Work experience is an important aspect of the veterinary profession. This allows school students to get a 'behind the scenes' look at the role of a vet and vet nurse and how to carry out animal husbandry. But getting work experience doesn't stop once you start studying. Both veterinary students and veterinary nursing students have to carry out placements to gain more experience. Always check with the institution on their requirements as they can differ each year.
Why Do I Need it?
Yes, finding a work experience opportunity is very hard (I've had to apply to the same place at least 5 times just to get my foot in the door). Finding work experience despite numerous setbacks shows resilience which is an attribute that universities are looking for. Work experience also allows you to see what it’s like to either work as a vet or vet nurse as well as how the animal industry operates. Most experience at this stage will mainly consist of observation and cleaning, but these are key to learning about the industry. This will be the opportunity to experience seeing animals when they are ill, work in high pressured situations and witness what is needed to care for animals. After all, you'll need to know if you can stand up for 2 hours in a warm operating theatre before you start the course. Remember that it’s all about what you learn about the veterinary (and agricultural for vet students) profession. Someone may have gone abroad and helped to dart wild cats for a few months but failed to address what they actually learnt. Even if you've only done the minimal requirements in a vet practice and a non-clinical environment, I can guarantee that you would have seen many different aspects of veterinary medicine which you can discuss in your personal statement.
So, Where Can I Go?
Double-check with the university if they have any specific requirements, but here are some ideas to get the ball rolling.
Catteries & Kennels
This is a great chance to learn animal behaviour and husbandry (including the opportunity to cuddle cute cats and dogs).
Some other options that you can check out:
Zoos (Look for smaller scale zoos or wildlife parks)
Chicken (Poultry) farms (although unlikely due to Avian Influenza right now)
Places To Look
Search the Work Away site
Ask friends and family if they know of any farms (don't forget your teachers too!)
Facebook - Farming groups
You can search all of the registered dairy farms here (you may need some cluedo work to search the farm name, but their contact details may be available online)
*Please be safe when contacting individuals and always consult your guardian before doing so*
Please be aware that you may not be physically involved in much during work experience. Especially in a clinical setting. And yes, helping out by cleaning goes a long way as infection control is very important.
Tips On Applying
Do your research:
Show that you've looked into the farm/vet that you are applying to - This shows enthusiasm and initiative.
I'd recommend contacting places via email, phone or by letter. Contacting places through email and then following up with a phone call may be quicker and more ideal. But do not forget that you can always hand in your details in person - a great chance to show your face and check out a possible future placement.
Contact them yourself:
This shows that you are a responsible individual. So try not to get your guardian to do this on your behalf (but only apply to places where you feel safe to work in)
If there are no vacancies at the time, keep a note of this and apply in the future if possible. Never be afraid to follow up after you apply. Many practices and farms are busy so may be dealing with critical animals.
You may find opportunities that are further away from home. Consider staying with other family or friends in order to widen your searches
CV and Cover letter:
You don't always need this, but I prefer to send these to future placements. Have an updated CV and cover letter ready (for both clinical and non-clinical placements). A cover letter is a chance for the placement to know more about you and what you want to achieve. Ensure that everything is spelt correctly and that it is addressed to the appropriate person/company. Try and keep your documents to one page. Here's a link to tips for writing your CV and cover letter.
Most work experience at this stage will mainly be observation. But do not be discouraged as there is so much to learn (i.e. animal behaviour, how staff approach particular situations)
Bring along a notepad with you to take daily notes or any questions that you would like to get answered
This is a given, but be on time and be polite to everyone - the veterinary world is particularly small
You will be on your feet for most of the time, so bring comfortable shoes
Do not be afraid to ask to help out. See if anything needs to be cleaned (infection control is very important)
Pro tip: no one will ever refuse a tea or coffee
Research the animals that you will be working with. Try and become familiar with their welfare needs
When working outside, wear lots of layers and consider wearing steel-toe cap shoes when working with large animals
Be prepared to see animals in distress. This can be upsetting (no matter what stage you are in during your career). They are in the best hands but you can take breaks if you are not comfortable
You may be dealing with animal body fluids/waste. So please wash your hands thoroughly as some diseases may be zoonotic (research the typical diseases you may see on a farm that humans can get too)
Be honest and work within your own capabilities. There is no shame in saying that you are not confident when working with a particular species. You will learn much more when the staff show you how to do things safely and correctly
Don't forget to take breaks! Days can be long and busy. Staff may forget to send you off when critical cases come in and have to take priority. So please do mention to a member of staff when you are due a break or tired
Last but not least, ask for a reference after your placement