Dr. Jessica Putnam BVMedSci(Hons) BVM BVS(Hons) MRCVS
Have you ever wondered what it’s like working as an equine vet? If you aren’t sure whether being a horse vet is for you, this article should help. We’ve asked equine veterinarian Dr. Putnam to explain her role and what it’s like working as a horse vet.
What equine vet job roles are available?
The equine veterinary industry offers a wealth of opportunities to veterinary surgeons worldwide. Job roles vary widely from ambulatory equine work with leisure and pleasure horses, to racetrack and equine competition work, stud work, clinic-based roles, referral cases, teaching positions, and emergency out-of-hours provision – the list is endless. The demand for equine veterinary surgeons is high; from interns or house-vets just starting out on their equine veterinary career path to those with specialist status in — for example — internal medicine, surgery, sports medicine, diagnostic imaging, dentistry, or reproduction.
Are there any particular challenges of equine veterinary practice?
Working with horses, ponies, and donkeys and their owners or carers is a great privilege – but can come with its own set of challenges due to patient size and temperament. The expectations of equine owners for their horse or pony to perform as athletes (at varying levels!) and the emotional attachments they may have can make decision-making difficult.
In addition, clients’ competition and business pressures can make some equine veterinary roles particularly high pressured. However, these clinical roles can be equally rewarding if individuals are well supported by their practice colleagues to ensure client demands are met by the whole practice team.
Other challenges may include remote working, inclement weather, navigating the local area, and finding remote yards or hidden away fields where horses are kept – but the trade-off is likely to be beautiful countryside and potentially the opportunity to walk your trusty canine companion at lunchtime when your diary allows!
How are equine veterinary practices structured?
Some equine practices remain independent, although following the RCVS rule-change to allow non-vets to own veterinary practices, it is becoming increasingly common for equine practices to be part of corporate groups. Out-of-hours emergency services for equine veterinary clients have largely, until very recently, been provided by equine practices themselves. It is therefore likely there will be a requirement to take a share of an out-of-hours rota in any equine practice role.
We are now starting to see the beginnings of out-of-hours providers in the equine veterinary field, but this is only likely to reduce rather than completely remove the out-of-hours requirement of a typical equine practice role.
Many practices offer flexible working opportunities to encourage those with responsibilities outside of work or other commitments to continue their career within the equine veterinary field. In some practices, there may also be management opportunities available. Achieving a work-life balance, as with all veterinary roles, requires diligent timekeeping and discipline to allow yourself time away from the workplace.
What is life like in ambulatory equine practice?
The majority of equine veterinary surgeons spend all or some of their time working as ambulatory equine practitioners, typically travelling from a practice base to clients’ own premises to examine, diagnose and treat their horses, ponies, or donkeys. A driving licence and willingness to travel are therefore essential to an ambulatory role.
These veterinary services are often delivered with the support of practice administrative staff behind the scenes, and/or a clinical team, such as veterinary nurses and veterinary grooms or handlers.
Routine and emergency services are likely to include preventative healthcare, wound management, geriatric care, dentistry, orthopaedic investigations and treatment, medical investigations, gastroscopy, radiography, ultrasonography, endoscopy, shockwave therapy, laser treatment, pre-purchase examinations, acupuncture, castration, stud services, and artificial insemination.
Ambulatory practice can offer the freedom to work independently as a clinician and opportunities to forge close relationships with clients. Strong relationships with colleagues and local referral centres are also key to success and job satisfaction from such roles. Most practices these days are well-equipped with modern technology for diagnostic imaging and dentistry, with MRI and CT facilities being commonplace in larger equine veterinary clinics and hospitals.
What does an equine veterinary internship entail?
Some new or recent graduates may choose to become an “intern” or “house-vet” at a private or university equine veterinary clinic or hospital in order to develop their clinical skills and confidence. Internships involve working alongside more experienced senior clinicians whilst building upon existing clinical experience.
Internships are a great way to immerse yourself in equine veterinary practice without having full responsibility for clinical case decision making, and can allow high caseload exposure over a relatively short period of time – usually 12-18 months.
Typically, on-site accommodation is provided, and responsibilities are likely to include emergency admissions, in-patient care, preparation for anaesthesia and surgery, intensive care, diagnostic imaging, and involvement with lameness investigations, medicine, and poor-performance cases.
Internships or house-vet positions offer a good foundation for progression to residency programmes and post-graduate specialist qualifications in surgery, medicine, or diagnostic imaging – but are equally as beneficial for those wanting to pursue a career in general or specialist equine practice.
How can you progress in your equine veterinary career?
Opportunities for further study are widely available. In addition to the annual Veterinary continuing professional development requirement, many equine veterinary surgeons choose to undertake further study in the form of a certificate in advanced veterinary practice – designated certificates in specific subject areas are available once you have passed a synoptic examination.
As previously discussed, progression to specialist status is also possible through residency programmes.
For some top notch Equine CPD why not check out Dr Graham Duncanson’s Webinar Equine Emergcies: The Colic Referral
Take home message
You may have early mornings. You may have late nights. You may have days when your feet don’t touch the ground. But you will also have days when you do have the luxury of time, and you can take up the offer of that cup of tea and a piece of cake from a friendly client – which makes it all feel worthwhile.
With any equine veterinary role communication is key – not only with your clients over clinical matters, but also with your practice or clinic/hospital team. You will soon learn that receptionists, veterinary nurses, yard staff and grooms will have your back if you treat them well – make friends with your support staff and it will make your life in practice much easier.