A vet degree is portable and transferable

Charlotte French

My father was an RSPCA inspector in the early 1960s; he inspired my interest in animal welfare. Having narrowly missed the A-level grades necessary for a place at vet school, I initially completed a zoology degree at Imperial College, London. Still determined to follow my dream of becoming a vet, I then started my veterinary training at Cambridge. 

My career has been very varied, taking me all around the UK – rural Bedfordshire, central London, the Home Counties and the West Country. I started out in mixed practice in the days before the professional development phase (PDP) was introduced. Before PDP, new graduates well and truly ‘learnt on the job’. 

In the early days I felt some frustration at the deficiency of both undergraduate and postgraduate training, particularly in areas such as dentistry. Despite that, highlights from those times were many (such as having a foal and a piglet named after me). 

I then moved into small animal practice, where I was involved in animal exports/imports for the quarantine centre at Heathrow. I was required to certify the transit of lions, tigers and other exotic species, as well as having to clamber around inside the holds of planes, spraying them with disinfectant prior to take off. I quickly discovered that one of the great aspects of a professional qualification is that it is portable, and working at different practices makes you very adaptable. I couldn’t help feeling, however, that the lack of postgraduate CPD provision was potentially impacting animal welfare.

'One of the great aspects of a professional qualification is that it is portable'

While my three children were growing up, I worked part time and my career took a back seat. 

I had never really thought about where I wanted to take my career but, in 2012, while covering some out-of-hours for a practice in Huntingdon, I applied to join the veterinary team at the local branch of Wood Green, The Animals Charity. Working at the shelter proved to be a fantastic opportunity to work at the front line of animal welfare with some amazing vets and vet nurses (VNs), treating many different species.

The charity works in collaboration with the British Hen Welfare Trust to rescue ex-caged hens and I became particularly interested in poultry medicine and the welfare of these birds. To my mind, chickens make the very best pets. I was delighted that during my time at Wood Green shelter medicine advanced to the point where it is now a recognised discipline, with the Association of Charity Vets leading the way in the UK. 

While working at Wood Green, I had started to run some in-house CPD and found that I really enjoyed preparing and sharing the knowledge that I had gained (particularly relating to chickens). 

At that time the charity had an association with the College of Animal Welfare and I applied for a part-time job there lecturing VNs. I saw the potential to impact animal and human welfare in this role, which involved teaching and developing curricula for diploma- and degree-level programmes. I also worked with VetSkill, the Ofqual- and Council for Curriculums, Examinations and Assessment-approved awarding body, developing the most recent vet nursing diploma qualifications.

I quickly discovered that there is much more to teaching than meets the eye and, although I found that some of the skills that I’d gained in practice were transferable, there was still a lot to learn. It was the college principal, Barbara Cooper, with her extensive experience in training VNs, who inspired me to pursue further qualifications in this field. I enrolled on the Royal Veterinary College postgraduate certificate in veterinary education and learned so much, not only about teaching, but also about teamwork, creativity and myself (there is much reflection involved). 

'Embracing change and learning new skills can transform your life'

I now find myself at the start of a new career at Improve International. My role will primarily focus on developing online programmes. They offer a huge opportunity for creative, interactive and engaging courses that enable delegates to achieve postgraduate qualifications wherever and whenever they choose. Even before Covid-19, it was obvious that this was the future and, in developing high-quality distance learning programmes, I will be realising my original goal of improving animal welfare on a global scale.

I see quality of the curriculum and customer service are key and I will be listening intently to delegate feedback so that we can be constantly responding as a business.

Since it is a difficult time for students, I will also be looking to develop relationships with them and explore ways in which we can enhance their learning while at university and assist with future decisions relating to postgraduate CPD. In these uncertain times it is important for students to be informed that the skills they have acquired are transferable to careers outside of immediate veterinary practice (for example in public health).

The world is changing faster now than ever before and it is important that vets are prepared to adapt to change and work together around the world to fight for animal welfare. I would like to think that I am an example of how hard work and determination enable you to achieve your goals. Being prepared to embrace change and take up the challenge of learning new skills can transform your life. 

The opportunities for global teamwork are greater now than ever before – let’s make the most of them!

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