“Now, many students have a career path mapped out by final year”

18 September 2018, at 10:12am

Twenty years is a long time to be a vet. My cohort of graduates has just reached that anniversary. It is approaching half a lifetime for us. If you take the number of years it took you to learn to potty train, feed yourself, walk, attend primary school and secondary school, get A levels and complete vet school, and add all that up, toddler years and all, then that’s almost equal to the time we have spent vetting.

A group of 40-somethings gathered to celebrate 20 years since we graduated together. And I use the word celebrate deliberately, not just because we obviously partied (and it was a party, not an “event”, if anyone from Cornwall County Council is reading this, as a party does not need a licence) but, in the main, we seemed a reasonably successful bunch and broadly positive about the 20 years we had spent at it.

This was in stark contrast to how I was feeling a few months ago when, as regular readers will know, I had had enough. It also seemed in contrast to the general mood you get from the profession via the press and online communities – that of dissatisfaction and frustration with the job, and people leaving the profession.

I tried to find out if anyone of our cohort had given it up, and only came up with one name. This may have had something to do with the selection process, which seemed to value practical experience and character as well as the requisite high A levels.

Many of us had stories of driving to the university after better or worse A level results than expected arrived in the summer, being interviewed by the admissions tutor and being given a verbal offer there and then.

Back then, the general aim of graduating was to go into mixed practice for a few years to see what we wanted to do later on. I hear that now, many students have a career path mapped out by final year that includes internships, residencies and postgraduate certificates. And, generally, not doing any out of hours; ie following in the footsteps of their lecturers and not doing what most vets end up doing – being a GP.

That also was a point of much diversity amongst the group – out of hours. One city vet’s eyes nearly popped out of her head when I told her I worked 1:5 on call. I was equally surprised that they expected clients to collect hospitalised animals, deliver them to an out of hours centre and collect them again in the morning. I have just built a new practice to accommodate overnight nursing. We have had holidaymakers using us who, at the end of the day, ask, “Where do I have to take him overnight?” and have been overjoyed to know that their pet is staying where it is and being looked after by the same team.

Amongst our number we also had someone who had recently opened a new practice from scratch and was doing most of the out of hours single-handed. Practice growth will eventually dilute the rota, but it was good to hear that single vets can still start from nothing and succeed. His current problem was finding vets to employ. This was not so much a problem for our smartly dressed Londonite, who flew in for the day and runs a small group of high-end, beautifully designed and presented practices in London with no out of hours.

To list other stories briefly, we had: an academic; a beef, sheep and TB testing practice owner from Ireland; an equine surgeon; numerous small animal vets; and many practice owners (including two women practice owners but by far the minority compared to overall numbers), with representatives from three major corporates and joint venture partners all with surprisingly positive stories to tell.

I have left most people’s names out of this article but a last mention must go to Keith Leonard. He asked me to get seven double entendres into this article. I said I doubt I’ll manage seven but I’d try to slip one in if possible. He also recounted a story which I think could sum up our group and its largely successful career trajectory from first year vet students to 20 years qualified, with many of us now owning or managing practices.

Keith was asked to speak at a large joint venture corporate conference about why he originally chose to become a joint venture partner and about his success, as he now runs several thriving joint venture partner practices. He summed up by saying: “I had worked in many jobs over the last number of years and done lots of locum work, too. I became tired of working for dickheads. Well, I’m the dickhead now.”