The following post is by Julia de Bruyn about her journey as a nomad vet, clinic hopping across the UK in between trips to Europe.
I met Julia at the Australian Veterinary Students Conference down in Melbourne back when we were at Uni. She, like many other vets in Australia and New Zealand, made her way over to the UK to combine work with travel. Julia tells us what you'll be in for if you decide to make the same trip and gives us some really useful advice to help you make the most of locumming in the UK.
I arrived at Heathrow and registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) which is a fairly straightforward procedure. As for visa applications, timing is the main issue. After submitting the appropriate documents and remembering to fit the original copy of your veterinary degree into your luggage, you make an appointment to visit the Royal College in central London. It’s a pretty smooth procedure: a few more forms, reading an oath that ignites a certain pride in your profession, and you’re done!
I hadn’t lined up a job as I opted to begin my trip with a couple of months trekking through Europe. Alongside hostelworld and tripadvisor, veterinary job websites soon made it to my “top websites visited” list. There is an abundance of employment agencies advertising locum positions in the UK. Some people remain faithful to one agency, but I registered my details with several. Be prepared for your inbox to be flooded with email updates!
Australian agency Vetlink advertises a moderate number of UK roles, and despite the potential time delay in communicating between hemispheres, the staff are enthusiastic about matching job-seekers with positions. Of the UK cohort, I worked through A1 Locums and Recruit4Vets. Others include RIG Vet Recruitment, Carlton Professional and Kookaburra Vets.
After working in mixed practice for two-and-a-bit years in Victoria, I was keen to continue in country practices in the UK. I soon discovered that truly mixed positions are relatively uncommon, with most advertisements specifying a strong emphasis on either small or large animal work. For those open to long sessions of repetitive work in the British climate and – as one advertisement described it – “a wonderful opportunity to see the countryside”, there is no shortage of TB-testing positions!
Somewhere between befriending stray cats along the coastal path of Cinque Terre and sacrificing 24 hours for a cheap bus ticket from Bologna to Amsterdam, I settled on my first locum position: a ten-vet mixed practice in Guernsey, in the Channel Islands. Prior to accepting this job, I had little knowledge of this island beyond its role as birthplace of the less-exported relative of the Jersey cow.
It was on the hilly terrain of Guernsey, along winding one-car-wide country lanes, that I had my baptism of fire in manual car driving. In contrast to my first veterinary job, where the drive to and from farms had been a chance to relax, pump the radio and admire the scenery, for a few weeks it became the most stressful part of the day! Much credit goes to a kind vet student who would advise me about gear changes and easing off the clutch en route to farm calls (thanks Josh!). Important point: if you’re considering UK locum work and are not currently a manual-car-driver, learn!
Another early challenge was familiarising myself with the trade names of drugs on the UK market. It was no mean feat navigating the contents of the pharmacy in my first practice (arranged in alphabetical order of trade names) in the space of a ten-minute consult! Along with many helpful nurses and reception staff, I made great use of the National Office of Animal Health Compendium website, a kind of online MIMS-equivalent.
Of course, there are some differences in veterinary practice between hemispheres. My knowledge of rabbits and “pocket pets” increased exponentially in my first few months of work. It took a particularly difficult calving and potential case of Schmallenberg disease (a name my housemates were sure I had invented for the purpose of a good anecdote) to bring home the importance of ensuring my knowledge of local diseases was kept up-to-date!
I was open to both short and long-term positions during my eighteen month stint. As a solo-traveller, longer-term positions provided a good opportunity to settle into an area, build friendships and feel a little less nomadic. Short-term jobs meant seeing more of the country and avoiding staff politics. Over eighteen months, I worked in eight clinics across England and the Channel Islands: in Guernsey, Cornwall, Bristol, Surrey, Leicestershire, Yorkshire, Oxfordshire and London.
The many challenges encountered during my time as a UK locum were (as my first boss would say) “character-building” and went a long way to making me a more confident, resilient and adaptable vet and person.