by Holly Anne Hills
As a vet student, you want to get the most out of your placements and learn as much as possible, but you also want to feel useful and valuable to your hosts.
Volunteering is incredibly popular amongst vet students, as it usually provides you with more practical learning opportunities than your usual placements, as well as the chance to get experience with some of the slightly more exciting and exotic animal species! For some, volunteering provides an opportunity to travel and make new experiences before starting their first vet job.
So, what are the options if you want to volunteer as a vet student? The possibilities are almost endless once you start delving into all the different opportunities out there. So, it’s important to think first about what you want to do, why, and where.
What are the different types of volunteer programs for vet students?
Volunteering placements and internships are available in different ways – they can be long term casual arrangements where you spend a day a week or give up your evenings to help out. But they can also be formal structured programs ranging from two weeks upwards.
These structured programs are usually specifically tailored to vet students, and the skills you need to develop, and not only give you ample clinical and non-clinical opportunity to be practical and hands on but are also social.
Most vet students either want to volunteer with wildlife or develop their surgical skills at a neutering clinic. And there are programs designed specifically for this. Some offer more clinical or hands-on experience than others, so always check the small print or speak to previous volunteers before booking so that you can be sure it’s right for you.
Most volunteering programs also offer you the opportunity to travel and explore a new part of the world – days off are usually scheduled, and some programs have organized excursions to local attractions, so if you’re after adventure then there will be something out there for you!
If foreign travel isn’t what you’re after, or your budget doesn’t stretch to it there are a multitude of opportunities for you at home too. If you simply want to donate your time to a worthy cause, and you are passionate about animal welfare, then most shelters, zoos, and wildlife centers would be very glad to have you and your skills.
You will have the opportunity to gain invaluable husbandry experience, and many also have structured volunteer programs for students.
How do I find a program?
You might already know where you want to volunteer, which is great! But if you aren’t sure, there are several ways to find out. Your vet school will probably have a list of volunteer programs that they recommend, or that students have completed previously. So, speaking to your placement coordinator is a good place to start.
There are companies who specialize in volunteering programs and offer a range of opportunities with reputable organizations around the world. They are very experienced in placing students on the right program, as well as helping you with logistics such as travel arrangements.
With these companies, you will have some back up if anything goes wrong with your placement, and often they will provide insurance for you while you are working.
But do plenty of your own research too – there are Facebook groups for vet students where others share their experiences, and where opportunities are advertised. You can book volunteering placements directly through charities, and often this can avoid the costs associated with booking through an agent.
A Google search will usually present you with a multitude of options. Make sure you read reviews or get in touch with previous volunteers before you book though, as sadly many students have been scammed by organizations promising opportunities that do not materialize when you arrive!
If you’re looking for a more casual opportunity closer to home, lots of shelters and wildlife centers would love to have you and you’ll be surprised at what opportunities are on your doorstep! They usually advertise for volunteers on their website, or you can make enquiries directly with them.
Will I have to pay to volunteer as a vet student?
The costs associated with volunteering can vary. Most domestic volunteering programs won’t cost you anything. Jetting off abroad, however, could set you back anything from a few hundred to a couple of thousand pounds depending on where you go and how long for!
So, what do you get for that? Most of these costly programs will provide you with accommodation and meals for the duration of your stay, and transfers to/from the airport. It also contributes to the cost of running the clinic/center – most volunteering opportunities are with charities who rely solely on donations.
You will also need to consider the cost of transport, such as fuel or flights, as well as visas, travel insurance, and vaccinations.
If you’re on a tight budget, see if there’s something for you closer to home!
Where will I stay?
The majority of volunteer programs abroad will put you up in accommodation on site, or very close by. This is usually shared with other volunteers, and may be quite basic, so be prepared!
If no accommodation is provided, then the organization will be able to recommend some local accommodation.
Clinical Volunteering Opportunities for Vet Students
If you want to get more hands on and develop your surgical skills before graduation, then there are a number of volunteering options available to you. Some organizations specialize in this type of program, with scheduled surgery and teaching time.
With these programs, you are usually guaranteed to be doing a certain number of surgeries a day. Other programs are less specific and offer the opportunity to assist the local veterinary team with neutering, as well as non-routine clinical work.
Most of these opportunities exist in busy rescue centers and charities abroad, usually in countries where there is a large population of stray dogs and cats. Usually these charities have limited equipment, so it can be an exciting way to develop your basic clinical skills, whilst also giving back to the local community.
Exotics/Wildlife Volunteering for vet students
If exotic species and wildlife are your thing, there are plenty of opportunities for you too. Most zoos and wildlife centers can take volunteers, and some have structured programs.
Around the world, there are organizations and charities rescuing and rehabilitating wild animals, which can be an exciting opportunity for you clinically, not to mention the added thrill of exploring far-flung corners of the globe!
If you are passionate about conservation, then this might be the type of opportunity for you, as your work will directly impact the local community as well as protect the animals you are working with and their environment.
Non-clinical volunteering for vet students
Still pre-clinical or looking for something a bit different? There are ample opportunities to volunteer and gain animal husbandry experience with a range of species. Your skills as a vet student go beyond animal handling and clinical work; your people skills, care, and scientific skills can be invaluable, and take you anywhere.
Volunteering locally at a shelter, wildlife center, zoo, or farm, or even volunteering with people can be rewarding and valuable to your professional development.
There are opportunities both at home and abroad to work on conservation and scientific research projects. These might be trickier to come by, but your university should be able to help you.
Good Luck with your Volunteering as a Vet Student
Volunteering as a vet student is a great way to develop your skills and set you apart from the competition, and some placements may even count towards your EMS.
Whilst neutering clinics and exotic wildlife options are popular, they can be costly. If you’re on a budget, look closer to home – and never be afraid to approach somewhere and ask if they’ll take you, even if they aren’t advertising a position.