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InFocus

“Sometimes you just happen to cross paths with a person who likes the cut of your jib and you like the sound of their job”

Equine practice is an interesting kettle of fish when it comes to career pathways. I cannot say I have anything else to compare it to in terms of first-hand experience, but I have stayed in touch with friends who have embarked on careers working with other species, and it is interesting to see how things differ, or don’t, in some cases.

At university, clinicians often point out that the impression you leave when you “see practice” is just as valuable to your career as the medical knowledge you gain and the clinical skills you hone. This notion rings true for many new graduates when their “foster-practice” offers them their first job. And for those who are not offered jobs or want to seek employment beyond their offerings, there is the well-established job-seeking technique utilised by most other industries: one that involves trawling the jobs boards, donning a shirt and attending interviews. As some discover, this occasionally results in the unfortunate situation of a poor match and subsequently short-lived spell of employment. This is what life is all about: discovering what you like, or rather who you like, and then moving on if the match is not all it is cracked up to be.

What has occurred to me to be a distinctly influencing factor that can greatly affect the outcome (read happiness) of an individual’s career path and employment history is the variability of choice.

What has occurred to me to be a distinctly influencing factor that can greatly affect the outcome (read happiness) of an individual’s career path and employment history is the variability of choice

Many of my friends in the “smallies” world gravitated towards the more densely populated areas of the country, while the farm and equine practitioners, unsurprisingly, ended up in more rural parts. Bar those who are practice owners, many of my small animal vet friends have, by now, worked for several practices and do not appear to be short of options if their current practice does not work out for them. The population density of cats and dogs inevitably allows for more practices in a given geographical area. I am not suggesting that this is a good or better situation to be in but rather that this is just the way it is. I imagine this population density might allow for more options if one were to feel that they needed a change, and it might appear to allow for more opportunities as a locum. In equine (and even more so in farm, I am guessing) there are fewer practices to choose from in a set area which limits the choices you have when it comes to choosing a practice that “fits” you.

The same issue appears to apply to specialisation as a form of career progression. If you choose to be a specialist in a human medical field, you are likely to find employment in most parts of the country, within reason. Small animal vets are likely to be more limited, but presumably less so than those in equine or farm. A sheep specialist I know has to spend half the year abroad and away from his wife and kids because of his field of expertise, a field he presumably chose before his kids were even in the picture. A lot can happen during the time it takes to specialise, so it would not be feasible, or advisable, to plan your existence purely around your career choices. But this can, at times, be a limiting factor when your future job pool is relatively small. Of course, this applies to many other industries too: if you choose to work in the oil industry or as a mountain rescuer, you are likely to be restricted to certain geographical regions.

A lot can happen during the time it takes to specialise, so it would not be feasible, or advisable, to plan your existence purely around your career choices

With a large proportion of vets across all the species fields pursuing careers in general practice, this is where the biggest job pool remains. Historically, most GPs would have ended up as practice owners by way of career progression. They would have climbed a ladder, perhaps one where the lower rungs were trodden as a visiting student. There would have been a degree of fostering and investing in that individual, which perhaps would have limited the individual’s ability to move practices if required.

As times have changed and corporatisation has increased, so has this role of fostering and investing, which has been taken on by employers at a more national scale through graduate programmes and the like. This has likely opened many doors and provided greater choice for some individuals, particularly where multiple practices exist within a commutable area, so there are pros and cons alike.

An aspect of the industry which the equine world has relied heavily upon when it comes to recruitment is its small and niche nature. The industry’s equestrian disciplines and highly specialised work has spawned networks both small and large upon which many employers and employees rely. The horse sector really does have an underworld of Jilly Cooper-esque clientele and Dick Francis-worthy trainers… perhaps it attracts the same type of vets?

In equine practice, a great deal relies on one’s reputation. Being held in high regard by a local Olympian or being known to the local travellers provides a rich tapestry with which one might build a palace-like practice in the Cotswolds or create a magic carpet on which to fly around the world, treating the World Cup’s top contenders. These career wormholes have led to many “GP” equine vets building illustrious careers without ever needing to pick up a textbook or journal beyond their requisite CPD.

Sometimes you just happen to cross paths with a person who likes the cut of your jib and you like the sound of their job. I know many vets and nurses who have met future employers and employees alike while choosing sandwiches at a CPD course buffet, and more still who have successfully been part of a subconscious professional match-making at the hotel bar during a BEVA Congress (I presume the same happens at the other species’ congresses but, sadly, I have never partaken). While we all assume that we are being judged as we progress by those we meet and seek to impress, it is worth remembering that you are also assessing the field for leaders to aspire to. We have all met senior members of our professions who have inspired us to be where we are, and who fuel the ambition that keeps us travelling in the direction of our choice. But we should never fail to remember that sometimes we have already achieved things that others can only dream of.

While we all assume that we are being judged as we progress by those we meet and seek to impress, it is worth remembering that you are also assessing the field for leaders to aspire to

We are all members of an incredibly diverse profession which contains an array of colourful individuals who we are blessed not only to work alongside but to occasionally share a bottle of wine with. I for one am looking forward to raising a glass with the incredible individuals that make up the equine sector when we get the chance to meet again for BEVA Congress 2021 in Birmingham this September. Fingers firmly crossed…

Lucy Grieve

Lucy Grieve, MA, VetMB, MRCVS, is an ambulatory assistant at Rossdales Veterinary Surgeons, Newmarket, and past president of BEVA (2020 – 2021).


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