A veterinary career outside of general practice

Westminster in London

There are days when I really have to pinch myself when I get off the Gatwick Express and walk up Victoria Street, in the heart of Westminster, towards Westminster Abbey, with the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye in the background – this wasn’t part of the plan when I graduated from vet school!

Although a generational shift in mind-set is well underway, there is still a wide-held notion within the veterinary profession and beyond that unless you are in general practice or perhaps referral practice, you’re not a ‘proper vet’.

‘Alternative’ veterinary careers

I graduated from the University of Glasgow School of Veterinary Medicine in 2000 with my career in progressive production animal practice mapped out in front of me – some time in beef and sheep practice in West Stirlingshire before a move home to North Down in Northern Ireland to focus more on dairy medicine.

However, 2 dodgy discs and a ruptured spinal ligament later, I found myself exploring other options. I set-up Veterinary Northern Ireland (VetNI) in 2005 and, in 2007, moved into the newly-formed Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) as a veterinary research officer, before being appointed as Director of Operations and Business Development in a local biotech firm in Belfast working on drug and vaccine delivery. I was appointed as an honorary lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast in 2010, so by 2015, I’d worked in the fields of:

  • general practice
  • event management
  • policy consultation
  • research and development
  • diagnostics
  • academia
  • statutory disease control
  • biotech
  • business development
  • commercialisation

…and covering livestock, companion animals, lab animals, aquaculture and even the odd zoo animals!

But I’m still not fond of the term ‘alternative’ careers – non-general practice, maybe, but that’s a bit of a mouthful. I am firmly of the belief that veterinary graduates are incredibly well-prepared to take on many different roles in society but we are programmed to seek out careers in general practice first and foremost… and I genuinely believe that this is the underlying reason why there is a perception that non-practice career paths are undertaken by vets who have somehow ‘failed’ during their time in general practice.

Global opportunities in animal health and welfare

Last year, I was appointed as a consultant to the agri-tech organisation of UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), now part of the newly-formed Department for International Trade (DIT), the commercial arm of the UK government. It is a privilege to be able to work with, and often represent, the wider animal health sector in the UK. My portfolio covers everything from veterinary pharmaceuticals and vaccines to milking parlours, fish farms and pet food.

I work with overseas companies to help them to make inward investments, creating jobs and opportunities in the UK. I also support DTI’s trade function and work with UK companies who are exploring openings for global trade of their products or services relating to animal health and welfare, and I am passionate about the UK offer.

"Veterinary graduates are incredibly well-prepared to take on many different roles in society"

In a nutshell, it’s about creating solutions by building relationships and networks, and giving people confidence in the wealth of experience within the UK sector – including universities, research institutes, industry representative bodies and other government departments as well as commercial companies.

By way of example, I was recently involved in the launch of the vHive digital innovation in animal health partnership between Zoetis and the University of Surrey – a relationship which was nurtured following introductions made by UK and US based UKTI teams.

Whilst my post was never envisaged to be an exclusively ‘veterinary’ one, there are clear benefits of me being a veterinary surgeon, with an understanding and oversight of the whole supply chain and the ability to consider barriers to trade and investment from many different angles.

Exploring career paths with Vet Futures

Whilst recognising that the majority of veterinary graduates will end up working in general practice, the Vet Futures Action Group has been exploring ways in which it could assist vets interested in exploring non-practice career paths.

Careers in the charity sector, government, industry, academia and research can all be incredibly rewarding and as veterinarians, we have a lot to offer to these sectors because of the way in which we have been trained and the skills and insight we have developed. There are emerging opportunities for vets in One Health, food safety and food security, disruptive digital technologies and the Internet of Things (IoT), to name just a few.

This homemade video was shot by members of the Vet Futures Action Group to showcase the variety of opportunities within the profession. 

On 4 July I spoke at the Vet Futures Summit which saw the launch of the Vet Futures Action Plan 2016-2020 and the VN Futures Report and Action Plan. The Summit included talks on veterinary careers and vets' wider role in society, and included a proposal to establish a veterinary careers hub which could be accessed by school-leavers, vet students and qualified vets considering different career paths. The Summit was a really exciting and inspiring day… but it’s now for the wider profession to pick up the Action Plan and turn it into action!

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