Alumni profile: Ben Walker shares his experiences of studying Veterinary Science
Each year, we have students who are very interested in pursuing careers working with animals as vets or nurses. We are delighted that Ben Walker, who recently graduated with a first class honours degree in Veterinary Science, accepted our invitation to do a Q & A to share his experiences.
What A-levels did you study at Richmond Sixth Form College
I studied Bology, Chemistry, Maths and History
When did you decide you wanted to be a vet
I think I knew fairly early on that I wanted to be a vet. I spent a lot of my childhood at my grandparents’ farm, I’ve always loved animals and the idea of being able to work outside really appealed to me.
Did you do any work experience before going to university, if so, what type and where
I did a lot! I had over 300 hours under my belt when I was applying for vet school at lots of different places: two different vets’ practices, a stables, and a few different farms – dairy, sheep etc.
I then had a year out between college and vet school and travelled to Australia where I worked on a cattle ranch for a few months – it was a bit of an eye opener with long hard graft in the heat but an amazing experience nonetheless!
During my year out I also worked at the greengrocers in Richmond which strangely might have been some of my most important experiences before starting at university. So much of the work of a vet relies on being able to communicate effectively with clients and I think I’ve best learnt to do that working on a shop floor!
Which university did you study at
How did you find the course
I’ve really enjoyed the course so far. The first two years are focused on the healthy animal – learning about different body systems and principles. Third year mostly involves a research project so I’ve spent the last year working on a trial involving sheep nutrition (looking at the benefits of feeding them tree leaves strangely!) and I’m just in the final stages of getting my work published which is exciting! I think Nottingham is quite unique in offering students the opportunities to get involved in that sort of work.
How was the application process
I found it really challenging, to be honest. The entry requirements are high for every vet school and all require you to get a lot of work experience as part of the application process. Additionally all the universities use interviews as part of the process which was something I wasn’t really geared up for. The school helped massively (to be frank, I don’t know that I’d have got into vet school without all the support I got from staff) by arranging a mock interview for me at a local vets’ practice. Initially, I was rejected by all four vet schools that I’d applied to which was quite tough and it wasn’t until June of Year 13 that I was offered an interview at Nottingham.
I think you have to be prepared for such a competitive course but not let any setbacks get you down. I have a few friends at university that took a couple of attempts to get in – you just need to be persistent and apply for the foundation courses that some vet schools offer if you can’t meet the grades!
What were your favourite aspects of the course
I arrived at vet school somewhat naively thinking that most of the work of a vet involves diseased animals but actually the aspect that I’ve enjoyed most is dairy herd health and flock health planning which is more about helping farmers make improvements to prevent diseases and improve production. It sounds very boring to say that I most enjoy learning how to use spreadsheets to do this but it really is interesting!
How much practical work did the course involve
Nottingham is really focused on practical work. In the first week you learn how to operate an ultrasound machine and from then on you get two days of practical teaching each week. It means that all the theory is grounded in practical teaching which is of course vital for such a practical job! You also have to complete a lot of placements at farms and stables in your first three years then vets practices in the final two years – it’s here that you get to practise all the skills you’ve learnt throughout vet school.
What happens now you have graduated and what are the next stages before you qualify in two years’ time
So now after three years, I’ve finished the first degree but I have two more years before the second degree, after which I’ll be qualified. The year ahead is mostly clinical teaching – so far more focused on what work will be like when I qualify, then in my fifth and final year I’ll start rotations – basically moving between lots of different vets’ practices and starting to have a go at being a vet!
Do you have an area you would like to specialise in
I don’t think I would like to specialise. I mostly love the variety that comes with working across a wide range of species and a wide range of fields.
Do you prefer small/domestic animals or large animals such as farm/equine
I maybe do prefer farm work – mostly just because I like working outdoors and having a laugh with farmers. I ran the farm vet society at the vet school for the last couple of years and really enjoyed it – we arranged a load of interesting farm talks and practicals, including a talk from Julian Norton, the Yorkshire vet.
I just think vet medicine is a great course to go for if you enjoy hands-on work and problem solving. I’m looking forward to getting out into the real world and having a go!
Thank you so much to Ben for his insights into life at vet school, some really useful and valuable advice for our students.
Ben really appreciated all the help and support during his time at Richmond School and Sixth Form College and he has kindly offered to come into school and college to be a mentor for students who are interested in working with animals. We are looking forward to arranging this in the future.