A taste of government

Houses of Parliament

Veterinary work in government was not exactly at the forefront of my mind while I was at university, desperately trying to scrape through each exam. That is until I was offered an EMS placement with the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) at its Defra headquarters in London. 

Milorad Radakovich, our very enthusiastic lecturer in veterinary public health, told us about the placement and convinced me that it was a great opportunity. I was over halfway through my degree at the time and still without much idea of what I wanted to do. I felt that an insight into other careers that can be pursued with a veterinary degree would be good for me. That didn’t stop me being a little worried beforehand that it might not be the best use of a week of the summer, and that I would actually be better off spending the time shoulder-deep in a cow or being scratched by a cat.

However, on arrival at Defra HQ, I quickly realised that the week would be anything but boring. I immediately felt that this was a place of power, with busy people rushing to and fro, in a building just around the corner from the Houses of Parliament.

Over the course of the week, we had the chance to meet many government officials, both veterinary and non-veterinary, all of whom could have a significant influence on the lives of animals in the UK and the people who rely on them for food or an income. We had the privilege of meeting the Chief Veterinary Officers for England, Scotland and Northern Ireland to discuss a huge variety of issues that touch the lives of veterinarians, farmers and consumers. We also met a number of other government vets to discuss their work on a wide range of topics, including epidemiology, zoonotic and exotic diseases, contingency planning, international trade, policy making and, inevitably, Brexit and how it may impact on the veterinary profession.

Visiting the APHA laboratories in Weybridge was also an eye-opener. Seeing the veterinarians who are constantly investigating potentially devastating disease outbreaks was humbling.

The actions of all these individuals affect millions of animals and people. It was amazing to see how seriously and enthusiastically everyone approached their jobs and they were so eager to tell us about the variety of career options available to a veterinarian outside of clinical practice. Many of the government vets I met had fallen into government work and found that it suited them perfectly. Some still worked in practice part time and the APHA allowed them flexible hours. Other veterinary graduates had completely left behind veterinary work for policy making elsewhere in the APHA, reflecting the range and variety of skills that a veterinary degree gives you.

I would wholeheartedly recommend this EMS placement to all veterinary students, even if you have not previously considered government work. Regardless of what career you follow, all veterinary workers, animal owners, farmers and consumers are affected by the decisions and policies made in government, and an appreciation of how that process works is invaluable.

Did you know?

As a student member of BVA, you get free EMS insurance. Find out more here

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