A Day In the life of a Charity Vet

Written by Bryanna Andrews Reading time: 5 mins

Can you give us a brief outline of your job?

I work for the PDSA in Swansea, Wales as a Graduate Veterinary Surgeon. I am a charity veterinarian who helps provide medical care to owners who would otherwise not be able to afford the companionship and experience that a pet provides. I rotate between roles in managing operations/emergencies/in patients in the back-of-house, offering teleconsults to triage clients, and consulting on both essential and emergency consults.

Where did your interest in working in this sector come from?

I have always worked in referral hospitals as a veterinary nurse prior to finishing veterinary school. I wanted the challenge of completing the PDSA’s new graduate programme due to the variety and complexity of the cases presented and the personal challenge of shifting from the referral setting where a few animals receive gold-standard care to an animal welfare charity seeking to give the most number of animals good care.

How did you get into it?

I worked as a veterinary technician in the US for five years while completing my bachelor degrees before coming to the UK for veterinary school. During vet school at the University of Edinburgh, several of my lecturers and department heads recommended the PDSA for my new graduate job as they said it would give me an unparalleled start to my career with a lot of support, high caseload, and a large amount of time spent in surgery. As I love soft tissue surgery, the large amount surgical time was a big selling point for me.

What sort of different roles did you do to get to where you are today?

I’ve worked in a variety of different roles before starting veterinary school, including as a veterinary technician, ballroom dance instructor, and even a journalist! I also lead research projects in wildlife medicine and biology and worked in four countries before coming to the UK for veterinary school. Ultimately though, I knew I always wanted to work as a veterinary surgeon, and began my training at the Dick Vet, where I graduated May 2021.

Did you have a plan to get to a certain point/level in your career Or did you just keep picking moves that looked interesting to you?

I’ve always tried to pick a balance between what interests me in the moment and what will set me up for success long-term. This led me to try a lot of different branches of veterinary medicine, working with specialists in dentistry, wildlife and exotics, surgery, anaesthesia, and emergency medicine at various times. This balance also makes me value my time greatly; I have over a decade of experience in the profession and that recognition of the worth of my time and opinions has caused me to turn down a lot of passion-projects offering interesting work for little to no pay, or that do not have the opportunity to teach me anything new.

What does a typical day look like for you?

A typical day may see me consulting on 25-30 appointments in a day; triaging patients as they come into the waiting room and rushing them to the back of house for fluids and treatments as appropriate; doing common surgeries like enucleations, amputations, and pyometra spays; managing in-patient medications and diagnostics; and completing telemedicine appointments.

What would you say are the best and worst aspects of the job?

Best - I love how busy and challenged I am all the time, as well as the variety of the caseload across species and presentations. I also really love my colleagues; everyone I work with is incredibly supportive and doesn’t hesitate to get an opinion from the other vets, admit they’re stuck, or take time out of their own busy days to teach me.

Worst – It can be very hard to see patients whose lives could be salvaged by a private vet but whose care is outside of the PDSA’s scope of service as it would mean a large expense to save the lives of only a few animals. It can also be very hard to see animals whose owners have been unable to afford preventative care and who are sick with illnesses and infections that were preventable.

What are the main skills you need to be a charity vet?

Patience, pragmatism, strong communication, empathy, determination, self-assuredness, humility, creativity, and problem-solving

What are the common misconceptions that people have about the work you do?

I think a lot of people would be surprised some of the types of care that falls under the PDSA’s scope of service. The PDSA offers nearly all of the same treatment options as a private vet, with a few exceptions. I even used intralipid therapy recently on a puppy that had ingested some of its owner’s medication! We also regularly do ophthalmological surgeries, femoral head and neck excisions, fracture repairs, and more, as a private vet would do. However, medically we rely on far fewer diagnostics to come to diagnosis and can achieve most everything we need for a case with basic blood panels, ultrasound, and radiographs.

What advice would you give someone wanting to break into this career?

Definitely consider working with the PDSA! The work-life balance and your off time, including your 1-hour lunch break, is taken very seriously, and the teams are made up of fantastic vets who work well together and support each other.

Charity work can be emotionally challenging but is also incredibly rewarding. Clients are incredibly appreciative for the care they receive, and many clients rely exclusively on their pets for companionship. Therefore, everything you do makes a real difference in the lives of both the pets and their owners.

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