As a young vet, looking for a job, what’s the ideal location?
If you have already decided that you want to be a small animal practitioner, it may be tempting to think “city”: you are guaranteed to have a steady stream of pets, there’s a higher chance of having an “all bells and whistles” standard of equipment and expertise, and it’s very likely that you’ll be able to avoid an on-call rota thanks to the proximity of a local emergency clinic.
But is the decision as simple as that? What about looking at the possible benefits of a rural location?
Potential advantages of working in mixed practice
On call may be a pain in the neck long term, but it has its benefits.
After-hours cases can be particularly interesting, offering many learning opportunities that you may not encounter in daytime work. You may not want to have a long term career involving your nights and weekends, but for a period of your life, it can have value from the perspective of experience and skill gathering
Mixed practice can help you to develop useful skills, even for budding small animal vets.
When you work on farms, you are more on your own than in a typical small animal clinic, and you have to just get on with it. So you are pushed to the limits of your ability, and when that happens, you learn more than if you can ask for help as soon as you feel even slightly stretched.
You also learn a great deal about general clinical work, from animal handling to physical examinations to minor surgery: animals are animals, and the lessons learned from handling farm animals can often bring useful skills to the small animal arena.
Rural vets are often welcomed in to the local community
As an urban small animal vet, you live a somewhat isolated life. Of course you make friends, and of course you will recognise some of your clients when you are out and about. But when working in a small rural town, visiting local farms, you will become an integral part of the community. You may be asked to stay for breakfast, lunch and dinner if you happen to be on the farm at these times. You’ll go along to the local agricultural show, where you’ll be treated like a minor celebrity. And when you are working on a farm, you’ll get to know your clients better that you’ll ever get to know small animal clients. You have to depend on that person who’s holding the bullock, or the sheep, or whatever creature you are working on. There will be moments of challenge, but you’ll come through it together, and that type of situation often creates a bonding-type of environment.
Rural small animal work may bring unexpected challenges too
Urban small animal clinics usually have direct, established lines of engagement: you tend to follow a standard course for a typical case. Initial work up and treatment, further work up and investigation if needed, then referral to local specialist if necessary. In a rural environment, there are sometimes fewer options for referral, and clients may more often prefer you to do more without the cost and complication of sending them off to the big city. As before, you do need to know your zones of competency, but within these, there may be more opportunities for a deeper level of engagement and action when you’re based in a rural town.
You may have already decided that the classic mixed practice “James Herriot” life is not for you. But before being absolute about this, consider the option of a stint in a rural location. You may have experiences and learning opportunities that you’d never encounter in that safe urban small animal clinic.