Striking the right balance in large animal practice
At vet school I decided I wanted to work with large animals, either as a dedicated farm vet or in a mixed practice role with plenty of farm work. When looking for jobs in mixed practice I found it hard to tell what the work would really involve – in reality, would I actually be a small animal vet with a bit of TB testing?
As it happened, I was lucky to be offered a position with Friars Moor Livestock Health, a large mixed practice in north Dorset where I had done extramural studies (EMS) placements as a student.
We have lots of students doing EMS with us who have an appetite for mixed practice. It’s important to realise the limitations of such job opportunities in an increasingly single-field, specialised industry. However, there are still some truly mixed practices, so it’s worth investigating what they can offer new graduates who want to make the most of a multidisciplinary career.
'Young vets are now well accepted by farmers as being a positive thing'
Now nearly five years qualified, the exposure I have had to farm clinical cases has been second to none. I joined a mainly very experienced team; however, I had been preceded by two new graduates who were one year ahead of me. Without doubt, their personalities and capabilities had paved the way so that new young vets were well accepted by farmer clients and viewed as a positive thing.
Should I do an internship?
As a final-year student, I had considered undertaking an internship. Accepting that I am an anxious person – who would require some hand-holding as a new graduate – it was appealing from the perspective of being well supported. However, a benefit of familiarity with the practice before I joined was that I knew the level of support enjoyed by recent graduates.
Retrospectively, I feel I got the best of all worlds – excellent clinical opportunities, great support and a full wage. This was not the case for some of my friends, some of whom found farm practice involved doing a huge amount of TB testing and a lack of exposure to more challenging cases, such as emergencies and surgical procedures.
Friars Moor has a team of dedicated TB testers, so although I am grateful not to have had to do endless testing, I am grateful to have experienced doing my share. Through doing TB testing, I have met farmers who I may have been slower to meet otherwise and, between chatting and bad jokes, I was able to strike a rapport with some of them, which led to being asked to do their clinical work.
The importance of communication was drummed into us at vet school. Cynically, I couldn’t help thinking it was over-egged, but I couldn’t have been more wrong!
Without doubt, some of the most challenging and rewarding parts of my job concern dealing with people. As a farm vet, the relationships we build with the farmers we visit frequently are important. They become part of our support network – without our even necessarily realising it – especially in rural areas where opportunities to make friends (especially with other young people) can be difficult!
I love my job and have enjoyed many highlights. Rewarding cases and clinical successes stand out, especially calvings and lambings. Being responsible for the successful entry of a living thing into the world is a feeling like no other.
Less obvious highlights may be getting a challenging farmer to change their opinion or attitude to something. For example, we have amended our habits around medicines use and educated our farmers about why they should do the same.
Our proactive team has led the way in reducing antibiotic use and eliminating the use of critically important antibiotics. It has been great to see this being adopted industry wide.
'I am proud to be a part of UK agriculture and hope to be so for a long time yet'
As early adopters, we took a team approach – spearheaded by the younger generation with the backing of the directors and the support of the admin team.
The younger vets are also encouraged to get involved with data analysis and benchmarking as well as farmer education. These are aspects of the work that I have really come to enjoy.
Looking ahead, I hope the future holds more of the same! Our team is amazing. Without the support of my colleagues, being a vet would be a very different experience. I am proud to be a part of UK agriculture and hope to be so for a long time yet.
Eleanor's top tips for new graduates
Never underestimate your support network of colleagues, friends and family. Surround yourself with good people – they are vital to help you thrive in the early years.
Say yes to opportunities! But remember it’s also ok to say no if it’s too overwhelming, although try to explain why and what help you might need so that you can say yes next time.
Don’t just be a vet…sometimes more easily said than done. Remember you are also a friend/sister/wife/mother (or male alternative), a musician, a runner, a cook, a hockey player, a pint drinker or a gardener – whatever you are doesn’t really matter, what matters is not ‘just’ being a vet. The key to thriving as a young vet is having a balance between being in a happy and well-supported workplace and having a good home life.
Always have food to hand! It’s amazing how much better you feel and how much more functional you can be after a banana (or maybe better still, after a chocolate bar…).