An increasing number of student vets realise they made a mistake in career choice, according to the head of learning at the RVC.

Prof David Church
Prof David Church.

David Church, RVC vice-principal for learning and student experience, told Veterinary Times: “We are recognising, in our veterinary student cohorts, increasing numbers are starting to realise they may have been mistaken in thinking they wanted to be a practising veterinary clinician.

“For some, once they start to live and breathe the job… and become more aware of what being a vet might mean, they are not so sure they want to be a vet.

“I think there is almost no other profession where there is a higher potential for people to view it with rose-tinted glasses,” he added.

Prof Church said having recognised a problem existed, there was a need for a mechanism whereby veterinary medicine students could step off the course, explore other science disciplines and reassess their options.

The college’s dedication to adopting flexibility is one of the objectives in its Learning, Teaching and Assessment Enhancement Strategy.

Optional research year

For many years, the college has offered an optional intercalated research year for second-year or third-year BVetMed students, allowing them to explore a focused, or different, field of science.

On completing the year, those who wish to recommence their veterinary studies can do so. However, it also gives those who have changed their mind about being a vet the option of graduating with a science degree they can top up to a master’s in a specialism of their choice.

Prof Church said those engaged in delivering veterinary education programmes had a responsibility to look after, and provide options for, students doubting their career choice, but, ultimately, feel trapped and under pressure to complete their degree, even if they no longer want to.

He said: “When you talk to vet students, they are under all sorts of pressure to become a vet – not just internally, but externally. Some think: ‘If I don’t complete my degree, I’ll have to go home and tell my parents, and they made sacrifices so I could do veterinary medicine’. It is heartbreaking really.

“There is a stigma associated with not completing the course – that it somehow makes you a failure, which is absolutely not the case.

exit sign
Prof Church detests the term “exit degree” and has banned its use at the RVC because of its “pejorative overtone”.

“After all, those on vet degrees are, by and large, very intelligent and able people who have received a certain level of training in communication and people skills that will stand them in good stead for the future.

“By providing flexible learning options, such students are given the chance to reassess their aspirations and not leave the course empty-handed if they decide being a vet is not for them. They still obtain a relevant qualification.”

Providing opportunities

Previously, when a student stepped off a programme it was referred to as an “exit degree” – a term Prof Church detests.

He said: “I really don’t like the word and have banned it because it has a pejorative overtone to it. It makes [taking that option] sound like something of a failure, which it absolutely is not. Failure is not what we are talking about here in any way.

“What is new and has very much been on the agenda over the past couple of years has been to explore how we can more effectively provide opportunities for students to step off the BVetMed programme, if they see fit, and move into the science programmes.”

However, building in flexibility has ramifications for institutions as they are paid different amounts of money for science and veterinary degree students.

“So, if you encourage students to get off the BVetMed programme, you are going to have less income, but we genuinely believe [helping students] is the right thing to do, so that is what we are doing and budgeting accordingly,” Prof Church said.

“We owe it to the students to ensure what they get is what they want and one of the things we have to recognise is they want flexibility and the opportunity to decide on undertaking a change of direction during their education.”

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9 Comments on "Rising number of students regret taking vet course"

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Fiona Stewart
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Fiona Stewart
7 months 13 days ago

Perhaps we should look at how students are selected for the veterinary degree course. Straight A students are often not suited to practice due to a number of factors including inability to cope with failure when something goes wrong with a patient (as it will inevitably do during their careers).

Consider B grade students with great interpersonal skills who may be better suited to general practice.

Lauren
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Lauren
7 months 13 days ago
A grade students are selected due to the academic demands of the course but this is turn is only part of the selection process. Students that make the academic grades are then invited to interactive interviews which are based on a number of veterinary related issues that allow the interviewer to assess their suitability to the course. Having been a part of the interview & selection process and being a qualified vet the relality is that the Grade they receive at a level is irrevelvant, the course is demanding. 5 years long, 5 day weeks, comparative anatomy & physiology of… Read more »
David Shearer
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David Shearer
7 months 1 day ago
I disagree with you comment that grade A students are chosen because of the academic nature of the course. This is not true. The course is tough and requires commitment and a lot of graft. It is not an intellectually challenging course. The RVC staff tell me there are plenty of very good non academic student entering via the alternative route. The grades demanded reflect the large number of applicants. Simple supply and demand. If there were fewer applicants then the grades required would drop. When I went to the RVC the grades required were AAB but now they are… Read more »
NT
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NT
7 months 12 days ago
Perhaps, as rightly said, few other professions are viewed through such rose tinted glasses. But several factors come into play in addition to the grueling hours in vet school including the gradual but definitive change in gender in veterinary medicine. Secondly the people who apply to vet school come from a wide diaspora of backgrounds ; after all vet medicine did evolve with livestock and companion animal medicine has become a trend only in the last few decades. The attitudes that one may expect from a vet can vary. Companion animal vets are trained (learn how ) to be more… Read more »
Richard Brown
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Richard Brown
6 months 29 days ago
I think you are correct re the UK situation. America is different. In 2013 I had a letter published in the Record where I suggested Universities should favour applicants who had documentary evidence that they had done a total of six months work in a service industry. They are many reasons for this. In my opinion demonstrating that you can for example cope with, handling the general public, relatung to colleagues who are different from you and split shifts etc all parts of a service industry is more relevant than the experience watching vets work or helping out at lambing.I
Martin
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Martin
7 months 12 days ago
I think more needs to be done to improve the initial selection process. I missed out in getting a place at a UK vet school for 2 years after completing my A levels (A*A*A) and it really upsets me to hear that students that got a place instead then go on to regret it and drop out of the course. I am now a 4th year vet student at an over seas uni and i don’t regret choosing the veterinary degree one bit. I’m really not sure what it is that the interviewers are looking for but they are clearly… Read more »
Harry
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Harry
7 months 12 days ago
Whilst this is definitely a step in the right direction, there needs to be a sea change in the degree itself; it is ridiculous that those people wanting to be small animal vets are forced to learn how to grow grass or run a concentration camp piggery, but leave vet school unable to do a proper ultrasound, and have to spend a fortune on post grad cpd courses to learn how to do it. Secondly, our professional associations need to provide careers advice to those of us desperate to leave the profession but don’t want to be teachers (out of… Read more »
Vicki
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Vicki
7 months 1 day ago
The high number of applicants are the reason A grade students are chosen, not their ability to cope with exams. Fewer males apply for the Veterinary course, therefore males with lower grades gain places. The cleverest people from schools are selected for what is a mundane job. People with realistic expectations of the work who would make excellent vets are discarded early on in the selection process because grades are prioritised. The clever students would be far more suited to a challenging line of work. In my opinion, a degree course higher than the vet course should be created for… Read more »
Dannell Davis
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Dannell Davis
7 months 1 day ago
Looking at the practice of veterinary as a young person is vastly different than actually being a veterinarian. Being a veterinarian can be such an isolating lifestyle that deep depressions can set in due to many factors. Among these are the lengthy hours one must work (often alone), the little pay one gets limits the ability to rest, holiday, enjoy life and the expectations of clients often is quite unrealistic. I do not regret my decision to become a vet not do I regret my decision to train at the RVC. I, however, understand the complex and often depressing choices… Read more »
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