The first year in practice is arguably the most challenging, stressful and emotional, says Emily Gascoigne, who qualified in 2012. She has begun her career on a one-year intern programme with the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and Synergy Farm Health
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WITH the potential for ‘calamities’ in the form of client (mis-)communications, ethical dilemmas and clinical errors, the first year after qualifying can be an emotional rollercoaster. Couple that with working with valuable patients, performance-motivated clients and challenging on-call, the decision to become a farm animal clinician as a new graduate can be a brave one.
Although as an undergraduate I had waivered between the prospect of being a farm animal or mixed practitioner, my final-year rotations at the University of Cambridge and ultimate EMS placements cemented my choice to pursue a career in farm animal medicine. A mentor had told me that when you find ‘your’ subject, you discover a thirst for knowledge and skill. My final year highlighted that, although I enjoyed small animal and equine medicine, my enthusiasm was focused on farm work.
Many new graduates are dissuaded from farm animal practice due to a perceived lack of support, unfriendly on-call rotas, emergency call outs and demanding clients. I had similar concerns, but the potential rewards of a farm animal position outweighed those challenges. My requirements for my first position were short but essential – I would look for a supportive team, with a high caseload and an emphasis on continued learning.
I felt that an internship would meet these requirements and, having polished my CV, I began applying. Following interview, I accepted a Junior Clinical Training Scholarship with the RVC in association with Synergy Farm Health, Dorset. The practice is a 100 per cent farm animal practice in the south west. My working day involves shadowing routines and attending my own calls to individual animals, herd or flock health planning, and routine procedures such as castrations, disbudding, etc. I also have the opportunity to tailor my internship to my own interests, discuss cases with recognised specialists and work through targeted projects. I attend RVC CPD two days a month and am mentored within Synergy as well as by Nick Bell of the RVC's regional veterinary centre. The CPD has an emphasis on bovine medicine, but also includes pigs and sheep, postmortem techniques, infectious diseases, etc.
As the ‘Dorset intern’ I live with students ‘farm tracking’ at the RVC's field station in Dorset. My main role is to discuss clinical cases with them and attend a weekly clinical club at Synergy. Although a teaching position was not on my checklist as a prospective intern, it is an enjoyable and challenging part of my role, especially when the students are enthusiastic and inquisitive.
During my first week in the practice, I was encouraged to write a list of tasks that I was comfortable performing on my own, to which I would be given preference. On other calls, I have support or I shadow another colleague. In reality, the support I need is someone to run my thoughts past and for them to either tell me to crack on or to have a rethink.
The opportunity to shadow other vets with routine work has enabled me to build my confidence and meet clients. Individual cases have helped to cement my knowledge and skill set, and I can focus my reading and development accordingly. Access to the XL-Vet infrastructure also means that I can tap into experiences from beyond my own practice through group forums and publications.
Given the region, TB testing plays an inevitable role in the working day. As an intern, my involvement is capped, and I was provided with extra support for my first few large herd tests.
On-call can be a worry for new graduates, and the thought of being let loose is a concern. My inclusion on the rota has been gradual, shadowing other vets initially and then having phone support where necessary. The phone lines within the practice are managed centrally, enabling calls to be fielded accordingly. Although I anticipate on-call to be stressful (mostly fuelled by concerns about a lack of signal or sleeping through a phone call), knowing that I will have the support of my colleagues means that I will be able to concentrate on the cases in hand.
Extracurricular activities are an essential part of any new vet's timetable, and as a farm vet my first priority was to join the Dorset Young Farmers. The highlights so far have included attending a Wurzels concert, having a go at raft building, my first Young Farmers' ball and a clay pigeon shoot; I'm getting a diverse local education!
The RVC-Synergy internship has offered me a supportive working environment (with multiple specialists), a varied caseload (tailored to my interests), a flexible teaching component, access to resources and experience from within the RVC, continued knowledge development and the opportunity to become part of the local farming community in a beautiful part of the UK.
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