Case study

Veterinary surgeon — Grace Harman

Grace works in a small animal practice, treating dogs, cats and small mammals, such as rabbits and hamsters. Find out more about the variety of works she's involved in and the health conditions she treats

How did you get your job?

I studied veterinary medicine at the Royal Veterinary College, graduating in 2017. I also took a year out of the course to study intercalated bioveterinary sciences.

After graduating, I saw a job advert for a graduate veterinary surgeon at a local veterinary practice online, applied for the job and was successful.

What's a typical working day like?

I usually start off with morning consultations, which consist of 15-minute appointments. During this time I talk to the owner and examine the patient to look for any signs of ill health. After this, if I've admitted any patients to the hospital, I formulate a plan with the nurses to get them started on treatments and arrange for diagnostic tests to be carried out.

I then start on the surgeries for the day. Surgeries commonly include routine procedures such as neutering or dental treatments. They may also include procedures such as x-rays, ultrasound, lump removals, wound stitch-ups and any emergency surgeries, such as caesarean sections. As a new graduate veterinary surgeon, I can perform routine surgeries, but I still need some help with the more complicated procedures.

Once surgery is finished, I write up all the procedures, dispense medications for the animals and arrange a time for their owners to pick them up. Sometimes I get time before evening consultations to make a few phone calls to report lab results to owners and advise on treatment plans.

What do you enjoy most about being a veterinary surgeon?

My job is very mentally stimulating and involves continuous problem solving. It's also a very physically active job and I enjoy not being behind a desk all day.

I particularly enjoy learning about new medicines or surgical techniques and then putting them into practice and seeing how it benefits the patients. It's rewarding to know you've done your very best for a patient, whether that involves treatment and recovery or the end of suffering.

What are the challenges?

Being a veterinary surgeon can involve working long hours, including weekends and public holidays.

Some days are very stressful as you may have to deal with emergencies arriving at the practice whilst you're also dealing with routine consults and operations. There may not be time for breaks and it can be physically and mentally tiring.

You may have to make difficult decisions relating to your patient's treatment. You may also have to deal with owners who are upset or angry, which can be challenging.

How relevant is your degree?

The degree provided me with the knowledge and skills to work as a veterinary surgeon in small animal, farm or equine practice. It also opens up other job opportunities, such as working for the government or working in research.

Where do you hope to be in five years?

I'd like to use my veterinary knowledge to advise and educate the public on animal welfare issues. I'm looking at ways I can do this, both within and outside of clinical practice, so I'm not sure where this will end up taking me.

What are your top tips for others interested in veterinary medicine?

  • Do some work experience in veterinary practices and speak to vets about the job. Make sure it's what you want to do before you apply, as veterinary medicine is a long degree that requires a lot of commitment.
  • Keep a diary on your work experience and record what you've seen and learnt. This will get you thinking like a vet and gives you plenty to talk about at the job interview stage.
  • Don't give up. I didn't get into vet school the first time I applied, so I took a gap year, got a paying job and in my free time I did a large variety of work experience.

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