Keen on combining your veterinary skills with your love for horses?
Read on to explore the career opportunities within equine veterinary practices.
What are the main responsibilities and opportunities working as an equine vet?
Equine vets provide preventative health care and support for clinical problems for pleasure and performance horses. A large proportion of consultations are routine preventative healthcare, such as vaccinations and dental care. The main clinical caseload is around musculoskeletal disease such as lameness and laminitis, as well as medical conditions such as skin diseases. In addition to your clinical capabilities, you need to be able to handle horses with confidence and have strong communication skills when engaging with clients.
Your work may involve caring for pleasure horses or meeting the clinical needs of a specialised sports horse or racehorse. You could be employed in a hospital setting, mixed practice or charitable organisation or be part of a team within established equine practice or specialist referral centre. Opportunities for equine vets exist in the UK or overseas.
What do I need to consider if I'm considering working in equine practice?
If you have a passion for working with horses, enjoy working outside regardless of the weather and want a job that includes travelling out to see your patient and clients then equine practice could be a great choice for you. The job is often physically demanding and working days and hours can be long. All practices will have an ambulatory component and the majority of jobs involve field work and travelling, with a small number of vets solely based in hospitals. Most roles involve being on call and weekend out of hours work, as the location of practices means that centralised out of hours services and teams rarely exist.
The on call rota will therefore be busier than many small animal and farm jobs. The most common out of hours emergencies you are likely to experience are for colic and wounds.
If you are keen to specialise, there are also a number of intern positions available every year, which are predominantly hospital-based with additional supervision and training.
What is important to consider when choosing EMS?
Consider the type of practice you might want to work in. In order to gain experience of a variety of equine cases, spending time in a hospital will allow you to see more horses and in-depth case work-ups. Some ambulatory practices spend a large amount of time driving around and performing similar tasks on individual days (for example, sedation and tooth-rasping), which, although plays an important part of many equine jobs, may not always allow you to gain a diverse experience from EMS placements or develop your knowledge for your final assessments and the future.
If you think you may want to work in a specialist vet practice, you need to undertake EMS in this environment to ensure it’s the right area for you. Don’t forget to use the EMS experience to build your professional network. Develop good working relationships with colleagues on your EMS, you might want to apply to them for a job later in your career and many practices look favourably on students who have previous experience with them.
Think about the type of work you want to do – if you want to work in the racing industry, then you need to select a practice which serves the racing industry and has a relevant caseload. If you want to do stud work, you need to see practice during the stud season (spring) and with a practice that is particularly active in this field.
Don’t forget to think about other types of EMS when planning your work experience – placements in equine charities or with different caseloads, for example The Donkey Sanctuary can provide an excellent experience and a good insight to welfare problems and caring for animals with long-term issues.
Do I need an internship or residency? Are there additional qualifications required?
You do not need an internship or residency to work in equine practice. However, if you wish to specialise or work in a referral hospital, then you will need to undertake further qualifications.
Internships usually provide an excellent introduction across a range of aspects of equine medicine, surgery and anaesthesia, which can then help you decide if you want to work in general practice or specialise further. If you want to do a residency, then the current European and American Diploma schemes require you to have completed an internship. In some cases you can provide evidence of experience in first opinion practice (usually around two years) as an alternative.
There is excellent information on the internship programmes on the BEVA website.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of working in a small private practice compared to a much larger practice?
This very much depends on the practice and staff. A smaller practice will likely have fewer facilities and resources, and is less likely to have specialists working there. They usually focus predominantly on first opinion ambulatory practice. A larger practice will have a wider range of people and experiences, and they may have a number of different branches and/or a central hospital to provide referral and back-up support.
Working within a smaller team may mean working within a close knit group, where all vets will have a good knowledge and relationship with their clients. The on call rota is likely to be more frequent but less busy. Larger practices may have specific areas or regions allocated to different vets. Your on-call rota is likely to be less frequent but busier and cover a wider area.
However, all of these aspects are very much dependent on the individual practice. Make sure that you ask carefully about client and case allocation, teamwork and support, mentoring for new graduates, and on call rotas and caseloads
What level of support can I expect as a new graduate?
This is very dependent on the individual practice and their approach. If you work in a small ambulatory practice, you will be seeing cases in the field on your own, but your colleagues may come to help and support as needed and can be easily available for phone support. A small mobile practice can still provide excellent supervision and support. Larger practices with hospitals can provide direct supervision with colleagues physically in the same building, but they can also be very busy.
You need to be clear when you consider applying for positions what you are confident doing, what you need supervision for or help with, and what levels of support the practice can provide when you start. It is also helpful to ask what the practice does as a routine for all vets, e.g. do they have regular case rounds or discussions and/or do they hold journal clubs or mortality and morbidity rounds, so that you know what the long-term ongoing support and approaches are.
There is good advice on well-being in practice on the BEVA website.
What are the opportunities for career development?
There are a wide range of career opportunities as an equine vet. The traditional ones are specialisation in disciplines (such as medicine, surgery, anaesthesia, diagnostic imaging) through internship and residency programmes. There are also a host of other options, including research, industry and equine welfare. There are a number of excellent equine charities who employ vets to work both within the UK and abroad.
A number of vets will also undertake qualifications in other complimentary areas.
Find out more on the BEVA website