Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The journey of a new veterinary graduate

Josie Faulkner graduated with a degree in Veterinary Medicine from Cambridge University in 2013. She moved to Sydney, Australia to complete a one-year internship in Equine Medicine and Surgery at Randwick Equine Centre and then spent two months working for the practice with a private racehorse client in China. She is currently in Perth, Western Australia working as an associate veterinarian at Valley Equine Veterinary Centre. She writes here about her experiences of the equine job market as a new graduate and gives some insight into some of the options available.

Vet school
It's a good idea to look at job adverts in the summer before your final year. By that stage you will have a vague idea of what sort of job you might want to go into. You definitely do not need to have a job lined up by graduation but having a look around gives you an idea of what type of jobs are out there, and when and where they are advertised. I was not actively looking but I found my first job during a moment of insomnia during the summer before final year. I had downloaded the Vet Record Jobs app and searched for equine jobs in UK and overseas (I really do not like the cold!). A hospital internship in Sydney, Australia was advertised with starts dates for the following year. It sounded like it would be an excellent first job for me, and its location made it even more appealing!

I spent a whole week updating and working on my CV and cover letter. I had not done much with my CV for about three years and it was very out of date. My key tip for your CV is to make it as easy to skim read as possible, while highlighting the important points. It should not be more than two pages long and formatting is important! Start with key personal information and follow that with education. Definitely include anything special or out of the ordinary that you have achieved at university. Any award, merit or distinction in a modular exam and your elective project title will help highlight your strengths and interests. After that have a section on veterinary placements and focus on the most relevant work experience you have done. Highlight placements at well-known hospitals and include any work with farriers etc. and CPD events you may have helped at. Note the skills you gained and what your duties were. Have a section on extra-curricular activities (they do want to see that you have a life!) and other jobs but do not let them take up more than quarter of a page. Finish up with a list of referees. I had three: my director of studies from university and two vets. One was an equine vet who I had done a recent placement with for two weeks and a small animal vet who I had done work experience with from before I started university. I chose them because I thought they would give a good and accurate assessment of my personality and abilities. Cover letters are important too - they should be short but include key points like when you are due to graduate, why you want the job and what you can offer to the practice. Get as many people as you can to check and proofread the documents.

Following submitting this application, and while I was all fired up about jobs, a friend and I decided to make an excel spreadsheet of equine internships. We split the research work and shared our findings. We included location, size, type of work, caseload, number of interns, on call roster and pay just so we could get an idea of what was out there, what we wanted and when applications closed. Since then internships have been promoted far better and the information is much easier to get hold of. It seems that more clinics are offering them as well. Have a look at the BEVA Internship Awareness program webpages for more information.

I was offered the internship position part way through my final year and my friend who did the internship spreadsheet research with me secured an equine hospital internship in Ireland. Although it definitely seems that clinics are more likely to take you on as a new graduate if you have done some work experience there, neither of us had done placements at the places we got jobs so it's worth applying even if you have not been there before. In general, if there is a job advertised that looks like it would suit you, apply! Of course, an internship might not be everyone's cup of tea and you can learn a lot from joining a supportive first opinion practice. Two interns who started work at Randwick Equine Centre (REC) six months after me had graduated at the same time as me. One had worked in mixed practice for six months and one had done some work with an equine charity organisation to fill in the time before starting the internship, and both enjoyed the experience.

Good places to look for new grad equine jobs are Vet Record and of course the BEVA website! Other vet magazines and websites like the Vet Times have extensive advert sections, but not much in the way of equine jobs. Clinics and hospitals also tend to advertise on their own websites so it's worth having a look there too. www.kookaburravets.com and www.vetlink.com.au are a couple of good sites if you want to have a look to see what's available abroad.

First jobs
I had a lot of paperwork to complete for the visa application and registering to work as a vet in Australia, but luckily did not need to take any additional examinations. I joined the practice in the middle of "yearling season", when all the yearlings are x-rayed prior to the sales and there is a lot of elective arthroscopic surgery. It was quite busy and I had to learn quickly. Setting up the various pieces of diagnostic equipment and getting to grips with billing were my priorities as I wanted to become useful as quickly as possible! After I had that covered I could focus more on helping with workups and gaining skills and increasing my knowledge base.

I was at REC for a year, with monthly rotations in Anaesthesia, Surgery, Hospital (mainly lameness) and Ambulatory (race track, competition horses and pleasure). We also had two weeks where we could go and do a Reproduction placement. Our average hours were 7.30am - 7pm Monday to Friday, with one night on call per week and one weekend in two on call (alternating as primary/secondary). Due to being a predominantly racehorse based clinic (at least 75% thoroughbred work) the caseload included a high proportion of elective arthroscopic surgery and lameness work which was great for getting handy with the x-ray machine, basic ultrasound and nerve and joint blocks. There was not a large number of internal medicine cases and we did not have many out of hours surgical colic cases. The practice were really encouraging of our development and were constantly challenging us. When a senior vet on call received a call out, they would assess the case over the phone and often send us out. While this was daunting, we would always have a brief beforehand, and the senior vet was always available for advice if we needed it.

Cast on a pony with a complete fracture of MT3 which was stablised with locking and dynamic compression plates

The internship was perfect for me as it had a focus on performance and lameness, and allowed me to gain a lot of practical skills. I was able to pick up on good protocols for working up cases and see work done to the highest standard. In addition, what makes internships so valuable is the amount of support and supervision available. The partners and associates were always willing to discuss cases and teach us new procedures. We arranged journal clubs with the specialists on topics of interest. I was also lucky to have worked with three other interns who would struggle along with me on busy days – sometimes at 8pm we were still finishing off the billing and treatment sheets for the next day!

Colic surgery

Towards the end of my internship one of the partners asked me what my plans were for before I started my new job. I said I wanted to go to Fiji to do a neutering clinic and improve my surgical skills (plus a few weeks lying in a hammock and sleeping, obviously). He replied with "I think I have something better". He is the consultant vet to a thoroughbred racing club in China who had imported around 40 thoroughbred racehorses from all over the word the previous year. They needed a vet to help transport the horses from their current training facility in Inner Mongolia down to a track near Shanghai. Following that, the horses would resume training, leading up to a big display race event and the rest of the Chinese racing season. It was a phenomenal opportunity and of course I said yes. It definitely was not easy and really challenged my veterinary abilities. I was working in a completely different environment with limited facilities and a language barrier. Not only that, but I had come from an internship where I was very well supervised, and arrived in China on my own, with no referral options. However I had my boss on the phone for advice if I needed it and it gave me an opportunity to put into practice everything I had learnt over my internship year, and to learn to trust my abilities.

The majority of the work was managing nutrition, lameness problems and respiratory conditions, with the occasional colic and one case of severe colitis with haemorrhagic diarrhoea. I organised the veterinary emergency first aid arrangements for the race day event and completed race day duties with the help of a Chinese vet. I definitely felt more in my comfort zone by the end of the experience, and I made some good friends with the staff there. Actually, the most nerve-wracking part of my journey turned out to be having to repack three overweight suitcases full of vet supplies at the check-in desk at Sydney airport! I made it to the gate halfway through boarding and out of breath.

I had had such a great year at REC and had really grown to like the Australian lifestyle (read: sunshine, swimming and seafood!). Towards the end of my year, I started to search for equine jobs again in Australia.

There is some equine swimming too!

An associate vet at REC had heard from a friend while working at an FEI event that there was a job going in Perth, Western Australia that would be great for me. Another recommended me to apply to another in Cambridge, New Zealand. It seems that contacts really do help! I got in touch with the practice in Perth and chatted to one of the partners, sent my CV and a cover letter, and then arranged to fly across for a visit in a few weeks’ time. At this time there were two other equine jobs advertised in Perth (unusual since it's not a very big place!) which looked like they would also suit a recent graduate, so I applied to them and let them know I would be in the area shortly for a visit. I spent a weekend exploring Perth and following that, three interviews over two days. I was offered two of the three jobs and chose the one which I thought would suit my personality best and provide the best environment for steadily gaining more skills.

I have been working as a first opinion associate vet now for a few months and have settled in well. The internship prepared me well for most of the cases that I see out on the road and in the clinic, and my new work colleagues don't mind at all if I ask questions about difficult cases or ask for help with a procedure. There are some things which I didn't have much exposure to before that I am seeing a lot of now. These include wire and fence post injuries (I am becoming a fan of aggressive debridement) and sand colics (Perth seems to be built on a giant beach).

There is also plenty of wire fencing in Perth!

Plans for the future
I'm very happy working as a first opinion vet. The senior vets here carry out a lot of higher level reproduction, dentistry, field surgery and lameness work which I have been able to get involved with and is great for my learning. I think I would like to do some further study in a few years’ time, perhaps a residency in Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation if I can get onto a programme, or alternatively a Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice focusing on lameness diagnostics and treatment. I have found that the two main things which I value from a work place are support and the opportunity for continuing development of skills. I think that if I am able to continue working at clinics like that ones I've already been at I will be quite happy!

The first steps into the world of applications, interviews and internships can be daunting but there are networks of support designed to get you through it. The learning curve is steep, but not necessarily as steep as some people make out. The rewards can be amazing so make the most of your experiences!

Good luck!