It’s not always about how hard you work

Posted on October 17, 2019 by Fabian George Blake Rivers

As part of the launch of our UK undergraduate veterinary education position, we have sought views of vet education and working in practice from vets across the profession. Exotics and small animal vet and BVEDS representative, Fabian George Blake Rivers, talks about his experience.


Cliché beginnings

Fabien Rivers blog photoBecoming a vet was not easy. I think most of us as vets can agree with that. So many of us grow up having that passion and desire to help animals from a young age. A visceral calling to do something meaningful and profound for those animals that can’t represent themselves. I mean, that’s how I feel about it and that’s how I began my journey at 4 years old.

I can’t say my journey was particularly uniform. I definitely haven’t followed the pathway that many of my peers seem to follow. That said, even those I feel very different to have also had mirrored feelings of an unconventional direction to veterinary medicine.

It started in inner city Birmingham and, not originally, from a family which had loads of freedom financially. We were comfortable; I’d hate to paint a picture that I lived a Victorian-style early upbringing because it wouldn’t be accurate, but I know when people see me now, they only see the result.

It’s a typical cliché for vets. Loving animals for no other reason but because it makes sense from an early age. I also fell into that category. As I grew older, the basis of the love continued, and the foundations grew around that. I enjoyed science and detective work but also coming from a humanities family, enjoyed teaching and sharing knowledge of science with others. I never had any doubt about what I would become. Until I was 15.

My identity clouded their insight

I remember distinctly a couple of conversations that I had prior to this age about people of my complexion and veterinary medicine. I wasn’t juvenile enough to be clueless on race relations and issues; I’d lived through a plethora of racist incidents at schools from teachers, professionals and even friends. But I guess I’d always been able to focus on my goals, and my trajectory as a ‘would be’ vet was pretty solidified by about age 11.

At 15, however, a careers advisor in as many words, asked me to be ‘realistic’ about my expectations. That veterinary medicine was ‘very hard’ and that I should probably look to other careers as I had a high chance of not attaining what I wanted. At the time, it sounded like proportionate advice. Here is a scientific professional who may have insight that I don’t have. But that pattern continued, and I started to hear it a lot more as GCSEs and A-levels became more central to my studies.

I had varied experiences even on work experience, references to my hair or not knowing black vets existed or lukewarm mentions of ‘urban’ music and dancing, despite having never been discussed prior. I could talk for ages on these formative years and incidents. They were largely propagated by the adults and guardians of the field, ironically. The very people who are supposed to be your support network reminding you of why you may not or probably won’t succeed. Occurrences of veterinary professionals or careers advisors sharing why I’d be great at the job were rare. I mean before I mentioned veterinary medicine, I was seen as affable, very capable, and intuitive, but this for some reason melted away when I told them about my career aims.

Convoluted but necessary direction

Regardless, I pursued it. I did a year in research in veterinary science because I thought I may be quite a cerebral person and that research may suit me but, alas, the practical and hands-on world drew me to veterinary medicine. I had a variety of opportunities to study veterinary medicine in UK and abroad eventually.  Given my distaste for the admissions process and some of the not so welcoming cultural nuances, I felt like studying in the UK would be selling myself short, especially as I had such opportunities to study abroad. So I decided to study in the Czech Republic.

Unconventional by design, I felt like I was preparing myself for maximum growth by being abroad. The university had a great exotics focus as well as being known for its attention to detail and strong scientific emphasis.

Veterinary medicine is still veterinary medicine however, and it’s always exceptionally difficult. Not to mention adding in a new country, new culture, new responsibilities. Granted, I was already very independent before I went but it dawned on me that a 6 year degree was a framework for how challenges can break you or galvanise you.

Returning to UK and what it means going forward

Coming back to the UK, I picked up a job in an exotics and small animal clinic. I didn’t really transition; being as committed to myself and the process, I had to hit the ground running in many ways. But I did and I owe it to the people who said I couldn’t or wouldn’t.

I fully appreciate now that my journey was strongly influenced by issues that people in the community try to pretend don’t exist. As if it all boils down to hard work, stiff upper lip and commitment. And yes, I did have all of those. But there is no doubt my process should have not been this much of a struggle at times. At all levels, there has and still are questions around factors that I and many future prospects have no control over. My success, for these people, is proof it can work. Being hardy…  but all I see is a process made unnecessarily hard for someone who had evidently always been capable. I’d hate for that pattern to continue.

Fabian George Blake Rivers

Written by Fabian George Blake Rivers

Fabian is a new graduate vet from Birmingham. Specialising in exotics and small animals, he started his business, DreadyVet in 2013. Focusing on issues around ethics, philosophy, socioeconomic, and political issues, he joined BVA Council in 2019 and also is a member of the British Veterinary Ethnicity and Diversity Society (BVEDS). He has written for a variety of audiences - both veterinary and public - and is committed to improving education around underrepresented demographics and animal welfare.