What does it take to become a vet? We speak to final year vet student Terri Steel to see how she landed her dream career.
What do you do?
I’m a final year vet student at Glasgow University. As part of our course, we need to do 38 weeks of “seeing practice” in our holiday time. This allows us to gain valuable experience and a better appreciation of what vet life entails. As someone who learns by doing, I’d say I learn more in one week of EMS than in a year of lectures. We are lucky in that we can tailor our placements to our interests i.e. if you want to be a horse vet you go to more horse practices. I personally like a mix of farm animals and some small animals.
What made you decide to become a vet?
I liked the idea of an outdoor job that involved working with people as well as animals – a friendly client that is genuinely grateful for all the work you’ve done in helping their animals can make your week. The variety also appeals to me: no two animals, owners or working days are ever the same. Monotony makes me sleepy but variety keeps me interested.
What is the best part about your job?
Puppies! And when you manage to cure a difficult case or figure out a tricky diagnosis, the feeling of satisfaction is great.
What the hardest thing about working outside?
The weather! A week of non-stop rain can dampen anyones mood not least if you are standing in it for 10 hours a day with non-cooperative cattle. That said, the weather can also be one of the best things about working outside – driving to a farm with a view of clear blue skies and rolling, sheep speckled hills is pretty special.
What has been the craziest thing that has ever happened to you on placement?
Once a lamb was born with 5 legs! It was a happy healthy thing and ran around with all the others. I wish I’d thought to take a picture at the time.
How does working on farms differ from working indoors at a veterinary centre?
Small animal practices are often super busy but are normally quite structured in their daily routine – the vets usually consult in the morning and evening and do operations in the middle. Farm vets have perhaps less order in that you might have a morning of no calls or a morning of three different calls. Consults can be just 10 minutes long in some practices, which means you are just with each animal and client for a very short period. On farms, you generally spend at least an hour, sometimes a full day there. I like this as you can build more of a relationship with the client, and although it’s busy you are less rushed about. Working on farms is also more physically demanding and risky as you are working with cattle that easily weigh 800+kilos!
How hard is it to train as a vet?
Really hard. You have to remember so many things and be prepared to attend many, many more hours of uni than any other degree ever. And see practice in your “holidays”.
What skills and qualities are most important to your job?
Problem solving skills, communication skills, enthusiasm and resilience – you will face some very difficult clients and some horrendously long hours, so a thick-skin comes in pretty useful.
What would you say to those thinking of following in your footsteps?
Consider other options! Vet life involves long days, long nights, missed lunches, and frustrating and sad cases. Be prepared for a long slog at uni and remember that it’s okay to change your mind!