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HomeEditor's Picks‘Under-staffing is leaving those remaining in the industry overworked’ – Vet (32)
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘Under-staffing is leaving those remaining in the industry overworked’ – Vet (32)

That’s Farming editor, Catherina Cunnane, in conversation with Mark Stroyd (32), North Yorkshire Moors, in this week’s vet series. We discuss studying zoology before graduating as a vet, life after graduation and working as a teaching assistant in equine practice at the University of Nottingham School of Veterinary Medicine and Science.

“My grandfather was a dairy farmer but passed away when I was young. As a result, I have always lived in farming communities but have been less hands-on with livestock.

I first thought about becoming a vet when I was 15. Before this, I thought about becoming an artist but decided on veterinary.

I was torn between studying veterinary in the UK or moving to Slovakia for a similar English-taught course. In the end, it made more sense for me to stay in the UK to study.

I did not get straight onto the course from A-level as my results fell short. I first studied Zoology at LJMU, where I gained a BSc with honours.

Following this, I still could not obtain a place, so I obtained a postgraduate diploma in the Control of Infectious Diseases in Animals at the Royal Veterinary College.

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Throughout these courses, I worked as much as I could in veterinary practices, doing assistant work and reception duties.

I studied a Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine at Royal Veterinary College, London, from 2014 to 2020.

Vet school is one of the hardest courses to obtain a place at in the UK. But, if it is something you are desperate to do, keep applying until you obtain a place.

Life as a new grad vet

I graduated in the first lockdown (June 2020), and two weeks later, I started my first job at Wendovery Heights Veterinary Centre, Buckinghamshire.

The position was ambulatory, but we had a clinic for lameness workups, surgery etc. My role was largely on the road.

In my first position, there was a shortage of vets. My colleagues, however, were very good at answering the phone to me, should I get stuck when on the road. I also, when the diary allowed, shadowed colleagues in consults to pick up tips and advice.

I left after 11 months to work at an independent practice close to home. After eight months in this position, I then accepted a job at the University of Nottingham School of Veterinary Medicine and Science.

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Teaching Assistant

My role is as a teaching assistant in equine practice. I spend 50% of my time doing ambulatory work and running the university’s equine ambulatory rotation for vet students.

The other half of my time, I spend teaching vet students, either in practicals or with theory.

As I now work for the university, I only cover two out-of-hours shifts a month.

My favourite case so far has been a “shoe boil” or olecranon bursitis. It was a true “Dr Pimple Popper” moment.

I love first opinion work and being out on the road whilst teaching the final year students.

A shortage of vets and support for new grads

My advice to new grads is this: try to get your first job at a practice you know. It is much easier to blossom in a familiar environment.

There are not enough supports/resources in place for new graduates, in my opinion. There is an absolute shortage of vets at the minute following Brexit. As a result, practices are struggling to fill positions.

The understaffing is leaving those remaining in the industry overworked.

Many practices are now looking to new grads now to fill in roles, which should be aimed at vets with ten years of experience. The support is not there to help new vets in their early years.

The career matches my expectations. We all know throughout vet school that the job is exhausting, both mentally and physically. But looking beyond this, the amount of satisfaction you get from a good case definitely outweighs the negatives.

I love spending time with owners and their horses, as well as discreetly having a good nose around all the yards.

Dealing with owner emotions at euthanasia consults is always going to be one of the most challenging things of the career. Sometimes, loving clients need really good counselling and guidance through difficult decisions.

A capable vet has resilience and people skills. Strength and intelligence also come in handy, but not as much as the former attributes.

I am about to embark on a PGCHE to improve my teaching abilities. At some point, I would like to complete a clinical certificate and hopefully a PhD.

I do not have an end goal, but I look forward to seeing where my career takes me.

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As a vet, you have days of absolute triumph and excitement. These days can be sandwiched between exhaustion and very bleak times.

The days are long but worth it, and the positives of the career definitely outweigh the negatives.

I think the veterinary career will take some years to stabilise. The difficulty we face is keeping our new grads in the profession long enough to fill in the ‘experienced vet’ void we are currently facing.

Are you an equine vet? To share your story, email – [email protected]

See more veterinary profiles.

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