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Alternative veterinary careers: Combining education and research

The most obvious career path for veterinary graduates is practice, but there are a number of other options available. Stacey Blease, AWF trustee, tells us about her journey to becoming Head of Learning and Development at the British Veterinary Nursing Association.

If you enjoy practice and are supported, that’s great. However, if at any time you decide not to work in practice as a vet (or vet nurse), it doesn’t mean that you have failed or have wasted your qualification because there are other career options available.

How I became aware of ‘different’ career options

After 3 years at the University of Liverpool I intercalated and completed a Master’s degree at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. I shared an office with several qualified vets who were undertaking PhDs and they often spoke about the range of career options they were considering after completing their PhDs such as academia or the pharmaceutical industry so I may have had a greater awareness of different career options than some of my peers.

Learning to recognise and create opportunities

At my second secondary school we used to take it in turns to read out ‘the thought of the day’. I can’t remember the quote which was read aloud but the meaning behind it was about making the most of opportunities when they come your way, but also creating opportunities. It probably resonated with me because I felt like I was starting to already create more opportunities for myself by asking my parents if I could move to a better school.

The highlights of my current role

The aspect I enjoy the most about my work is helping people. I really enjoy seeing people being confident and content in their role. As Head of Learning and Development for the British Veterinary Nursing Association (BVNA), I am able to combine 2 of my passions, education and research. I am keen to ensure that the educational resources provided by the BVNA help nurses to be more confident and satisfied in their role. I would like to use research to help provide evidence of the impact vet nurses have in the workplace.

Achievements and fall-back plans

My biggest achievement so far is qualifying as a vet. At school and sixth form I was frequently asked what my ‘Plan B’ was. I understood why this was important in terms of not getting my hopes up too much, exploring other options and no one from my sixth form had been accepted into vet school previously.

In addition, I am proud of completing my PhD. It also helped me to recognise my transferrable skills gained from my vet degree and time spent in practice.

Recognising and overcoming personal challenges

My biggest challenges have been perfectionism and imposter syndrome. I didn’t realise that I had perfectionist traits until I received cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). I thought perfectionists were perfect, and that certainly isn’t me! However, the therapist informed me that perfectionists are people who set exhaustively high standards for themselves.

Imposter syndrome is when you experience self-doubt about your achievements and feel like a fraud. CBT helped me to identify and develop coping strategies to overcome these which has improved my mental health. Occasionally I notice that I slip back into these unhelpful thinking habits (usually when I haven’t slept very well) but I am much better at managing these two challenges.

My strategies for keeping well and remaining positive

There was a time when I isolated myself from the veterinary profession because I was ashamed and embarrassed that I was no longer working in practice. Unfortunately, I have experienced stigma attached to being a vet and not working in practice but thankfully this has reduced over time.

In terms of remaining positive, there are a few strategies that work for me. Speaking to supportive friends, family and colleagues is useful when I’m experiencing a blip in my optimism. Exercise is very important to me and I plan activities each week and make a point of writing them in my diary.

Whether I plan to run, cycle or a class at the gym, if I write them in my diary, I have found that I am more likely to close my laptop (I mainly work from home) and get some exercise! In addition to my role as a trustee for AWF, I undertake voluntary work for Age UK as a befriender. I have found it useful to volunteer outside of the veterinary profession. I also enjoy dancing it out (yes, I’m a Grey’s Anatomy fan!).

I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to and supported my self-development throughout my career. I couldn’t have realised my ambitions without you.

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