From graduation to equine vet

Mel Lean on horseback

Studying veterinary medicine abroad brings with it its own challenges, not least the constant flights in and out of the UK, usually at peak holiday times, but also working in Extra Mural Studies (EMS) around periods at home in the UK. That said, much like all graduates, I wouldn’t change my vet school university experience because it has enabled me to join this incredible profession, and form friends all over Europe and further afield. We share the highs and lows of our Budapest Vet School experience, including all the pressure of the final push to finish up following the addition of the new 11th semester as we were due to complete our studies. Looking back, I see that this extra semester of clinical rotations and state vet placements was a necessary addition; in order to try to ensure that our clinical skills matched those studying in other vet schools.


I graduated four years ago now and still keep in regular contact with my core group of fellow vet friends from Budapest. We are scattered throughout the UK and Europe, including the Republic of Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and France, and so have encountered numerous different experiences and working conditions. I am one of the few working in sole equine practice, but this was always my intention and so the whole of my studies was focussed on career progression within the equine veterinary industry.

Taking a step back to my vet student days, acquiring EMS placements was challenging because essentially you were not studying within the UK system, so there were already waiting lists from UK students, although having worked in industry for a number years previously I most definitely had an advantage. I imagine that now with the addition of new UK vet schools that competition for placements has increased further. My recommendation would be most certainly to develop links with practices local to your home and build on relations with these practices for when you need to include your EMS. Forward planning is essential as the waiting lists can be in the region of 12–24 months.

'There is no ‘wrong path’ because no matter what your experience and whether you decide to stay in that first job, it gives you context and allows you to form opinions'

I had formulated a plan before graduating on what my next career steps would be, but I understand how overwhelming this phase can be, with many students still rather unsure of the path to follow. I think the take-home point should be that there is no ‘wrong path’ because no matter what your experience and whether you decide to stay in that first job, it gives you context and allows you to form opinions on aspects of work that you enjoy and areas which are less favourable.

A friend and veterinary mentor advised at the time that he would always recommend that new graduates take a holiday within the first 3 months of practice, and I see now how solid this advice was because it is an overwhelming stage, where you are trying to be the best clinician that you can be, trying to remember all that you have learned, most likely living in a new area and adjusting to life as a vet in practice. Even if you take a long weekend to see friends or family and just allow yourself some time to enjoy hobbies, it is time well-spent to rest and relax.

Locuming and Internship

After graduating I went directly into first-opinion equine ambulatory practice. I wanted to gain this first-hand experience of life as a vet out on the road. I knew that at some stage I wanted to complete an internship, but really wanted to get 12 months under my belt before embarking on this path. COVID and lockdown/s affected my trajectory somewhat, and I spent a period locuming as a stop gap. However, I have since managed to complete an equine internship.

Nowadays there are so many options in terms of developing clinical skills within equine practice but I wanted the ‘solo charge clinician’ experience of ambulatory practice as a basis on which to grow. Having a mentor and appropriate support in place is fundamental to thriving and learning during this phase. The use of mobile phones has changed the pressure of being solo enormously, because now we can simply video the case in hand and send to colleagues for discussion and opinions or advice. I never feel that this is frowned upon by clients because, ultimately, they are getting expert advice from the more senior clinician coupled with a visit on the ground as it were, so most clients are very open to this.

In terms of choosing the pathway that best suits your needs, I would suggest that internships are carried out at the lower end of your career because the salaries are considerably lower than those acquired later on. All of which has effects in terms of managing finances and the need to invest in a car or house, which comes with life experience. Gone are the days where only one type of hospital-based internship exists, with numerous clinics now offering more ambulatory roles. This gives a great balance in terms of case exposure within a supported environment. It is without doubt amazing to work and see practice at the large equine hospitals, but it is also key to gain competency in fundamental first-opinion equine practice and be able to demonstrate those skills to work up a colic, choke or assess a foot abscess and so on.

Locuming develops more contacts within industry and allows you dip your toe into different operating systems and different clinics as you formulate your career pathway.

Locuming for me was a great experience and allowed me to travel throughout the UK working for numerous independent and corporate-owned equine practices. Though being initially concerned that my limited experience would not lend itself to locuming, the key is communication and being honest with the level of competency that you are happy with. I locumed for 14 months including two to three month-long periods of work at different practices. It serves to develop more contacts within industry and allows you dip your toe into different operating systems and different clinics, which further helps you formulate your career pathway.

I completed a 12-month equine internship with Towcester Equine Vets in Northamptonshire. The programme involved a 1:2 rota split between ambulatory and clinic equine work, including theatre, anaesthesia, medicine, dentistry, orthopaedics and general equine practice. Towcester Equine Vets accepts new graduates on its programme (although I had already been qualified for 2 years) . There is no ‘right or wrong’ pathway into an internship, but you can now tailor your experience slightly more and decide whether to embark directly onto an internship or gain general practice experience beforehand. If I had my time again, I would most definitely have carried out 12 months of mixed practice before my foray into equine practice because I would have been delighted to apply the skillset in small and farm animals before specialising in one field. However, as a mature student I didn’t feel that this would have been the right thing for me.

For now, I am enjoying all aspects of general equine practice and I love the variation that each day brings. Work-life balance is important and I feel that practices are more aware of this and strive to achieve better working conditions, which results in a happy, supported team. I couldn’t be more proud of how far I have come and the people who have helped to shape this along the way.

Mel Lean and her Towcester equine vet colleagues

Mel Lean (right) and her colleagues at Towcester Equine Vets

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