For today’s interview please welcome Chris from Vet School Diary. Chris is from the UK and has taken an unconventional study route to becoming a vet, he is here today to tell us why.
1. Firstly, please introduce yourself and tell us a little about where you are from and your background. Hi, my name is Chris Allen and I originally grew up in East London. I have a degree in bioveterinary science, am a Marine Mammal Medic, and until last September studied at UWE, where I was president of a student society and represented the student body at NUS National Conference 2012. I now live in Slovakia where I am studying to become a veterinary surgeon.
2. You are currently training to be a vet, is this something that you have always wanted to do? You know when you are young and get asked what do you want to be when you grow up? I never actually knew! I was always interested in science (especially chemistry), animals and nature however, being in London my experiences of these were limited.
The light bulb didn’t really go on for me until after college, I was reading a friend’s veterinary textbook and realised that I found it absolutely fascinating! I started to learn more and volunteer with different places which reassured me that I had found my perfect career!
3. Please tell us a little more about the difficulties you have experienced in finding funding for your course. As I didn’t have the A-Levels I needed for Vet School straight off, I decided to go the postgraduate route doing a related bioveterinary science degree first, which was the only route open to me.
Unfortunately, unlike undergraduate fees, the UK Postgraduate tuition fees are not regulated by government so are in the tens of thousands a year. There are also no educational loans or grants available to postgraduate students, so it is a case of having to look privately for funding to charities, parents or businesses. With so much competition this is extremely difficult to do, and I know that many people that are accepted to vet school as postgraduate students cannot take their places due to the cost.
4. You have found a very unique way to overcome this challenge, can you tell us more about what you are doing. Well the first step I took was to forget studying in the UK and move to Slovakia where tuition fees are only 7500 euros a year.
Secondly to that I decided to put my computer skills to use and start a website (http://www.vetschooldiary.com) to keep a diary of my entire experience, which I hoped would also give me the ability to attract sponsorship from different people. It is starting to take off, however getting started has been slower than I anticipated due to the intensity of the course and my lack of spare time. I’ve also tried to apply for every grant that I am eligible for.
5. Please tell us a little about your typical day, both in your education and with everything else that is involved in running your website. Also as you are studying abroad, did you find studying in another language a problem? The course is actually in the English language which is why there are fees, if I was able to study in Slovak I would get free tuition under the terms of education within the EU. My language skills are now better, however I do still struggle sometimes with things like ordering lunch and shopping!
In terms of a typical day, lectures start at 8am (next year they start at 7am and finish 5pm!) and I usually read through the notes of the previous lecture first. Lectures will finish around 3, then on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays there is anatomy self-study until 8pm. After this I will usually spend time revising, and writing up my account of the day for my website in draft form (generally I should post every day, however I just don’t have the time to finish the article and sleep as well!). I do most of the tidying up and publishing of the articles for my website that I have started, on Friday evening and over the weekend.
6. Have you always loved animals and had pets in your life? When I was little I used to have goldfish (though always struggled to keep them alive) and then there was the hamster that kept escaping his cage – I think the most random place it turned up was under the wardrobe at around 3am – and finally a family dog. I think the animals that made the biggest impression though were the frogs in the pond, a hedgehog in the garden, a squirrel that used to steal the birds’ food and our winter robin.
7. Please tell us a little about any of the pets/animals that you have encountered through your work or studies, and as this is Pet Hooligans, whether they have ever got into any mischief? This is the hardest question so far! In terms of surgery I think the most interesting was a hedgehog, no mischief at all because we had our friend Mr Anaesthesia helping.
In terms of the biggest mischief, one example is during lambing one year I was moving lambs and ewes (mommy sheep) out of the lambing shed onto the trailer to be moved out to grass. I was moving a ewe out of the barn, with one of her lambs in either hand, when she decided she wanted to go back in through my legs! This ended with me flat on my back holding up the lambs (who were not hurt) in front of the shepherd and classmates who were in fits of laughter.
The second occasion was whilst working in a wildlife hospital, we had a squirrel come in after being hit by a car. This squirrel was completely nutty (not sure if it was trauma or just personality), and each day we had to move every animal to a clean cage whilst we cleaned their old cage. Now this girl got me when I went to move her, going straight over my head and running round the room for 5 minutes before we could get her back into a cage!
8. What are your plans for the future, once your course is complete, do you have any thoughts on where you will live and work, and are you hoping to specialize in any particular area? With Veterinary Medicine generally you don’t really start learning until you start working (just think about how much vet school fits into such a short time) so I would like to spend a few years working in mixed animal practice to get my skills sharp. I then would like to specialise in exotics and wildlife as I don’t think that enough attention is given to them in general practice.
9. If people are interested in working with animals, maybe as a vet or veterinary nurse, do you have any advice for them? I would tell them to get out and experience it first hand, many vets are happy to have students shadowing or doing work experience, however make sure you arrange it yourself as it shows you want to do it yourself and are not being pressured by parents or friends! From friends that have studied as Vet Nurses, the general advice is that doing it the NVQ route instead of a degree is better. And in terms of vet school, don’t limit yourself to just the UK, I did actually even consider Pretoria in South Africa as they have their own game reserve as well (I didn’t do this because it would have been 5 years study not 4 for me)!
10. Finally, if people want to learn more about you or help with funding your studies, please can you share details of your website, Facebook page or Twitter profile where they can learn more? Sure, my website is Vet School Diary http://www.vetschooldiary.com and you can contribute to my fund or start business sponsorship securely by PayPal there as well as get in touch with me.