Case study

Certifying officer — Arabella White

Working in government has given Arabella an insight into the many roles that are available to vets. Discover how her veterinary knowledge is essential for her role as a certifying officer

What degree did you study?

I studied zoology and then veterinary science at Liverpool University, graduating in 2012 and 2020 respectively.

How did you get your job?

I didn't get the grades required to do a veterinary degree straight from school, so I completed a zoology degree instead and in my final year successfully secured a place at vet school.

However, life had a slightly different plan for me. Instead of studying, I found myself working in local government where I learned a lot of new skills. I realised that I liked working with people from different areas and collaborating on projects.

A few years later I started the veterinary degree and after graduating I knew I wanted to work in government. I signed up to receive notifications from the Civil Service whenever a veterinary job was advertised and received a job alert for the role of certifying officer with Food Standards Scotland. I applied and was successful.

What's a typical working day like?

I work as part of a team, comprising other vets, environmental health officers and a number of support staff, processing Export Health Certificates (EHCs) for fishery products.

A typical day involves liaising with the logistics company staff who submit the EHCs via an online platform. I then check documents and lots of fishery products to ensure they are correct and troubleshoot any issues that I find. I have to communicate constantly throughout the day with lots of different teams to make sure the work is completed on time.

I have also recently been involved in reviewing documentation relevant to two new EHCs that will soon come into effect.

How relevant is your degree?

My degree is essential to my role as in order to certify EHCs you need to be a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

In addition, throughout my degree I was taught many skills that can be applied in lots of different work environments. These include how to prioritise workloads, analyse information, make decisions, work closely with others and communicate with people without a veterinary background - all skills that I use daily in my current role.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I really like working in a diverse team of people, providing an essential veterinary service to businesses that enables them to export their products all over Europe. I love getting involved in areas of veterinary work that affect lots of animals on a large scale.

I also love that there are many opportunities open to you as a civil servant. For example, I will soon be starting a data science accelerator course.

What are the challenges?

Processing EHCs relies on the work of different teams of people. Changing circumstances can mean that at times it's not possible to coordinate this effectively, so the workload can all come at once. This means being able to prioritise and manage pressure are essential skills. It can sometimes feel that you are being pulled in many directions at once, so communication is key.

Where do you hope to be in five years?

I wanted to join the Civil Service because of the opportunities I thought it would provide, and happily I haven't been disappointed. I would like to strengthen my skills and learn new ones by getting involved in as many different aspects of government veterinary work as possible.

What advice can you give to others?

  • Keep an open mind. A veterinary degree gives you skills that are transferable to lots of roles so don't limit yourself.
  • Don't worry about things not going to plan. There are many routes to vet school, so don't panic if you don't get there immediately. Equally, don't worry on the course if it's not always as straight forward as you'd like. There are lots of people in similar situations.
  • Be enthusiastic, interested and ask lots of questions. Asking questions, especially when on work experience prior to applying and on placements during vet school, means you'll get the best from the people teaching you and you'll learn the most.

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