Written by Kat D Reading time: 6 mins
Can you give us a brief outline of your job?
I’m an Australian vet who currently works in general practice, but I have a keen interest in travel and volunteering. I’ve used my veterinary skills in over a dozen different interesting locations on 4 continents since I graduated. Usually, I work as a locum vet to save money, then spend my weeks off volunteering in exciting locations, where I often get to live with local people and help animals in need. During Covid, I wanted to be responsible and chose to pause my traveling, so currently I work as a mixed practice vet in northern Scotland.
Where did your interest in working in this sector come from?
I’ve always been interested in travel and languages, but I found overseas trips as a tourist to be expensive and unfulfilling. Once I started to volunteer while I traveled, I found it a great way to get to learn about different people and cultures first hand, while at the same time, building real connections through helping animals.
How did you get into it?
I took my first vet job as a new graduate in Scotland- on the other side of the world from where I grew up! I loved the challenge of learning to communicate in the local dialect, and seeing different animals and diseases than I’d learned about in Australia.
After that, I realised I didn’t want to stop travelling, so I started working as a locum vet in the UK, Australia, and also Sweden. It was wonderful to earn money while I travelled, and get to have so many new experiences while still paying my student loans. Whenever I had some gaps in my work schedule, I’d reach out to a charity in a location I was interested in, and see if I could help them by volunteering my skills- often, they would provide me with free accomodation or delicious local meals in return, so it was a very welcoming and rewarding way to travel.
What sort of different roles did you do to get to where you are today?
To be a traveling vet, there aren’t any universal rules- it just depends where you want to work and what you want to do!
I would recommend that anyone who wants to work overseas is first fully qualified and able to work independantly as a vet- travelling means you won’t have as much support as usual. Often you need to be able to work quickly and efficiently, so make sure you are up to speed before you head out. I stayed in my first job for almost two years to make sure I was competent to work on my own internationally before I travelled solo (the exception to this is if you volunteer with a program for vet students that is designed to support you- also a good option if you’re not ready to work unsupported)
I also had to make sure my degree was recognised everywhere I wanted to work- so I now hold veterinary registration in both the UK and Australia, which opens doors to a lot of international opportunities. However, some countries do have strict rules on how to register, so make sure you are aware of this and have all your paperwork and visas in place before you travel.
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?
For me, I just kept choosing work and locations that looked like they would give me a challenge or an adventure. Vet work should be fun, and travelling has meant I’ve never lost the wonder of what I do everyday!
What does a typical day look like for you?
It depends where I am working! At the moment, I work as a mixed practice vet, meaning I often do surgery in the morning, small animal consults in the afternoons, and sometimes I’ll visit a colicking horse or a calving cow in the evenings too! But as a volunteer, you need to be ready to adapt and adjust to any new schedule- sometimes that means performing speys and neuters fpr 12hrs a day, or perhaps helping with cleaning or taking a tuktuk to transport an injured animal. Everyday is differnet, and thats what I love best!
What would you say are the best and worst aspects of the job?
I love the feeling of being able to make a difference to one animal, or one families life- as a vet, you do have the power to change lives, and that gives you the opportunity to connect to people no matter how different your language or culture is .
The most difficult is probably being away from family and my support system- its harder to overcome challenges of veterinary work without someone there to talk to, or another vet to bounce ideas off. But I think it makes me more resilient!
What are the main skills you need to be a...?
You need to be a confident, independant vet- including having surgical and diagnostic skills. You need the ability to learn new things, to communicate well, and to be open minded to different ways of life. And you need to be good with planning and paperwork, as there will be lots of registration and visa paperwork to get through!
What are the common misconceptions that people have about the work you do?
People think you have to be rich to travel as a vet- not true! You do need to be sensible with your money, but if you take a mixture of paid roles, and also volunteer roles where some of your expenses are covered, you can certainly find a good balance and still pay back some of your student loans
What advice would you give someone wanting to break into this career?
Have confidence in yourself, and don’t feel afraid to take opportunities that inspire you! Loads of people around the world would love to have a vet like you to work or volunteer with them, so don’t let your self-doubt hold you back. If you want to travel, you can make it happen. (And you can check out TheRunawayVet.com to find lots of tips on how to get started!).