Where there’s a will, there’s a way…
My name is Amber and I am a zoology graduate from Anglia Ruskin University. My route to veterinary medicine has been somewhat unconventional and, I guess, given that I’m going to be undertaking my studies as a second degree despite my social circumstances (I’m mixed race, with a working class background, and come from a neighbourhood with a low rate of progression to higher education), you could also say it’s either ambitious or ludicrous.
I always knew I wanted to be an 'animal doctor' as I used to call vets when I was five. I have a passion for working with animals and am fascinated by their physiology and welfare. I have always loved science too, especially biology and chemistry. Being a hands-on person and fond of creating art, I wanted a career that had both practical and academic elements and one in which I could continuously learn and progress.
I grew up with many animals and am a big fan of being outdoors – I was always found wandering up to fences to greet cows and horses. My teachers and some family friends used to think that mucking out after animals and being outside in all sorts of weather would deter me from my ambition, but it just made me more passionate. I think that came from my Grandad, who sadly passed away while I was at university. When I was young, my grandparents were always taking me to aquariums, zoos, sanctuaries and botanic gardens. Grandad had plenty of guides, encyclopaedias and dictionaries on animals. He was my very own Attenborough!
Unfortunately, I was rejected from all four vet schools when I applied for the first time during A levels. As you can imagine, I was devastated and worried about what I would do next. I was offered a place on one of the universities’ animal science courses, which I accepted. Then came A level results…I didn’t get what I was predicted to get and marginally missed the requirements for that course too! I found myself going to Anglia Ruskin University through clearing to study zoology and decided to apply to veterinary medicine by the graduate entry route. After eight years of hard work, determination and dedication, and having achieved a first class degree, I finally secured my place to study veterinary medicine, receiving an unconditional offer from the new Harper & Keele Veterinary School, commencing in September 2021.
I loved my time at Anglia Ruskin – I wouldn’t have changed it for the world, and I can honestly say it has set me up for my veterinary degree and made me a more confident, rounded individual. I also had some fantastic trips and lecturers and made friends for life. Not only that, Cambridge has one of the best Waterstones I’ve ever seen! I particularly appreciated my zoo animal management and animal health and welfare modules.
However, I’m now facing perhaps the biggest hurdle that I need to overcome. Many students apply to study veterinary medicine via the graduate entry route but Student Finance England does not provide a tuition fee loan to anyone studying veterinary medicine as a second degree, despite vets being on the UK shortage occupation list. Therefore, funding has become a barrier to me pursuing my dream as I have to self-fund my tuition fees of £9250 each year. Knowing this, I applied for deferred entry to give me some time to secure funding.
I have worked constantly through my academic terms and holidays since my GCSEs, and have saved enough to fund the first year of vet school. I now need to raise another £37,000 to fund the other four years. Things have been made harder by the current pandemic – I’m asthmatic and so had to resign from my job and isolate myself to reduce my risk of catching Covid. I have applied for various grants, spoken with the media and had articles published about my situation. I even started a GoFundMe page, which is still live.
Despite my ethnic background and social circumstances, I haven’t been deterred from aspiring to join a highly white profession; however, retrospectively, I think seeing more black and minority ethnic vets and vets from disadvantaged backgrounds would have increased my confidence. Luckily, I have had some fantastic veterinary role models during my work experiences, who have been supportive of my aspirations. Only 5 per cent of veterinary surgeons worldwide are black, Asian or minority ethnic, and only 3 per cent in the UK. Being mixed race and working class myself, giving up now would be failing the next generation of aspiring vets from backgrounds similar to my own.
'Everyone of different backgrounds should have equal opportunities to accomplish their desired career and aspirations'
This leads onto my main aspirations for my future veterinary career. Everyone of different backgrounds should have equal opportunities to accomplish their desired career and aspirations. Therefore, on becoming a vet, I want to be an advocate and an affiliate for students who face the same challenges after me, whether that is through mentoring or creating my own initiative or outreach projects. It is critical to increase the number of black and minority ethnic vets in the profession to show that veterinary medicine is accessible to people of various upbringings and backgrounds and is a profession that is open and welcoming to all, rather than being selective of the few.
I think it is important to see ourselves reflected in others, and to provide the same opportunities for all. Reflecting on my experiences so far, I believe that having role models is crucial, not only within our professional lives but also growing up and within our studies. Therefore, increasing the number and visibility of black and minority ethnic vets and, consequently, diversity and inclusion within the veterinary profession, would provide younger generations with a greater support network as they would have more role models who look like them and who have lived the same experiences. Ultimately, the aim would be to reach the point where it is no longer unusual for black and minority ethnic young people to want to become vets.
As for me, I would love to work in clinical practice, particularly within zoos, or to specialise in orthopaedics as I have always enjoyed getting into the fine, technical details of subjects (especially after watching many TPLOs [tibial plateau levelling osteotomies] and webinars!). My ‘end game’, so to speak, would be to become a lecturer within a particular discipline or surgery. I have always been passionate about science communication and public engagement and being part of teaching the next generation of vets would suit my aspirations of inclusion and role modelling for black and ethnic minority students.
The key is to be kind to yourself, and when you find yourself giving up, to remember that there’s always a way and everything happens for a reason.