The spice of life

A good vet application has the correct balance of ingredients. Biology, chemistry, maths, geography etc – the A-level grades make up the flour, butter and sugar; the bulk. And that leaves the work eggs-perience, for the rise. At interview a good Victoria sponge will gain an offer, however, with a 4:1 success rate a bit of flavour can secure your place. Variety; “the spice of life” an Edinburgh vet, once described to me. The key to a successful application is to build up a diverse repertoire of work experience; going beyond the uni’s recommended placement checklist.

Enough about cake, in a roughly chronological order, here’s my work experience ups and downs. I started my blog “The Wannabe Vet” after my gold DofE residential at Nottingham uni’s Vet-Medlink (and Vetsim) course. Prospective vet students stayed in uni halls, tasting vet med related practicals and lectures. Before I left my step-grandad gave me some travel money labelled “to the wannabe vet”, and after that it kind of stuck. DofE was a laugh at bronze and silver when we knew the area without needing a map and called off for tea at our parents en route… There was the social side of the camping expeditions; Pot Noodles, card games and Sport Direct mugs. The volunteering part where I supported students with reading difficulties, helped organise dog shows and the endless opportunities as deputy head girl such as fancy dress and Comic Relief fundraisers. The ‘physical’ section brought me closer to my parents, I learnt more than just running technique. I still remind myself now that “I’m not made of glass”. Then there was the ‘skills’ part; after realising I had little talent for flute and piano, I started to document my observations at my local, mixed-animal vet practice, once a week for three years.

To diversify my experience of vet practices I attended a small-animal vet practice after school. When we moved, I started working at my current, mixed-animal vets. I say work, it’s all voluntary. And yes, I’m ‘still doing work experience’, you don’t just stop when you meet the expected hours. I learnt a lot at A-level but my client communication skills and practical handling knowledge didn’t come from AQA. I’ve seen, heard and got real ‘hands-on’ experience in a wide-range of operations and consultations including, euthanasia, cryptosporidium cases, TB testing, dentals, vasectomies, cruciate ligament surgery and much more.

Moving further afield and less local, I was employed by a zoo in the sea lion and parrot department. This was my least favourite placement, I’ve never been a fan of caged animals (or aquariums for that matter) and besides, the bird dirt and dead chicks were harder to stomach even by my standards. Zoos are essential for research, education and sustaining animal populations, but combined with theme parks, the hierarchical employment structure and maximised recreational profits, discouraged my interest in the field.

Lambing reiterated my family’s point, I was definitely born in the wrong era, both sides had sheep farms at one point in time. My step-grandad introduced me to a lovely couple across the valley who we have lambed, and continue to lamb. Armed with a flask, snacks and a headtorch, overnight the flock doubled. Identifying, internally fore-legs from hind-legs, one lamb from another and externally the signs of parturition takes time and experience. I have the greatest respect and appreciation for the farmers who have taught me their life’s learnings overnight. You can’t read sheep like you can with books, James Rebanks taught me that.

I held more respect after my day at the abattoir, for skilled butchers and the stock animals on their food to fork journey. The slaughterhouse required a specialist food agency vet. That’s right, bacon butties, Sunday roasts, pigs in blankets, they’re all checked and marked for sale by a vet.

Looking for a little less gore, I got up at the crack of dawn to observe the daily routine of the local hunt’s hounds. The two-man team walked and fed the kennel’s 70 hounds. AS far as animal excrement goes, a purely protein-based diet definitely takes first place in the top worst smells. Working at my current vet practice’s cattery confirmed this.

From feeding knacker-yard horses to the hunt hounds to feeding and grooming at the stables where they came from, I’d turned full circle. For a small village, I had a lot of opportunities to get my hands dirty. I returned a year later to the riding school/ livery-yard to update my experience of poultices, grooming, tacking and feeding. Rather manual but you can never get too comfortable with animal husbandry. Horses are a rare sort, you think you understand them but they’ll always be smarter, bigger and faster than you. Even the Shetland ponies as I find out when they escaped on me, out across the dressage arena, only returning for a scoop of pony nuts EACH. No surprise, my family struggled with my increasingly strong scent at meal times, refusing to sit with me, even after I had showered.

I’ve saved the best till last. Chris, the Edinburgh vet, got in touch with his organic dairy farm placement and I started milking after my 17th birthday. My friends turned 18 soon after I began my weekly placement, but as an August born baby, I had to borrow ID for nights out. I couldn’t be missing out on the VKs and JB blaring out in the best clubs our area has to offer; Salvo and Society. Luckily, my double in the year above worked at the dairy and lent me her ID for the whole year. Before I left for uni I re-paid her in more than gin… Chris had warned me that I wouldn’t escape the inevitable for long. My step-dad had already refused to pick me up, after gipping from my fumes one the ride home. I had to bike rain hail or shine. Alex caught a lovely photo that my Nan still traumatises me with. I had been preoccupied when the tail raised and the thick, brown, slurry flowed down the side of my face. Thank F**K I was biking… One time I had been holding the broken iodine line together above my head when I passed out, we hadn’t swilled down for a while as we attempted to fix the broken line. I had fallen backwards and awoke in a deep-puddle of cow shit. I was so scared that Mum would use it against me, stopping me from milking and stinking out the washing machine, so I had to strip off and shower down in the parlour before I went home.

So there you have it, my (current) full work experience collection, but good news Mum the smelly washing doesn’t stop here, undergrad vets have to complete 38 weeks of EMS in their first three years. Maybe that’s why she calls me a fruitcake? I’ll post some helpful tips for getting work experience soon, I’d like to think I knew a thing or two after 6 years.

Despite being duvet bound the past few days, watching a lot of Stand Up to Cancer Bake Off (if you hadn’t already guessed), I have come across some very inspiring and relatable quotes: “Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious, and however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.” From the late Stephen Hawking, RIP. Physics may not have been a major part of my education, but the principles affect us all, even his fight to make a difference. Which leads to my second quote: “One person can’t make a difference to everyone, but a lot of people can make a difference to one person”. DIY SOS. Evening TV tear-jerker, but he’s right it all adds up. I’ve got my first half marathon in 5 DAYS!!! And I would really appreciate your support, whatever you can spare, through my crowdfunding page for 50% to charity or over PayPal for my uni fees only.

Big thanks to my fellow-park running mad Aunty and Uncle, my generous Dad, my Mum’s hilarious comments and my dear friend Roz and a Liverpool vet student who encouraged and praised my blog posts. IF I make it round the Liverpool half on Sunday, you can expect to read all about my strengths and weaknesses, interview specific and potentially endurance running related, we’ll see. Wish me luck if the snow persists, big loves and bigger strides, Evie xx

3 thoughts on “The spice of life

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