If you love animals and are thinking of becoming a Vet, it’s going to require five to seven years of tertiary studies and lots of hands on work experience.
But that’s not all, it takes a special kind of person to work as a Vet and you’ll need lots of skills that you might not have thought about to be successful and deal with the highs and lows that come along with this role.
To get some insight into what you should think about while you’re still at high school, we had a chat with Charlotte Williamson a Vet with over 13 years experience in the industry, here’s what she had to say.
SWG: What did your pathway to becoming a Veterinarian look like?
Charlotte: As a child I was interested in becoming a vet because I was always surrounded by animals. We were quite an animal focused household with pet dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, guinea-pigs, poultry, etc.
However once I reached Year 12, the many career options on offer made my choice a little less clear. In the end my top choices of degrees to study at university ended up being physiotherapy, followed by vet science.
I graduated from Cairns State High School with an OP 2, which meant I ended up being offered my third choice- Speech Pathology. After my first year of the Speech Pathology degree, I decided to transfer over to Veterinary Science.
SWG: How did you choose the university you studied at?
Charlotte: In 1994 the University of Queensland (in Brisbane) was the closest university to Cairns offering Veterinary Science. It also had a great reputation and back then had great facilities in Brisbane-including a university veterinary clinic at the St Lucia campus, a horse stud, poultry farm, piggery, as well as beef cattle and dairy cattle herds at Pinjarra Hills (half hour drive from the St Lucia campus). All our learning (40+ hours per week) was completed onsite, either at the University campus in St Lucia or at the Vet Farm at Pinjarra hills.
SWG: Which high school subjects are the most necessary or useful for tertiary Veterinary studies?
Charlotte: Veterinary studies require a science and maths focus. Back in the 90’s you required chemistry, physics and maths 1 to enter.
SWG: What were some of the most challenging aspects of your veterinary studies?
Charlotte: The most challenging parts of the Veterinary Science degree were the contact hours and volume of information you need to learn. We had the highest contact hours of any degree. In addition to this, we completed prac rotations during holidays.
The university workload was especially challenging especially around exam and assignment time. And made it difficult to dedicate many hours to a part-time job.
SWG: What are some of the core skills that you think are needed to work as a Veterinarian?
Charlotte: The most important core skill for veterinarians is interpersonal skills (between you and your clients, and between you and other team members).
Vets need to be able to empathise with clients and communicate clearly.
You must also be pragmatic, knowing that you cannot always deliver best practice according to client finances and attitudes. (Veterinary medicine and surgery are not subsidised by government so the full costs of medicine and surgery are passed on to clients making our services appear quite expensive. As such, not all owners can afford full treatment for their pet). As a vet you regularly have to strike a compromise between health outcome and owner permission.
You also need to be practical this is a hands-on job. You must be safety conscious and confident in your skills. Handling animals can be dangerous e.g. aggressive dogs and flighty horses.
You must be a good problem solver, this is the core aspect of your job – fixing pet health problems. Diagnoses are not always easy and can be difficult when owner finances restrict the diagnostic tools and tests available for a case.
SWG: What are the highlights of working as a Vet?
Charlotte: Making a big difference to the lives of animals and people.
Vets also enjoy a varied workload.
Vets have an amazing skill set. As a vet, your role involves being an anaesthetist, dentist, pharmacist, surgeon, physician, general practitioner, dermatologist, behaviourist and counsellor, all rolled into one!
Working with a close-knit team of highly motivated people with common goal
SWG: What are some of the most challenging aspects of your work?
Charlotte: Vets deal with life and death scenarios on a daily basis which can lead to emotional and carer fatigue, and high burn-out rates.
As a vet you need an extensive knowledge base and skill set. However, in primary care practice this can lead to vets feeling like a ‘jack of all trades and master of none’.
As a vet you take onboard a high level of professional responsibility and are often held accountable for case outcomes. There are also additional stressors when balancing patient care with owner finances. Not all clients can afford best care practice.
Contact hours can be high- especially if you are required to be on-call in addition to your workday hours.
SWG: Could you tell us about some of the areas that you can specialise in as a vet?
Charlotte: Vets can undertake further study and internships to become specialists in the areas of dentistry, surgery, medicine, dermatology, radiology, anaesthetics, reproduction, and epidemiology.
Most specialists are based in capital cities (and larger regional cities such as New Castle, Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast) working in specialist centres.
SWG: As a Vet which animals do you get to work with?
Charlotte: After completing your degree, you are qualified to work with all species. Vets tend to fall into one of the following work streams:
- production animals (dairy and beef, cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry etc)
- mixed animal practice (small and large animal work e.g. pets, horses and production animals)
- equine practice (horses)
- companion animal (pet dogs, cats etc)
- wildlife veterinary work (zoo work)
- research, epidemiology, academic roles
SWG: What do you recommend high school students do to find out if they’re cut out for a career as a Vet?
Charlotte: Speak to vets and spend time in a veterinary clinic. Consider the following:
- can you handle long hours with a constant workload?
- are you ready for the emotional responsibility of caring for someone’s pet (many owners treat their pets like members of the family so the stakes are high)?
- are you a good communicator and do you like listening to and helping people?
- can you handle the gross stuff- blood, guts, pus, vomit, diarrhoea?
- are you able to handle your emotions- euthanasia, sick and dying pets?
SWG: If you could go back and speak to yourself in high school, what words of advice would you give yourself to best prepare for a career as a Vet?
Charlotte: Spend time doing student placements in several veterinary clinics to get a real feel for the work (this wasn’t a school requirement in my day).
Try getting a job as a kennel hand in a clinic so you can see the job first-hand.
Don’t be misled by tv productions and movies. Being a vet is often romanticised.
SWG: Thanks so much for sharing your time and knowledge with us Charlotte.
If after reading this interview you’re still thinking about a career as a Vet or perhaps you’ve been inspired to consider it as a career path that’s right for you, you can find out more in our job spotlight or explore similar careers on the Study Work Grow website.
The first edition of the Entry to Veterinary Science Guide and Handbook are out soon. They could you to discover:
- What a career in Veterinary Science is like
- Pathways to becoming a Vet in Australia
- The Admissions Process and how to apply
- Accredited Veterinary courses available in Australia in 2022
- The Handbook explores the career in more depth, designed to help you explore if a career as Vet could suit you and to work out the best pathway for you.