The best way to get a ‘head start’ into the vet industry is to get experience! I’d recommend spending at least a few weeks with a range of different vets and other animal enterprises such as farms. I’d recommend doing these in 5 day blocks to start with, and maybe moving to two-week blocks when your confidence builds up and you begin to find the clinical environment more comfortable.
The great thing about being school-age is that many veterinary practices will love having you on as a work-experience student. As a work experience student you’ll learn a lot about the day-to-day running of a veterinary clinic, learn a LOT about animal health (playing around with stethoscopes and horses for hours was one of my highlights from year 11 work experience), see some awesome cases and surgeries, and you’ll also make connections with people who will be able to help you in your career!
You can normally organise a work experience placement fairly simply, because as I said - vets love sharing their knowledge! Here my tips/steps:
- Drop off a letter: The first step in successfully organising work experience is establishing contact. In a busy practice there are dozens of phone calls and visits every day. In order to make sure they take notice of you a letter is invaluable. They can pin it on a noticeboard, or easily share it with the relevant vet/paravet without the breakdown in communication that can happen with word of mouth.
Physically going in to the practice also helps to solidify you in the minds of the staff - increasing the probability that they will remember you!
For this letter you should aim to keep it concise and to the point. Include information such a your name, age, stage of schooling and your contact details. In the body of the letter introduce yourself, then explain that you are interested in undertaking work experience in a veterinary practice. You should include in your letter the dates that you are available (eg: school holidays) so the practice will know if they can actually accommodate you - unfortunately there are sometimes lots of students wanting to carry out work experience, as well as veterinary students on rotation, so a vet practice can get busy!
- Follow it up with a phone call: Once you have established contact with the practice and they’ve said that they’ll get in contact with you there can be a nervous wait - especially if it’s a practice you REALLY want to go to!
Before worrying that they don’t want you for work experience try to remember that a vet clinic is incredibly busy and they may just not have gotten around to it. If you haven’t heard back in a few days give them a call to check in and ask if they are still interested in having you.
- Give a confirmation call: Assuming that everything has gone to plan and you have your 5 days of placement booked in for your school holiday you should give the practice a call towards the end of the week before your placement to: a) Ask what their dress-code is, b) find out what time to arrive, and c) ensure that they can still have you. Sometimes practices will have emergencies or be short staffed at the last minute and will unfortunately be unable to host you - it’ unfortunate, but it happens.
- On the day: RELAX. Nobody knows exactly what they are doing when they first walk into a vet clinic. You’re there primarily to observe, not to be made to feel pressured or uncomfortable in any way. While saying that, the ability to take the initiative and be an active participant in the practice is always well-received. I’m not saying you should start answering the phone for the clinic on your first day (though you may end up giving this a go), but helping to clean up consult rooms or animals, helping to give food and water to animals that can have it, and generally being helpful will all contribute to a positive reaction from the staff. This will make them more receptive to your questions and also make them more willing to have you back should you wish to do more work experience.
- LASTLY: If you don’t get work experience then go down the road and ask the other vet practice. The key to success is determination. The ball is firmly in your court and the experience is out there, so don’t let anything stand in your way!
I hope that helped!
If you like, I could write a draft letter like I used to write up in high school to give you an idea of the kind of thing I mean.
As always, I enjoy answering your questions!
P.S. Vet School is very challenging, but definitely worth it!