Having spent five years as a vet, it was difficult to know where to start when considering a career change.
There were valuable and satisfying aspects in being a vet – the client communication, problem solving and the potential to make a difference to pets and their owners, but there had been a niggle since university that grew the more time I spent in general practice. Client expectations were soaring and it seemed despite working more hours and on call, it was also impossible to meet them, and also impossible to reach the salaries of friends who’d come straight out of three years of university and started to work their way up various career ladders. Despite a challenging and academically rewarding five years at university, general practice was at risk of slipping into the comparatively mundane cycle of neuters, anal glands and foreign bodies.
The veterinary degree is so challenging it inevitably attracts high achieving students who are used to striving for perfection. What became apparent to me in practice is that ‘perfection’ is very hard to achieve. This, combined with a relative lack of opportunity for career progression, long hours with relatively poor pay, feelings of isolation, compassion fatigue and feeling under-appreciated by my employers certainly contributed to my dissatisfaction.
I found it hard to justify a career move to non-vet friends and family who were concerned that I was throwing away five years of hard graft at university, not to mention countless weeks of work experience and several years in practice. There were certainly a lot of “doesn’t it feel like a waste?” and incredulous cries of “you studied for five years and you don’t want to do it anymore??”
As a perfectionist, my fear of failure loomed large when I considered looking further afield for what made me happy. I was in danger of suffering a meltdown and, unsure of what immediate steps to take, I left my job to travel. On returning, the highs of spending six months working and travelling abroad fell short of the stark reality of trying settle back into a job that I knew wasn’t completely right for me. I felt I could not meet the perfect standards I had been taught to achieve in University and for a while I struggled with a depressive emotional battle trying to figure out what to do next.
I began to talk to people working in other careers I was interested in, burying myself in career change books and blog posts, hoping to find people who had done what I hoped to do and come out the other side. But the only information I could find about career changing from being a vet was how to move into research, or ‘big pharma’, or setting up practice on your own. It totally missed the point. Where was the encouragement to see yourself as valuable outside of the veterinary sector?
Speaking to people outside the sector, working as film makers, authors, journalists, etc. my perception of my veterinary degree gradually shifted – I began to view it as a tool kit rather than a ball and chain.
I realised I had a truly diverse set of transferable skills- the ability to identify and explore a problem, thoroughly research possible solutions, formulate a plan of action and communicate that plan and its outcome. It’s the keystone of multiple professions, from broadcast journalism to management consultancy, and the fact that it is tied to animal medicine should only help me stand out from the crowd in a competitive job market.
Some of my peer group have left the veterinary sector to explore other opportunities, others have stayed within it, working in general practice but building side-line careers. I chose to develop my passion for natural history and broadcast journalism by studying for a masters in science communication. My veterinary degree meant I could locum whilst I studied, reassured that once I completed my studies, I could take stock and reassess my options. Having a stable source of income supported me whilst I took the steps toward a career in media production.
People often find themselves with two or more careers under their belt in their lifetimes. Many vets are very happy in general practice. For me, it provided stability. But once I realised I could maintain a career in veterinary medicine by using a wealth of CPD opportunities, locum roles and support from veterinary groups, I found the freedom to challenge my expectations of my career and to explore another.