anyone thinking of trying something out of traditional practice to give it a go. The veterinary degree and skills like team-working, leadership and communication developed both on the course and in practice, are entirely transferable to a wide range of different career opportunities. Working in charity practice is extremely fulfilling, fast paced and offers great opportunities for development; one day I may well return to a client-facing role but at the moment I love the creativity and variety of my current position.

During the veterinary degree, it is certainly worth trying opportunities outside of clinical practice which are offered by both commercial and charitable organisations as well as overseas opportunities. If you aren’t sure what you want to do, then try different things, grab hold of opportunities that appear and don’t be afraid to try things that scare you, I’ll never forget my first live Sky News interview but it certainly isn’t as frightening the second time round! Anyone interested in improving pet welfare in a charitable environment can either complete a  EMS placement at a PDSA Hospital or spend some time with the Pet Health and Welfare team at our Head Office (depending on availability).

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