By Rebecca MacMillan BVetMed BSAVA PGCertSAM MRCVS
When making polite conversation with people, it’s usual for jobs to come up at some point. I know whenever I mention that I’m a vet it’s usually met with keen interest or even admiration. This same level of enthusiasm just doesn’t seem to exist when someone shares their role in human resources or IT support!
One of the positives about our job is that it doesn’t need explaining. People immediately know what our job is and what we do… or do they? They think about exciting operations, cute puppies, and a fulfilling career, so I usually trot out the same response of ‘Yeah, it’s definitely interesting, there’s something new every day’. But, if it wasn’t small talk, what would I really like to tell them? Let’s have a closer look at what I consider to be some of the benefits, as well as the drawbacks, of being a vet.
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Cute puppies…and kittens, and lambs, and calves! Seriously though, the animals are one of the main benefits of this job. It is a privilege to be able to spend all day with a variety of creatures and make a difference in their health and welfare. This is one of the main reasons that most people go into a career in veterinary medicine in the first place. Sneaky cuddles with puppies are a definite reward! At university, one wise lecturer said, ‘If you are ever having a bad day, just go and sit with one of your patients for a while’.
This is something that has been creeping in over the last few years. Many employers now offer more flexible working hours than they did previously, with part-time working being commonplace for both vets and nurses. There are also more jobs out there that will accommodate shorter days to help with things like childcare. Partly this is due to a shortage of vets in the UK (so employers are having to be more attractive to potential candidates) but this female-dominated profession also recognizes the need to balance family responsibilities with work.
Work-life balance and avoiding burnout are also key, so many people work flexibly to help with their mental health too. There are opportunities out there for vets to work weekends only or night shift rotas, as well as non-clinical roles that allow for remote working, so there is something for everyone now. (For more insight on burnout make sure to check out our blog “Burnt Out and Under 30 in the Veterinary Industry“)
Making a difference
It can be easy to forget how much of a difference you make in your role. It might not feel like it when you are describing the flea life cycle for the 5th time that day, but you are. Not only are you helping treat animals and preventing suffering, but you are constantly educating too. Clients will come to you for advice and support every day, and each one of those interactions has the potential to make a difference in the lives of both pets and owners. It’s not only the heroic surgeries that make an impact.
It’s a cliché, but there’s no such thing as a dull day when you’re a vet. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, there will be some weird and wonderful case walk through the door. It’s also the only job where you can be a GP, midwife, surgeon, radiologist, phlebotomist, ultrasonographer, and microbiologist all rolled into one. We already have such a vast skill set but there are always new learning opportunities to be had. Depending on your role, you might also see an array of different animals, and you’ll almost certainly meet a variety of clients!
As a vet working in general practice, it can be very hard to progress career-wise. The main options open to you are to become the practice owner (buying your own practice or entering a partnership in an existing one, or through a joint venture partner with a cooperate), or to become a clinical director. The latter may come with additional responsibilities and remuneration but can be unsatisfying when you spend your time bogged down with staff holiday rotas and practice protocols. Some people become disillusioned doing all of this work on behalf of the corporate which still owns everything behind the scenes, as well as any profits the practice makes.
So, unless you decide to go down the road of becoming a specialist (which usually involves, internship, residencies, and the associated exams – See for example “How To Become a Veterinary Neurologist” ), once you qualify you’re a vet and that’s it! While you will become more experienced and competent, and may even study for additional qualifications, there is not the opportunity for regular promotions that you might get by following another career path.
While flexible working is more commonplace, animal emergencies are 24/7. This means that someone needs to be on duty in the evenings and at weekends. Most vets will have at some point in their career, been on call or at least worked on Saturdays, it’s hard to find a job that will truly let you off the rota for these altogether. While James Herriot paints romantic visions of bumbling out to a farm call, followed by a leisurely cuppa in the farmhouse afterward, the reality is that working evenings and weekends eats into your family and social life.
Vet Salaries are improving (the benefit of this may not be seen thanks to the increase in the cost of living that is simultaneously occurring) but pay is still relatively low compared to other similarly skilled professionals in some areas. The amount of dedication, education, and ongoing training that is required to be a vet is not to be underestimated. If you want to see the difference vet salary ranges for yourself, check out our Global Vet Salary Report. While vets do earn a decent salary compared to the national average, we are most definitely not ‘in it for the money’ despite what some grumbling clients might think. If you are not quite happy with your current salary orgainse a chat with one of our expert advisors and review your options.
Aggressive people… and animals!
Dealing with the general public is a huge part of this job, each animal will come with an owner! While the vast majority of clients are lovely, sadly it’s the not-so-nice ones that always stick out in your mind. Most vets will have met their fair share of unpleasant, entitled, or downright rude clients over the years, which is hard when you are just trying to do your job. The saddest part is that some of these owners will end up blocking the animal from receiving the care that it needs. Having a good team to help back you up will help immensely and is vital for your mental health. Thankfully most practices have a no-abuse policy and will ban particularly bad clients.
Dealing with aggressive animals is another drawback of the job. We rationally know that most of these animals are lashing out because they are scared, but it can be hard when you are in the firing line. Careful handling techniques, good sedation protocols, and an excellent nursing team are essential. Despite this, most vets will still have been bitten, kicked, or scratched at some point, which is at best not fun and at worst can result in a hospital stay.
Hopefully, some of the points I’ve made will resonate with you too. Overall, most vets couldn’t imagine doing anything else, particularly as we know that any job in any walk of life has its pros and cons. However, a farm vet who has just performed a successful C-section on a cow, an equine vet driving through the countryside on a sunny morning to their next yard, or a small animal vet who has just vaccinated a litter of puppies will all tell you the same – there’s no other job like it.
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