Hi! My name’s Jess and I’m a vet student. In fact, I’ve been a full-time student, of one kind or another, continuously since the age of 6. That’s 74 per cent of my life. I have a very expensive brain.
I haven’t always wanted to be a vet. I’ve always thought animals were simply the best, but at the end of Year 12 it was a toss-up between science or journalism. I opted for science, with little intention of doing vet – in my teenage angst I had reduced the profession to the purveyors of two tasks: alleviating puppies from the burden of their testicles and euthanising elderly cats. Of course, not only is this fairly offensive, it’s also wildly inaccurate. Indeed, veterinary medicine is one of the least-dull careers you could hope to find yourself in – it’s proving to be an adventure-filled field with an endless variety of animals (and animal owners), challenges and rewards.
At the end of my second year of science at the University of Melbourne, I had to decide between zoology and vet. Despite the best efforts of first-year chemistry and physics (eugh maths), I’d worked my butt off and had the marks to get into vet. This was possible after second year because of the University’s ‘accelerated’ pathway. In this alternative route into the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, the final year of your undergraduate science degree and the first year of your postgraduate DVM degree are the same. This takes a year off your total study time, allowing you to complete your DVM in three years instead of four. So I thought I’d give vet a crack. I’m confident that was a good call.
Giraffes: scientifically proven to have the best eyelashes in the animal kingdom (dairy cows are a close second).
I’m now 12 months away from graduating as a vet. I’ve started playing a game where I look at product use-by-dates and work out whether I’ll be a vet by the time they go off. I can proudly say that I will be using Dr as my prefix before the hot chocolate powder in my pantry goes rancid – what a world!
Sure, it’s been a hard slog at times, but I’ve also learned (and promptly forgotten) more than I ever thought possible, had amazing experiences and made some great mates. Placements have been one of my favourite things about vet. You’re required to do these on farms and other animal enterprises first, and later in vet clinics. These offer a remarkable opportunity to enter worlds you’d never normally be a part of. Farmers invite you into their family homes, staff share their prized road-kill curry recipes with you, and you get a lot of practice at opening farm gates.
You can have a wide variety of experiences on your placements. In the space of a couple of weeks I went from a placement on a salmon farm in one of the most southerly parts of Tasmania (and indeed Australia), to doing yoga at 2:00am on a highway on the tropical Cape York Peninsula, which is just about as far north as you can go in Australia. The latter was while waiting for a critically endangered bat, never before captured in Australia, to fly into traps. The aim of trapping and then releasing these elusive bats was to attach radio trackers. These miniature devices will enable researchers to start answering some fundamental questions about the bats’ ecology and biology, and so better guide decisions about their conservation. This really highlights the diversity of species you can work with if you’re keen and up for a challenge!
A spotted-tail (or tiger) quoll is a feisty carnivorous marsupial. This big male was trapped and released as part of a study on carnivore interactions in rural Tasmania. It was very, very cold and started snowing 2 minutes after the photo was taken.
In the longer term, I would be delighted to work in conservation medicine, an emerging field that applies the principles of veterinary science with the goal of ensuring the survival of species and ecosystems. In a world where crazy, scary statistics about extinction are a reality – one quarter of all mammal species on the planet are threatened with extinction, and a terrifying 40 per cent of amphibians – there is an ever-growing need for interdisciplinary cooperation on conservation topics. Conservation medicine is an essential and fascinating field with numerous challenges that require a real ecosystem-level focus, and it embraces some of the most forgotten, weird and cool species on the planet.
If this is an area you are interested in, I would encourage you to get involved with wildlife in any way possible – be a fieldwork volunteer, find your local wildlife shelter and get involved with the vet student’s Wildlife Appreciation Group. I’m currently the group’s president, and more than being an outlet for my love of emails and OH&S, it’s a great group that organises wildlife-related workshops, speakers and excursions.
Stoked with our first effort at applying a plaster cast!
Ultimately, I hope everyone enjoys their adventures in veterinary medicine as much as I have! To help you on your way, here are my top three practical tips for making the most of vet school:
- Get a good quality desk chair. You’ll be getting very familiar with one another, so set yourself up for a positive, long-term relationship.
- Don’t let being a vet student become your entire identity. Cling to your hobbies - they keep you sane. They don’t have to always be ‘cool’ activities like netball or playing in a band – eating popcorn on the couch with your housemates is equally valid... but do try and exercise semi-regularly too!
- Say yes to (most) things. For example: “Do you want to go to this speakers event?”, “Should I apply for this position/job/placement?”, “Reckon I can pet this aggressive dog?” – the correct answer to two out of three of these questions is ‘yes!’.
I would like to dedicate this post to Centrelink – the Australian Government's student income support program – for sustaining my passion for not starving since 2014.