A Day in the Life of a Small Animal Vet

Written by Zofia Kuchta Reading time: 6 mins

Hello. My name is Zofia and I'm a Small Animal Vet.

I was 5 years old when I decided I wanted to be a vet – I’ve always loved having pets around and looking after them. I used to feed all the stray cats in the area and loved spending the afternoons watching wildlife in my garden.

Getting to University to study Veterinary Medicine was not easy, but having a dream goal made long hours of studying much easier. I can still remember the day I got my acceptance letter – one of the happiest in my life.

I loved my time at the University, I met some wonderful people and studied many interesting topics (and a few not so great – biochemistry and biophysics were my biggest enemy!).

I graduated in 2010 and after Uni, I spent some time working in one of the small animal practices in my home town Wroclaw in Poland. But I always wanted to try my luck working abroad, so in October 2012 I arrived in Manchester and registered with RCVS and here’s where my big adventure started...

The first few months in the UK were not easy – I had to get used to a new place, language and weather, plus finding a job was not easy for a fresh grad from abroad. Finally, I found a practice that let me volunteer and gain some experience and that's where I spent my initial 6 months. After that time offers started to appear and I could start working on building my experience and knowledge.

My first serious job was at Vets4Pets in Manchester. I absolutely loved it despite being extremely busy. I didn't mind the long days and 10 minute appointments, and I quickly built up a client base. There were hours of learning and research, following my mentors and gaining valuable knowledge.

After a year at Vets4Pets, I decided it's time for change – and this time chose to move to a referral practice to learn from the best. It was exactly what I needed – working with specialists, between small practice, hospital and OOH gave me new opportunities to grow. I stayed there for 2 years before I decided I wanted to try something else – and this time it was locuming.

Being a Locum Vet is wonderful, because it gives you the chance to decide when and where you want to work. At that point, traveling home to Poland to spend time with family became my priority, so being a locum gave me the chance to fly home every month, but also travel and visit other new places. I loved meeting new people, learning new tricks and working in so many different clinics with different clients. I also had a chance to go back to work at the practice where I started my UK career – it was like coming back home and I was grateful I could give back and work with the people who looked after me during my first months in the UK.

One day, during my travels, I visited the Isle of Man and fell in love with this small island. It didn't take long until I found a job offer from a practice located there. I knew I had to give it a try – and 4 years later I'm still here!

Working on a small isolated island has its good and bad sides. First of all, you need to feel confident in all aspects of medicine, including emergency and critical care, as there are no referral vets nor OOH clinics. There is always the option of referring pets to the UK, but it takes over 3 hours to travel on the boat and sometimes you just need to deal with cases under guidance from referral Vets from the UK (who are always very helpful and give lots of great advice).  Another thing is working on-call – not my favourite part of the job, but helpful with building up confidence and working sole charge. I am lucky to have a great team who is always ready to help, even when it’s very late. Teamwork is essential, as the job can be exhausting sometimes.

A typical day starts at 8-8.30am and is a mixture of consultations and surgery. The practice I work at is very busy and we get 10 minute appointments, but it can take longer for more complicated cases. Some pets need to stay at the hospital for investigations or treatments - we get attached to inpatients very quickly and usually, the whole team gets involved in their care (either medical care or simply lots of love and cuddles, especially if they don't like being away from home and their loving owners). It's great to help them feel better and then see them back for routine appointments, there’s always a big fuss when they come to visit.

With operations, the most common ones are neutering and dentals. I used to hate dentals, but I got used to them and now I enjoy giving my patients a healthy shiny smile.

Consultations can get very interesting too, especially with cases that are a bit mysterious and need some research, new approaches or teamwork to get the best solution and treatment plan.

Workdays usually end between 6 and 6.30pm (unless you are on call – then it all depends on your luck!)

I think the best aspect of being a vet is being able to help both animals and their people. You never stop learning and growing and there is always something new that can be done.

To be a good vet you need to have great communication skills, be well organised and enjoy problem-solving. Being able to work as a part of a team is very important, as well as being able to work on your own when needed. Luckily all of these things can be learned and it all gets easier with time and practice.

What advice would I give to someone who wants to be a Vet? Start getting your experience early, there are always practices or animal shelters needing volunteers. Be clear why you want it – it's not the easiest job and can get exhausting, both physically and mentally, so it's always good to remember why you wanted to do this in the first place. Don't be afraid to ask for help – no one knows it all and the beauty of being a vet is that you learn something new every day. Make sure you look after yourself by getting proper rest, exercising, eating nutritious food and having friends and hobbies outside of work. Sometimes small things like getting a few minutes to stop and relax, taking a lunch break or leaving work on time can make a massive difference in our quality of life, so these are essential – at the end of the day who will look after our patients if we are not well ourselves?

It is an amazing choice of career and lifestyle, so I would really recommend it. I hope you will love it too.

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