Dobrochna Machalinska qualified as vet in Poland. Wanting to be a general practitioner and to develop her skills and knowledge, she came to the UK. Overcoming language difficulties was just one of the challenges she faced in pursuing her ambition
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I GREW up in a family of lawyers; my parents and grandparents were lawyers. For the first 17 years of my life it was naturally assumed I would study law too, and my education was leading me in that direction. I changed my mind one year before high school graduation. I think I like challenges (even if I say I don't) and I wanted to start something new for myself.
It was not easy. I had been taught a lot of history, geography and social sciences in preparation for final school exams and for the exam to study law at university, but to become a vet I needed biology and chemistry. I found biology relatively easy, but chemistry gave me nightmares.
In Poland, studying for a veterinary degree takes six years. If you want to do well you must spend a lot of time studying, but you need luck as well. Did I consider giving up? Yes, several times!
When I was 22, I met my future husband and, although this brought its own commitments and responsibilities, I also had a great friend to give me strength and a lot of support. We also had a great dog – Lucky, my boxer. He should have been allowed to graduate with me, as he was always close to me during my studies.
In my second year at university, I had the opportunity to visit the UK. It didn't take me long to find a perfect way of spending the holiday – I found a great veterinary practice that was happy to take me as a volunteer to gain some work experience. I had gained some experience from my Polish practice, but the UK experience gave me a nice kick to study harder. My experience there may also have been why I decided to become a UK practising vet. I graduated on my birthday, which was an amazing present. The date of my birth and the date of my graduation look good on my diploma and I am truly proud of my degree.
After graduating in Poland, you are supposed to work under the wing of an experienced colleague for six months. This is good in theory, giving you support, encouragement and experience, but the reality is that it is highly competitive and older/experienced vets may be unwilling to share their knowledge and experience – some of my friends had not been allowed to perform a consultation one year after graduating.
I found a good place to start my veterinary journey. I started to work with the veterinary practice where I spent all my free time working as a student. Six months later I was prepared to work in general practice and I found a job at an out-of-hours hospital. There I was, a young graduate vet, dealing with emergency cases and working many hours. It was a fantastic experience. I saw a lot of cases and worked under huge pressure. I also had a chance to meet fantastic people, and my new boss was experienced, a good leader and a good man. On the other hand, we were working day and night, and after three years I was exhausted. Also, there was no chance to improve my surgical skills as surgery was reserved for senior vets. The only way to learn was to assist after working hours, but even so it wasn't possible to perform surgery alone.
The next step was to work in an animal shelter – but this was a challenge I failed. It wasn't the animals that were the problem, I was given a great opportunity to increase my surgical skills (mostly neutering) and to work hard; rather it was fighting with government departments for money, completing paperwork, a lack of structure and working with people who wouldn't listen. I felt it wasn't a place I could make a difference and I became depressed.
I had always wanted to visit Edinburgh, and in 2012 I got the opportunity. I saved for a ticket and packed my bag with my CV and all the necessary documents so that I could apply for work. This was when I found out that getting a job as a vet in practice was difficult without UK experience. This was frustrating: you need experience to get a job but you cannot get experience without a job.
One of the agencies I contacted suggested a veterinary nursing position at a veterinary practice on the south coast. I packed my luggage and, after travelling by bus, 22 hours later I attended an interview, was offered the job and started straight away. The job turned out to be not to be what I expected. Soon after I started work it became clear that the practice was only looking to fill a short-term position. The experience taught me how important it was to have a clear contract between employee and employer.
I have now been working for the Oval Pet Centre in Kent for more than three years, although it is more like the ‘Oval family’ as we are all so close. I work in an international team – the vets all come from different countries (Italy, Greece, Spain, Israel and, of course, the UK). It is an amazing opportunity to share our experiences from our own countries and there is a healthy balance between supporting others and encouraging higher standards. The support I have gained from the nursing staff has been immeasurable. (I personally think that some vets do not understand what a hard job the nurses do.)
It took some time to learn how to work with English clients – to understand their needs and their sense of humour – but I am happy they treat us as equals. We share a lot together, we talk about culture and lot of my clients have experience of knowing Polish people. I have never received a bad comment about my nationality.
People respect each other, treat each other nicely, and when it is a pleasure to go to work what else you can ask for? The fantastic thing for vets here is the chance to learn from experienced vets; for example, the UK referral system is a good invention.
Another benefit may sound somewhat strange, but, in the UK when the worst sad appointment comes and euthanasia is inevitable, there is a chance to have a an individual cremation for a pet. It can help owners get over this sad time and give a kind of relief. Believe me, in countries where individual cremation does not exist, it can be so much harder when the sad day comes.
I am now so much more confident in my job. Day-by-day I want more from life and it is fantastic that there is so much more to discover. I work with fantastic people, I have a great boss and lovely clients.
Vets in the UK have many different options open to them. We work hard, but our work is appreciated by happy owners of healthy pets. Every now and then, a postcard from a grateful client means more than words can say.