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Advice for veterinary students from BVA President

20 Oct 2021 | Justine Shotton

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Reflecting on her vet school experience, BVA President Justine Shotton shares some advice for vet school students.

Advice for veterinary students from BVA President Image

What do you now wish you had known at vet school?

I think if you’re keen to get into wildlife or zoo work then go for it, but be prepared that although it’s an amazing job, the remuneration is low. I’ve still had to keep locuming with cats and dogs at weekends on top of a full time zoo job, and this can be very tiring. There’s also less work with wild animals in ‘the field’, as rightly so countries are using home-grown vets to do that work. But if you’re passionate, go for it! It’s incredibly rewarding work and nice to contribute to the bigger conservation picture. 

What’s your top tip for a vet student?

The following is probably the best advice I can give students embarking on their careers - don’t be scared to see something just because it’s not a cat, dog, horse or cow - you have all the skills to make an initial assessment and there are lots of helpful people that working in zoo, wildlife and exotics fields that can help you with cases too. You have a big opportunity to help that animal and often if you are not brave enough to try, no one else will, and that could result in welfare compromises. So please don’t be afraid to have a go. Remember also that euthanasia is an important option to consider particularly for injured wildlife that may be very stressed by handling. Always put the animal’s welfare first and consider all options. Just because you can fix it, doesn’t mean that you should. 

What was your vet school highlight? And at low points, what did you do to keep going?

I enjoyed vet school and worked hard but also made the most of the opportunities of sports and adventure that university offered. My intercalated year at the RVC studying veterinary pathology was wonderful and I also spent a summer at Cornell on the Leadership programme which was a fantastic experience. Studying for exams always felt challenging; I remember having all of the drug names on post-it notes across all of the walls of my room and would stare at them wondering how they would get into my head! To keep going I had a great group of supportive friends, made sure I took time for sport and holidays and just believed in the long-term hope that it would all be worth it - and remembered that I was doing this to help make animals’ lives better, which was an important value and motivator for me. 

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