With a passion for travel, Steve Pointing travelled to the Falkland Islands in 1998 to become the islands' senior veterinary officer.
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How did you end up working in the Falkland Islands?
I've always wanted to travel – perhaps as a result of spending the first 18 years of my life in a small village in Devon. Once you have been bitten by the travel bug it becomes quite difficult to return to life in the UK.
How did you get to where you are today?
I qualified from Bristol university in 1979. After two years in mixed general practice I did a Masters in tropical animal health and production at Edinburgh. I then took up a post as veterinary officer in Yemen, followed by a similar post in Vanuatu, funded through what was then the Overseas Development Administration. My current position with the Falkland Islands government is entirely paid for by the Falkland Islands' treasury.⇓
How do you spend a typical day?
It rather depends on the time of the year as to what is typical for that season. We run a small animal clinic and this covers a range of conditions seen routinely in UK small animal practice. We also visit farms to carry out a range of procedures, from pregnancy diagnoses in cattle, scanning of ewes, castration of colts, assisting Australian colleagues with sheep AI and embryo transfer, and the whole gamut of other farm animal veterinary procedures.
We also have a role as the Government Veterinary Service and have been designated as the competent authority for the red meat and fishing industries. This entails regular visits to and inspections of the EU-approved export abattoir and approximately 20 fishing vessels. Meat and fishery products being exported to the EU have to meet the conditions set out in numerous EU regulations. The veterinary section is responsible for ensuring that this is the case.
What do you like about your job?
The variety of the work and the people I work with.
What do you not like?
Not having sufficient time to properly research some of the issues that arise during the course of a day's work. There are only two full-time vets here.
Why is your job important?
The mainstay of the Falklands' economy is revenue from the fishing industry. We are the local regulators of the industry as far as hygiene and public health issues are concerned, and if we are not satisfied that the required conditions are being fully met we can refuse to issue the health certification that must accompany export consignments to the EU. I like to think that we have developed a good working relationship between the fishing industry and those who have to regulate it.
What advice would you give to someone considering a similar career?
Probably not to embark on one! It has become increasingly difficult to find interesting jobs overseas that are reasonably well paid. I often think that I came to the profession about 20 years too late – the last days of being able to work as a colonial veterinary officer ended during the 1970s. I would have loved to have worked in Africa during the days of trying to control rinderpest, contagious bovine pleuropneumonia and other tropical diseases. I really enjoy the epidemiological aspects of disease control.
What is your proudest moment?
On a personal note – seeing my children grow up and develop into caring, well-rounded individuals ready to make their mark in the world. Professionally – possibly setting up a veterinary clinic from scratch in North Yemen. For the first three months there my Yemeni assistant and I were lucky if we saw more than one or two patients a day; by the time I left, two years later, there was a thriving practice. Unfortunately, it has not prospered as a result of the political and religious upheaval in that part of the world.
What's the best piece of advice you were ever given?
As far as veterinary advice is concerned, it is that the way you relate to the owners of pet animals is just as important as how you handle their pets. More generally, ‘to treat others as you would like them to treat you’, which I suppose could apply to animals in your care as well as other human beings.
What is your most embarrassing moment?
Falling off a chairlift at a ski resort in Chile in front of my family and loads of other skiers. Even more embarrassing was my attempt to get up, with skis crossed and legs going in all directions and everyone thinking it was very funny (except me)!