The veterinary swap shop

01 August 2017, at 1:00am

GARETH CROSS has itchy feet and, having happened upon a company – VetSwap – which offers vets and nurses opportunities to practise abroad, finds out how it all works

LIKE MANY VETS I HAVE DONE MY SHARE of travelling and working abroad – before the joys/ties/burdens of parenthood/ mortgage/partnership (delete or mix and match as appropriate) limited my globetrotting. However, I can now start to imagine travelling again and also one of my vets has started muttering about going off for a bit. So how useful would it be to have the ability just to swap jobs/vets with a similar practice on the other side of the world? No costly mortgage payment holiday needed for people, no need to quit a job you may be happy in to do it... Also, employers can let a vet have the benefits of travelling without having to find a replacement or pay through the nose for a locum and their agents. So imagine my interest when I saw an advert for a company called “VetSwap” (it does what it says on the tin). I had to know more, so contacted Euan McKee at the company to ask some questions.

Who are you? Who is in the
company and what inspired you to
set it up?

Myself and a friend of mine from Edinburgh Uni, Luke Ramsden, came up with the idea a few years ago. We’re both vets working in mixed practice. I was working in Scotland and Luke in Australia.
We had a friend who wanted to travel and work in Australia for a while, but didn’t want to give up her job – she knew if she was to leave, her boss would have to replace her with another full-time vet since filling her job for six months with locums would be difficult and expensive. We thought there must be a way around this, so we came up with the idea of VetSwapping. We did a lot of
research into the viability of the idea within the industry and there was a huge amount of positive feedback – from vets and practice owners alike – and so we started up VetSwap. The process is quite simple. Our clients are vets, and vet nurses, who have itchy feet and want to travel and work abroad, but want their jobs kept for them for when they come back. We find vets in other countries – UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand – to swap with so they can experience a new country and a different way of practising veterinary medicine while their counterpart does the same. This way, practice owners can improve staff retention and cut down
on the hassle and expense of finding new vets or locums to fill in for departing staff. It’s a win-win situation for all.

What experience of working abroad do you have?

Luke and I have both worked in the UK and abroad. I have mostly worked in the UK, but also India, Thailand and Australia. Luke has previously worked in Australia for five years and also has experience in New Zealand but has since returned to the UK. So between us, we have accrued a lot of experience of working abroad and know all about the good and the bad of vetting away from home. 

What do you think the benefits of working abroad are?

The main benefits of working abroad are the experiences you get from going out of your comfort zone and diving into new challenges. Through VetSwapping you are exposed to new techniques and different ways of practising veterinary medicine that you can take back to your job at home, and this can be very fulfilling. VetSwappers also take new ideas into a practice. For these reasons, VetSwap can count towards CPD. There is also the added benefit of being in a new and exciting landscape while you do it! 

How many swaps are literally a swap, or are most just a loose locum arrangement? One big benefit I can think of for true swaps, for employers like me, is if I had an employee wanting to go and work abroad for a bit this would be brilliant as (a) I get a replacement and (b) my vet has a planned return.

We are not a locum agency; every case is a tailor made one-on-one swap and we ensure that every swap is as close to the requirements of the individuals as possible so that whether you are a small animal vet in London wanting to work in Sydney for six months or a mixed vet in Yorkshire wanting to work in NZ, we’ll find you the right swap. 

From that point of view, what is the quality control? The swap must rely on the goodwill of the employers as well as the employee’s wish to travel.

In terms of quality control, we ensure that all VetSwappers are a minimum of two years’ graduated and of course all incoming counterparts must be vetted and verified by the practice owner/
manager before any swaps can be agreed to take place.

Do any bosses/senior staff take part (when can I go?!)?

VetSwap isn’t limited to young assistants. We have had clients of our VetSwap who have been practice owners as well and they have
thoroughly enjoyed it! 

Is there a way around the full visa requirements for workers? I have just “imported” an Aussie vet, so wouldn’t want to go through the cost and hassle of visa applications very often.

In terms of visas, there are a number of options which don’t require sponsorship, though most of those travelling under the age of 31 will use a working holiday visa which is straightforward and allows you to work for up to a year in Australia and NZ, though this age is soon to be extended to 35.

I see on the website it’s a flat rate.

The fee is £899 per person per swap. Currently we operate between the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, but we have seen demand come from South Africa and the Middle East and
look to include these places in the very near future.

Any plans for a purely house swap for vets (another of my ideas)? I am asking not just because I have a nice house by the beach in Devon and it costs me a fortune to accommodate my family of five in London/Edinburgh (yet to go there with them)/any other city.

The swap certainly can include a house, and in fact most of our clients request this. We have toyed with the idea of purely a house swap – we’ve envisaged this to be like a “free” Airbnb community just for vets – but for now we’re just focusing on pushing VetSwap forward.

VDS cover, etc.?

VDS cover depends on how payment is set up. Can be practice VDS if swappers go on to the books. Guild insurance is the most common in Australia, but is also generally provided by the practice.

Are there any parallels in other professions, e.g. doctors, teachers, etc.?

Currently there are no parallels with other professions that we know about; it appears the veterinary industry is leading the way! In terms of feedback, we swapped an experienced equine assistant from Australia with a partner from a UK practice and she recently provided the following feedback: “I found the swap experience to be a great learning experience and a very fun way to see practice in another location with the security of your own job being there
for you to come back to” – Emily, Queensland, Australia. Euan McKee and Luke Ramsden. www.vethub