What will farmers want from vets in the future?
I was fortunate to have excellent employers in my first job. I worked for people who cared about their staff, were passionate about doing a good job and enjoyed what they were doing. Through them, I gained an excellent foundation in the profession.
But both agriculture and the veterinary profession are changing rapidly. Now just over 10 years qualified, I’m a clinical assistant professor at Nottingham vet school and I teach the vets of the future.
It was realising the importance of understanding what we should be teaching aspiring farm vets that led me to want to look at what the future role of the farm vet might be, and what farmers and the public will need from us. At the same time, as a board member of the British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA), I’d heard discussions about the challenges of recruiting and retaining farm vets. I wanted to explore both these topics in more detail.
‘Ensuring the veterinary profession meets the needs of agriculture now and in the future’
To inform my studies, I wanted to visit vet schools, vet practices and farms in Europe, New Zealand, the USA and Canada to learn from the experiences of other countries and to investigate any initiatives that they had undertaken. To fund this, I applied for a scholarship from the Nuffield Farming Scholarship Trust, which helps about 20 people each year to undertake research relevant to UK agriculture. My scholarship is supported by the Trehane Trust, a charity that provides financial awards to fund research and education in dairying and my project is entitled: ‘Ensuring the veterinary profession meets the needs of agriculture now and in the future’.
I will be overseas, away from my day job for eight weeks as part of the scholarship study, as well as some extra time for training events with the other 2019 Nuffield Farming Scholars. My employer and colleagues have been great in helping me make time for the scholarship, I will break the travelling up into blocks and try to fit it into quieter times at work. I am currently in the process of booking visits, but hope to make it Utrecht vet school to discuss some of the innovative changes it has made to its curriculum, as well as visiting some private practices and farms in the Netherlands. I also hope to make it to New Zealand to visit some of the farmer owned ‘vet clubs’ as well as North America to see how they provide veterinary services to farms.
So, what does my current job involve? Teaching clinical cattle work to vet students in the later stages of their course is varied. It involves presenting large group lectures, small group seminars, practical sessions with the vet school’s animals and real clinical cases on final-year rotations.
As well as the face-to-face teaching, I prepare teaching material and develop new teaching ideas. Some of my time is spent preparing and marking exams and other assessments. It is important to have a fair and valid system of assessment, although it isn’t one of the most popular parts of the course (for students or those teaching it). I am also part of an active research group.
"I thrive on variation"
I don’t really have a typical working day; my work varies throughout the week and depends to some extent on the seasons. One day I may be visiting farms to see sick cows and doing routine work on behalf of one of Nottingham vet school’s associate practices, while on another I might be writing and delivering lectures or marking exams. On other days I might be in meetings planning research projects to answer important clinical questions or planning new approaches to teaching or assessment.
I thrive on variation. I still get to go out to see farmers and their animals, but I also get involved in the university’s teaching and research, sometimes outside of the farm animal sector and even outside of the vet school.
How do you achieve work-life balance?
It would be dishonest to suggest that I always get this right – there have certainly been times when I have been working when I should probably have been doing something else.
I enjoy my work and this sometimes results in the work-life lines becoming blurred, although I am not sure this is necessarily a bad thing.
My Nuffield Scholarship would be a good example of this. I have no doubt this will be hard ‘work’, but I’m not sure I could claim that the opportunity to travel the world, meeting new people and visiting new places, won’t also contribute to the ‘life’ part of the equation too.
I try to find time to do other things too. I enjoy getting outside and walking when I can. After I handed in my PhD thesis, I treated myself to an alpine mountaineering course. It’s amazing how quickly you stop thinking about work when you’re trying not to fall off a mountain!
"When someone asks what I do for a living, I am always proud to answer that I am a vet"
I also make a conscious effort to meet up with friends or go to events when I feel like I am too busy, as these are the times I probably most need a break.
While we are sometimes a bit negative about our profession, I like to think of the positives. I made friends for life at vet school, I do a job that makes a difference, and can work almost anywhere in the world. I’m in a profession that has excellent levels of employment and, like most vets, I am likely to be in the top quartile of earners in the UK for most of my career.
When someone asks what I do for a living, I am always proud to answer that I am a vet.
Applying for a Nuffield Farming Scholarship
Nuffield Farming Scholarships encourage individuals to research a topic that interests them and influence the farming industry in the process.
The scholarship is a bursary towards a minimum of eight weeks’ international travel to study a chosen topic. From this, a report and presentation of the key findings must be produced.
Applications are open to those aged between 22 and 45. They open on 1 January each year and close on 31 July. Applicants must provide information about themselves, their project and why it is important.
Those who are shortlisted are called for an interview in October and successful applicants are presented with their award at a ceremony in November.
Advice can be sought from either the Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust office, the regional groups or an existing Nuffield Scholar.