Dr. Hannah Godfrey BVetMed MRCVS
When studying at vet school there seems to be, broadly speaking, two types of vet student. One type has known long before their first day in the lecture theatre whether their future career is out in the country air or inside a small animal practice or hospital. The other type open-mindedly enjoys many aspects of veterinary medicine of all species and is less sure what the future holds.
So, as the veterinary course progresses, when graduation looms closer and you are still undecided on where your preference lies, what do you need to know to help you make your decision? If you are still unsure, there are aspects of small and large animal practice that might help sway your decision either way.
Working as a Large Animal Vet
Being a large animal vet might suit you if you:
- Enjoy spending time outdoors
- Relish seeing new places
- Have a good sense of direction and can read an ordnance survey map!
- Are good at driving in country lanes and confident at reversing to the nearest passing place (even if it’s half a mile away!)
- Don’t mind working alone and not seeing your colleagues for large portions of the day
- Have good organisation skills and enjoy using your car as an Aladdin’s Cave of equipment and medications
- Are interested in making a difference to a whole herd, keeping them healthy, and improving their welfare
- Work well with other people and have good communications skills, to explain the benefits of a new vaccine regime or change in diet
- Enjoy managing your own time and your own diary
- Relish a challenge and a day filled with vastly different cases, from a cow prolapse to a colicky horse
- You want to improve farming for the future and understand the economic strain on the farming community
Being a large animal vet might not be for you if you:
- Feel daunted by new places or new experiences
- Find navigating and map reading stressful – sadly not every farm will be correctly located using a Satnav!
- Prefer to be surrounded by colleagues both for support and for socialising
- Don’t like to get dirty, cold, and sometimes wet whilst working
- Prefer to comprehensively work up individual cases rather than focussing on the herd as a whole
- Struggle with time management and organisation
- Prefer a more predictable day, where you can picture where you will be during your shift, even if you don’t know exactly what you’ll be doing
Working as a Small Animal Vet
You might be best suited to life as a small animal vet if you:
- Prefer to be inside, warm, clean (mostly!), and dry while you work
- Like having a single place of work, or a few branches, rather than work taking you to many different places
- Enjoy meeting many new clients and animals every day
- Enjoy working as part of a team, with help close-by if you need it
- Enjoy following and working up individual cases both medically and surgically, rather than working on group health and welfare
- Are uncomfortable with decisions being influenced by productivity
- Have good communication skills to form a good client-vet bond
- Have good time management skills and can cope under the pressure of a busy consult list
- Enjoy working in a hospital environment, with scheduled surgery days (and hopefully time to prepare) and consulting days
You might not be well suited to being a small animal vet if you:
- Would find large numbers of booster vaccination appointments monotonous and boring
- Would feel claustrophobic being in the same building for work, day in day out
- Have a high tendency towards feeling stressed and would struggle with a busy consult list
- Have poor timekeeping skills
- Don’t like the idea of being on your feet for large portions of the day
- Prefer solitary work, or focus better without the distraction of colleagues
What if you’re a bit of both?
Realistically, most people don’t fit into either of these stereotypes perfectly because as humans we are all so different. Looking at the above pros and cons can give you an idea of where your strongest preferences lie and should help you decide on a vet career path that suits you. But, remember, there are still mixed practices out there!
Although not as prevalent as they once were, mixed practices can be a great solution for those of us who are undecided, or want to keep their options open.
Having some days out visiting stables or farms as well as some days working up cases in the practice can truly give you the best of both worlds. Who knows, after a few years in mixed practice trying your hand at all kinds of work, you might find an area of work you are so passionate about that you want to dedicate all of your time to it.
So, what’s right for you?
Choosing what type of vet to be is a big decision. It might be that you already know, or you might need some time to consider what’s best.
Ultimately, it’s important to remember that the decision you make now doesn’t have to lead to your ‘forever career’. There are lots of instances of people switching from equine-only work to small-animal only work after many years, so it’s perfectly possible! You have a long career ahead of you, there are plenty of different types of vet jobs out there, and you will always have options, and the right to change your mind.
It might even turn out that a career in practice isn’t where your passion lies, and if that is the case there are so many other roles within the veterinary profession that are open to you. These options could include research, pathology, government work and vet technical support, to name but a few and even the option to work abroad. In other words, the world is your oyster!