“What do you do for a living?”
A question (or something in that frame) many people dread whenever sitting down next to a stranger for a flight or try to drum up small talk at a party.
I, for one, look forward to such questions and often have to hold myself back from initiating that line of questioning.
“Oh you’re a vet – you must really love animals”
Answers that run through my head often are as follows:
‘yeah nah brah’/’Yes, I do love them – medium rare’/’Are proctologists ever remarked upon their love of bottoms?’
I usually respond with a concise ramble about how veterinarian look after more than just companion animals and we have responsibilities and roles dealing with wildlife, livestock and public health.
Ugh, I am a nerd – pity the fool who has to sit next to me on the plane.
Anyway such a perspective is not uncommon amongst the public and I guess it goes for other professions – my wife is a doctor (go team ‘One Health’… I can already hear her eyes rolling from her office as I type this) and whenever I talk about her to non-medical people, I often am asked “so how does she find being a GP?”.
There are multiple layers within such a question – real and perceived – Why choose General Practice as your first go-to-specialty (not that there’s anything wrong with that)? Is it because she if female? Is that how the medical profession is viewed and regarded by the public?
Same-same for veterinarians I guess.
Popular culture representation of veterinarians
Looking at popular cultural references of veterinarians we are presented with more images of companion animal practitioners than we are of the other aspects of the profession. Granted, this is likely the only type of veterinarian most members of the public would interact with (much like GPs), yet I feel that we have to do a better job of communicating how diverse our profession is and the contributions those roles make to society.
During my time as the President of the Australian Veterinarians in Public Health special interest group under the Australian Veterinary Association, I was often on the receiving end of emails from students and new graduates seeking advice on the pathway into public practice. Given how intense the veterinary degree is and the amount of information required to pack into the limited number of years, often advice and suggestions get lost along the way. Or speakers come and go yet you’re often just focused on remembering the different repair methods of canine cruciate repair for the final year oral exam.
Anyway, the whole point of this intro ramble is to set the tone for this blog series. I am going to be having a particular focus on public practice, yet this blog series may explore the other areas of non-private practice with a good dose of tangents and ramblings.
So onto the next question worth answering –
What is a public practitioner?
A public practitioner is a veterinarian who applies their clinical training in a public setting. Generally speaking this would include veterinarians who work at different levels of government, academia or private consultancy.
The title may cover the fields such as animal welfare, emergency disease management, research, pathology, epidemiology, public health, food safety or even international development. I often joke that these are often the subjects veterinary students can’t stand while they are studying.
Now I should preface that this series is not seeking to be THE “definitive” pathway into veterinary public practice, rather tips and advice I have received whilst musing the same conundrum. I’ll be writing this for veterinary students or public practice-curious veterinarians. Members of the public are more than welcome to tag along, however this will mostly be veterinarian-specific career advice.
So strap yourself in for what I hope will be a fun and (hopefully) educational ride.