How to Survive the USA: A Challenge for the Aussie Vet

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Intro by Simon

I first met Philip Eddey when I was working in Dubbo and he was filling in as a locum. We shared an interest in all things outdoor but it soon became apparent Phil had also spent a lot of time travelling and working as a veterinarian overseas. Phil graduated from the University of Sydney with First Class Honours in 2006. After initially working in mixed practice in Dubbo he decided to move overseas and subsequently worked in small animal practices in the United States of America (USA) and England. He also completed an internship in small animal medicine and surgery at Mississippi State University in 2011. Since then he has returned to Australia and has been working as a locum in between canyoning, scuba diving and mountaineering trips.   This post will give you some ideas and insights into working as an Aussie Vet in the USA.

Heading off to a new job and a new place is a daunting prospect. If the new place happens to be overseas, that adds a whole new layer of complexity! I have been through the process a few times now, and so I am sharing some of my experiences in the hope that someone, somewhere, might someday find my meandering reminiscence useful.

Surprisingly, the biggest challenge moving overseas to work has nothing to do with veterinary science, nor the culture shock, nor even with the bureaucracy in which you will find yourself mired. It is the lack of a support network that really hits you hard. Coming straight out of university you are leaving behind a bunch of friends that are young, fun, intelligent and share the same interests as you. All of a sudden your friends and family are gone, and the only people you know in your new city are the people you work with. Plus, of course, you are getting to know the crazy cat lady who comes in three times a week pretty well too. When I first moved to California for work I lived a lonely existence for a few months. I didn’t even realise that it was an issue until I started to develop a network of friends again and found that there was a big hole in my life that I was filling! My advice to you is to think about what interests you, and then find a club that will suit your interests. I failed the first time with a 4WD club full of old men who talked a lot, but then I joined a local caving club and a whole new world opened up. I found myself learning and exploring and meeting a great bunch of people who were excited about the same things as me. I have consistently found myself welcomed and befriended when I have joined outdoor clubs and martial arts groups, but whatever you are interested in you are probably not alone, so get out there and meet some people!

Culture shock isn't something that I have really found to be a significant issue when I have worked overseas. Linguistic nuances in the USA have made for some entertaining situations rather than any serious issues. I never once said flip flops! It was just too much fun telling people that I liked wearing thongs. The strangest thing for me in the USA was just how seriously people take themselves over there, vets included! For them the Doctor title is not used just for signing off letters so people take you seriously, but is rather a mark of respect for everyday use. Hence not using the title could be considered disrespectful. In any case, I found that the people I worked with and my clients would all call me Dr. Eddey. Even other vets will tend to use the title when addressing each other. It sounded really strange to me at first, but before long I was used to it and would have been surprised to hear my first name at work.

Now finally for the veterinary perspective! To be registered to work in the USA you need to complete the North American Veterinary Licensing Exam (NAVLE) and possibly also a State Board Exam. This does not necessarily apply in teaching institutions. There is lots of information on the internet on the content of this exam and how to study for it, but the approach that worked for me was to spend a couple of weeks going through questions on VetPrep and reading up on anything with which I was not familiar in the Merck Veterinary Manual. Once you start working, my major advice is to make sure that you are going to have a mentor for at least the first couple of months. No matter how whizz-bang your veterinary knowledge is, there are going to be regional differences with which you are not familiar. Milk your mentor for all they are worth on disease prevalence in the area and local laws that pertain to the practice of veterinary science. That way you will hopefully avoid diagnosing too many animals with diseases that are not present in your new country. You will also have a better chance of making sure you do not break the law or, even worse, counsel your clients to do something illegal. Do not hesitate to ask for advice from your mentor, and remember that some of your nurses will have been round the block a few times too. There have been times when the nurses, with whom I am working with, have seen a hundred cases very similar to the one that is puzzling me. Problem-based assessment is all well and good, but it is certainly nice to have some pattern-recognition to get you started down the right path.

Finally, what you have all been dreading - the bureaucracy. It is not even that bad! It is just long and tedious. In my experience, working in America poses the biggest challenge. When I was working for a private company in California I was on an E3 visa, which is just for Australians and is relatively easy to procure. Not easy, just relatively easy. There is still an incredible amount of paperwork that needs to be provided to the American Embassy at your visa interview. The immigration lawyer of the company that was employing me sorted all this out for me. I really don’t think it would be possible to do it yourself, but hopefully your employer will undertake the challenge for you. If you are working for a university it is not nearly as difficult since you only need a student visa. Plus they will probably be used to dealing with foreigners, so they will be able to tell you what hoops you need to jump through. Once you are in the US, start working on getting a social security number straight away. You are not a person until you have one of these, and you will find it a challenge to open a bank account, get a mobile phone or do nearly anything until you have one. Your credit rating is really important over there, so get a credit card as soon as you can.

Since I am talking about the veterinary experience, I guess there’s a few interesting things to mention. When I was working in California I found a good supply of oddballs to keep me entertained. It didn’t take me long to receive a marriage proposal from the crazy cat lady. A little weirder was when a client gave me a CD that she had made with her band, and when I listened to it one of the songs was all about me. Then there was the ongoing game of having clients guess where I was from. One geographically challenged lady gave London as her first guess and England as her second. Wanting to help her along I told her to think of kangaroos, koalas and crocodiles – "Aaahhhhhh…Africa!"

Good luck and remember there is always someone out there to talk to about the sad times and the happy.

Philip Eddey BVSc (Hons)

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