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‘The mental health issues and dropout rate are a huge concern’ – Vet

In this week’s vet series, That’s Farming, speaks to Sophie Harding, a farm animal vet, about her life as a new grad vet in North Somerset and Mendips, England.

Although Sophie Harding does not necessarily hail from a farming background, she knew she “wanted to work with animals and had the grades for veterinary, so went for it”.

“There is no farming in my family, or anything agriculture-related”, the Bristol, South West England native told That’s Farming.

“My parents said I arrived home from nursery and said I would be a vet. I looked at a lot of other career paths such as a zoologist, in business, caring, the police or becoming pilot.”

Farm animal vet: Education

However, veterinary stood out for Sophie, which led her to list University of Nottingham’s veterinary medicine degree programme as her first choice on her UCAS application.

She did not get into the course the first time she applied.

“I was straight rejected without interviews the first time around. This happens quite frequently to aspiring vets.”

However, after taking a year out, Sophie applied through UCAS again in 2014 and was accepted.

“I liked the feel of the university, and the course was practical and no-nonsense. As a vet, you generally go where you get in; I was lucky to get my first choice.”

“The practical side of the course is very good and varied. I might be biased, but Nottingham is known for its practical teaching to create day 1 vets, and it delivers.”

“In third year, you gel as a year with lots of year activity traditions. Fourth, I realised, was my last true ‘uni year’ so my mates and I became freshers again for a few months. Fifth was class; I am rubbish at being studious, so fifth engaged me the most education-wise.”

“Modules is a hard one. All of them are species mixed. I always enjoyed repro, but that is because it is heavier in farm content.”

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Life after graduation

Sophie began working at Tibbs and Simmons, Farm Animal Vets, North Somerset + Mendips, England, after graduating in 2019 and is currently employed by the practice.

Sophie got advice from various vets throughout her first several months of practice. This practice she works in has nine full-time vets and a vet tech.

“I cannot stress enough how important it is to find the right practice as a new graduate.”

“Our practice area is probably 90 minutes with the help of the M5. It is a fair area, but we have vets dotted throughout it. I also get to work a 1 in 9 (out-of-hours), which is great (second on calls in spring).”

The farm animal vet has experienced some unusual cases during her time at the practice.

“The pathologist at the local lab likes to joke about when I am sending in my next case. I have had a calf with genetic abnormality in its clotting factors about six weeks in practice.”

“I was seriously questioning if I was missing something – post-mortem took about another six weeks to get close to an answer! Honestly, I seem to be running on about 50% of my PME referral cases being brilliant in pathologist terms, so I guess I am cursed, with the odd unsavable.”

Sophie is passionate about farm animal practice. “I love surgery, and I also do a lot of the practice’s calf work, definitely an area I am interested in.”

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Sophie advises newly graduated vets “not to accept the first job, wait for the right job”.

“Use your fifth year to look at colleague relationships and happiness on placements, not just to learn skills.”

“When you apply, assess the practice on staffing, employee’s contentment and the work-life balance you will receive.”

Sophie advises news graduates to ask themselves the following: Do the team support each other? Do they have time to devote to you?

“There are a lot of jobs out there, so make sure you find one that will make you competent and confident.”

Sophie advises aspiring vets to be “prepared for emotional whiplash”. “Look into it, speak to vets, get a realistic grasp on what the job entails, not what society thinks it does.”

“Then, go for it. It is a brilliant career. We always need more vets.”

Sophie admits that veterinary has surpassed her expectations.

“I left fifth year not sure I wanted to be a vet. Farm animal is the sector for me, but I am not sure I would cut it in a different area.”

Sophie’s favourite aspect of her career is her clientele. “I love working with them, answering their questions, helping to support and advance their systems, and they are funny.”

“However, it is always hard when cases die or are not fixable. Shutting people down with TB is awful too.”

Sophie believes that a capable vet must have the following qualities: communication, compassion, tenacity, and escapism, to name a few.

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Future plans

Sophie would relish the idea of using her degree to travel. “I am working for an incredible practice at the moment, which makes it hard to leave.”

“In vet terms, I am very much ‘wet behind the ears’.”

This farm animal vet’s ultimate goal is to own a small farm/oversized smallholding alongside accommodation.

“Selling direct to the public and providing education whilst still being a vet, aim big right?”

“Overall, I am incredibly happy. If anything changed, I would not be where I am. Life as a vet is fun, challenging, exhilarating, draining, and demoralising at times, but also a barrel of laughs.”

In Sophie’s eyes, the future of veterinary medicine in the United Kingdom is “worrying”.

“There is a global shortage of vets – the mental health issues and dropout rate are a huge concern.”

“The profession needs understanding, help and support. I hope that this occurs sooner rather than later so the future can start looking brighter,” Sophie concluded.

Veterinary series – share your story

Are you a vet overseas? If you want to share your story like this farm animal vet, e-mail: [email protected]

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