The summer before starting vet school provided Edward James with his first taste of living and working abroad, and whetted his appetite for further travel. He describes how far he got and what brought him home
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BEFORE starting my studies at Bristol, I spent three months working in a veterinary centre in the vibrant and bustling West African city of Accra. The days were spent assisting the local vets (who had trained in Russia and Cuba) in their efforts to treat sick and injured animals that had been brought to them, mainly by local pet owners or small holders. I found it frustrating when I experienced the commonly encountered attitude that treating and preventing disease in animals was of little perceived benefit, especially when funds, equipment and other resources were limited; nonetheless, the combination of a successful case and a happy client was always satisfying. The work was also made much more ‘interesting’ by having to make the assumption that sustaining a dog bite at anytime could result in contracting rabies.
I had a fantastic experience in Ghana, and will always remember the vivacious nature and infectious enthusiasm that the Ghanaians injected into almost every task they undertook. My time spent there whetted my appetite for further travel while at university, and made me realise how much it is possible to immerse oneself in a foreign culture by living and working in it for a short while.
Edward James is speaking on ‘expanding your horizons’ at the BVA Careers Fair on Thursday, November 15 as part of the London Vet Show. Entrance is exclusive to BVA members
Having intercalated in veterinary conservation medicine after my third year, and having spent some time seeing practice with the veterinary department at Whipsnade zoo, I had grand dreams of becoming a wildlife vet in a game reserve somewhere far flung and exotic (sadly not realised yet). To this end, I signed up to attend a chemical game capture course in South Africa during one of my summers away from university. Our time was spent anaesthetising rhinos and giraffes for the purposes of translocation between game reserves, performing routine health checks on a herd of buffalo, and funnelling wildebeest into a boma using an elaborate combination of helicopters, sirens and sliding curtains.
We had the opportunity to meet a crocodile farmer without a full complement of fingers and thumbs, came face-to-face with a black mamba that hadn't been devenomed, and performed a rumenotomy on a patient not commonly encountered in veterinary practice in the UK – a sable antelope. As much fun as all this was, I couldn't envisage myself making a viable inroad into this industry; to be honest, I also wasn't convinced that it was what I was looking for from a long-term career path either.
I was determined not to let this reality check scupper my desire to travel. Therefore, I decided to embark on an unsupported tandem bicycle ride from Land's End to John O'Groats in the summer following graduation, partly in order to raise funds for the Worldwide Veterinary Service. This was followed by some time spent travelling around Brazil and Venezuela before deciding to look for my first veterinary job in Australia. I rather naively failed to anticipate how tricky it might be to secure a job in a foreign country as a new graduate who hadn't practised in the nine months since graduation. While searching the veterinary press for job adverts, I managed to raise funds teaching people to kitesurf on the sun-kissed suburban beaches of St Kilda, in Melbourne. This soon turned into a weekend job once I managed to start veterinary work, but then stopped altogether when I realised how brutally cold a Melbourne winter can be.
Apart from treating and preventing a slightly different profile of infectious diseases, assessing patients for heat stroke, and treating patients for venomous snake bite intoxication, I was very surprised by the similarities between general practice in the UK and Australia. I tried to see as much of the country as possible during my four weeks' annual leave; however, looking back on my time in Australia, I think it would have been a better idea to have gone out as a slightly more experienced practitioner on a 12-month working holiday visa, which would have allowed me to split my time between various locum jobs, and would have allowed me to work, live and travel in many more areas of the country.
So, having realised that a working life is a working life wherever you are in the world, and having had my naive dreams of Australian weather and lifestyle blown away, I decided to return home after only a year in my first job. Happily reunited with my family and friends, I spent just under another year working in general practice before embarking on my next adventure: a rotating internship in small animal medicine and surgery at the Royal Veterinary College. Who knows where this change of tack will take me?