By Paige Roth
The successful veterinary applicant has over 2,000 hours of quality “hands-on” experience in the veterinary field (according to UC Davis). But where do all these hours come from?!
“Hands-on” veterinary experience is one of the main things standing between me and a viable veterinary application, so I have dedicated a post to mapping out a realistic path to get these hours.
Like many pre-vet students, I have buckets of hours of normal animal experience – and vet schools will have you know that owning a pet does not qualify. I have had horses for most of my life, done Pony Club and 4-H, taught riding lessons and fostered dogs. But clinical experience was hard to come by.
First of all, most vet clinics aren’t looking to employ an eager pre-vet student who has no hands-on experience. I interviewed for several vet assistant positions at small-animal clinics, thinking the staff would be willing to train me, but when they realized my main animal experience was with horses and that I had never actually set a catheter or taken a cat’s blood pressure, they were less than enthused. Ultimately, I was offered a position as a kennel assistant (read: poop scooper and occasional dog walker) that paid less than $8 an hour. Disheartened and in need of some semblance of financial security, I passed.
Basically, like many things on the road to vet school, you have to climb a certain ladder to even be eligible for relevant “hands-on” experience. Generally this means work as a kennel assistant, then a vet assistant, then a tech. While I know some people get lucky and have a friend or neighborhood vet who enthusiastically takes them under their wing, shows them the ropes and makes sure they check the boxes to certification, I am under no such wing.
So, here is my game plan for getting clinical experience:
- Volunteer – Because I am a full time employee and student, I can’t take a low paying kennel assistant position to gain experience and keep a roof over my head. Instead, I decided to volunteer with the Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services Veterinary Public Health group as a kennel assistant. I feel better about voluntarily performing menial tasks to help rescue animals, rather than having a clinic lord an $8 pay check over me while I bleach their floors. I can keep my pride, work flexible hours and make important steps toward a real clinic. There are lots of great sites to help place volunteers with organizations that interest them. I found my opportunity here and they responded to me the same day.
- Online Veterinary Assistant Certification – Most clinics want someone with a credential, or at least working toward one. I was discouraged to see that most vet assistant programs take almost a year in the classroom, and technician programs take closer to two years. That’s basically the equivalent of becoming a nurse before you become a doctor. No can do. While I’m volunteering and keeping up my grad program, I enrolled for about $700 to work toward my veterinary certification online with this program. At first I was skeptical of an online certification, but after some LinkedIn stalking, it looks like their students land where they say they are and I’m willing to give it a shot.
- Teaching Riding Lessons – Though this is not clinical experience, I found a way to keep up my animal hours, make some money and make connections with large animal vets (the veterinary specialty I’m most interested in). If you can find a way to involve yourself with the local animal community, I think it will help keep your spirits up and remind you why you want to do this in the first place.
I should mention that I am planning to apply in the summer of 2017. That means I have a full summer and school year to get these preliminary credentials, and ideally hope to work as a vet tech during the year I’m anxiously awaiting interviews and admissions decisions.
Stay tuned for more thorough posts about the online program, teaching lessons and how I like my first few days of volunteering!