Andrew is a Large Animal Vet in Cumbria - here he describes the long, hard road to becoming a vet - and how all the work is worth it!
What were your favourite subjects and who were your favourite teachers at School?
At school my favourite subjects were Geography and Biology, and consequently my favourite teachers were in these subjects also. My form tutor in Year 12/13 was Dr Mullins and he encouraged me to complete a science placement at Manchester University for which I got a Nuffield Science Gold award presented at The Royal Institution in London. I didn’t have a favourite teacher as such, but all my A-Level tutors brought more to the classroom than just education.
What further study have you undertaken since leaving School?
After Bolton School I went straight to the Royal Veterinary College in London to study Veterinary Medicine. After graduating I worked down South in Somerset for a few years before moving North and settling up in Cumbria. After graduating I thought ‘at last, no more exams!’ but that didn’t last long so for the last few years I have been studying for a certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice specialising in Cattle Health and Production through the University of Liverpool.
What does your job involve and how did you progress to your current role?
My current role is as a Large Animal Vet; I have treated all species both small and large and some zoo animals, but working in Cumbria is suited to farm animal work. I still see cats and dogs occasionally, but my day-to-day work is driving round the country side visiting dairy, beef and sheep farms. A lot of veterinary work is preventative and based on whole herd/flock care; carrying out health plans, ensuring a dairy herd is fertile and producing lots of milk, checking for disease and suggesting vaccination protocols if necessary; however, we still carry out regular ‘fire-brigade’ work – examining and treating sick animals, calving and lambing and carrying out operations at any time of day or night.
Who/what influenced your career choice?
The classic influence for most vets was James Herriot, and this was also true for me. I grew up reading the books with my Dad and then watching programmes such as Animal Hospital and Vets in Practice. Once my parents knew I wanted to be a vet, they both worked endlessly to help me achieve my goal and I carried out work experience in holiday time from the age of 12.
Who/what has been your biggest inspiration?
My biggest inspiration has to be my parents. They both worked so hard to support me, both financially and emotionally, in order to help me get where I am today. My Dad worked 7-day weeks in order to support me through School and my mum encouraged me to study hard, helped me arrange all the necessary work experience and provided me with everything I needed to enjoy my time at Bolton, achieve my grades and take advantage of the opportunities the School can provide.
Which skills do you consider to be essential for your job?
A key skill in veterinary work – apart from the clinical aspect of the job – is client communication and care. Especially in farm animal work the animals I treat are commercial commodities of a farm business and consequently my work has to be economical. It is important to consider both the welfare of the animal and the economics of the business in making clinical decisions, and communicating the importance of this to the client is essential. Clinically – a steady hand and confidence are essential!
What do you like most about your job?
My favourite aspect of my job has to be disease investigation: becoming a detective and carrying out tests to find the cause, then implementing a treatment and watching the result is incredibly satisfying; equally carrying out surgery such as a caesarean is both exciting and rewarding. The freedom of my current role is also great – as a large animal vet I get to drive around Cumbria in my Land Rover with my dogs. Being out and about in all weathers is great fun and I’m able to take five to walk the dogs and enjoy the views.
What is your biggest challenge in your current role?
I would say the biggest challenge in veterinary work in general is keeping on top of the sheer volume of information you are required to recall. Veterinary science is constantly developing: new diseases, new drugs and new theories. Keeping up-to-date, as well as remembering everything you’ve already learnt, is a challenge and being able to recall and advise with that knowledge is a key part of the job. We are required to maintain our knowledge through Continued Professional Development (CPD) – and undertaking further study helps to do this.
What do you consider to be your greatest career achievement?
Graduating from vet school will remain my greatest achievement – after studying hard at School to get my grades, spending all my free time carrying out work experience, getting into vet school and then working even harder for another five years. And throughout that continuous 15 years of education relying on the support and encouragement of my parents, through all the stressful times, was all made worthwhile by being able to ring and tell them I had passed my finals and qualified as a vet – it was a moment I will never forget.
How did Bolton School help you to be successful in your chosen career?
Bolton School helped in so many ways – first and foremost the education and the quality of the teaching – I was able to achieve my potential and get the grades I needed for University. But secondly, and with equal importance, the extra-curricular opportunities that the School provided: being involved in activities outside of education and work is essential to maintain a good work-life balance. Whilst at School I took advantage of music, sport, scouts, and outdoor-pursuits – I continued these interests through University and into my career and having the skills and ability to find time to do something unrelated to work is really important.
What advice would you give to our pupils interested in your field of work?
The most important thing would be to undertake some work experience as soon as possible. It is a long hard road to become a vet and you have to be sure before you set off on it. Understanding the realities of the job – the on-call work, unsociable hours, emotional impact and difficult working conditions and all for only a modest remuneration compared to alternative careers – are things you should consider. If it is your chosen path then you need to work hard to get your grades, undertake as much animal and veterinary work experience as possible and take advantage of all that’s available to you, in order to have a full and varied UCAS application.