Using unusual extramural studies placements to prepare for a veterinary career

Rachel Garty, final year vet student

Embarking on extramural study (EMS) placements is an exciting time for us vet students. Apart from anything else, the experience can help us to mould our future careers.

Early along my path to joining the profession I decided to intercalate, which I did between the preclinical and clinical stages of my course at the Royal Veterinary College. Gaining a degree in comparative pathology was not the only benefit; the year gave me time to consider what I needed in order to give myself the best chance of having a stimulating and long-lasting veterinary career, and how I could go about achieving it.

Throughout my time at vet school, I have taken lots of opportunities – I have explored research possibilities, spent an educational summer on Cornell University’s Veterinary Leadership Program (which counts as EMS) and I have been mentored by vets who have left general practice. Encouraged by my experiences, I set about booking placements involving many different veterinary roles.

These have included spending time with the Dogs Trust, APHA border control, APHA veterinary investigation centres, the chief veterinary officer for Wales, a specialist poultry practice, the Vet Record and In Practice team at the BMJ, and a variety of corporate and independent farm, equine and small animal practices. Further searches revealed EMS placements in industry and with pathology laboratories, and externships abroad.

Fundamentally, we have two options when booking EMS. Many focus on gaining clinical skills that will be useful in general practice; others, like me, also explore opportunities to shadow vets with different professional roles.

We can also choose to complete more EMS than is stipulated by the RCVS. I took advantage of this.

It’s possible that opening students’ eyes to a broad range of opportunities through EMS could help reduce future attrition of the workforce. New graduates aren’t always aware of the diversity of potential careers that are available and once we start work it can be difficult to explore other options. The final year of the veterinary course provides time for budding vets to explore these options.

In my experience, a limiting factor was finding out what these more unusual EMS options were and, having done so, sometimes having to book placements years in advance.

I found attending conferences and CPD events a good source of information and ideas. They were an opportunity to meet vets with roles I was keen to know more about and provided the opportunity to ask them about what they did. Although time and money are a challenge to completing EMS, I overcame these obstacles with lots of planning and by making grant applications.

'I encourage vets working in a variety of fields to consider placements to help future students'

Most new graduates are likely to start their career in general practice, regardless of where they intend to end up. My EMS placements have added alternative perspectives to clinical work. For example, I have helped with TB testing on farm, yet I also understand the protocols at government level. I have sat in on meetings where outbreak investigations were discussed, and others where the profession’s core issues were debated. These experiences have given me a wide perspective of veterinary issues.

One of the major things I have noticed from meeting vets whatever their level of work – clinical or otherwise – is their ability to be flexible according to their own personal career goals.

After my EMS experiences, I am excited at the prospect of bringing my contribution to general practice using the knowledge and support I have gained so far.

My appeal to vets working in roles that are not considered ‘traditional’ is to consider offering EMS placements to help generate a well-informed new graduate workforce.

I am proud to be entering our profession and greatly appreciate the support it has shown me already.

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