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Does work experience really work?

Published on: 24 Feb 2015

Rhod Gilbert and a cat

Work experience comes in many forms, from week-long placements for secondary school pupils to postgraduate programmes, but which option might work best for your practice and what do you need to consider before taking the plunge?


Work experience is a long-term commitment, but many businesses find some of the most dedicated and talented employees are those who joined at the beginning of their veterinary career or have trained while on the job.

“Practical experience is absolutely essential in this industry and providing these opportunities to great candidates makes good business sense,” said Peter Heathcote, managing director of Budget Vets.

Peter also believes enabling students to see what they’re learning at school or college being applied in practice in the workplace can be inspirational, raising aspirations and reinforcing their commitment to continuing their studies and training. So what about those students who are using work experience to look and see?

On this subject, the University of Cambridge Veterinary School website states: “The most important reason for doing work experience is for you to find out what the job is like and to make sure you know what you are letting yourself in for.”

Does your practice have the time and resource to invest in students who may not have the stomach for the job?

‘Emotional challenge’

Rhod Gilbert carrying a dogIn BBC One’s programme Rhod Gilbert’s Work Experience (pictured), the team recently visited Budget Vets and shared the highs and lows of the comedian’s time at the south-east Wales practice. In what he has described as one of the most “emotionally challenging” tasks of his five seasons of filming, Rhod, 45, got an insight into the reality of work at a busy practice.

Peter said: “We did not go easy on Rhod. I warned him a vet [practice] is not a place for playing with puppies; we have a very serious and important role in the community that is not a joking matter.

“His reaction showed being in a veterinary environment is not for everyone. Rhod is a grown man. Imagine a 16-year-old fainting in the middle of an operation. That is not practical for us or fair to them.”

Work experience is a national curriculum standard and learning outcome in UK schools from year 10 to 12, and high quality work experience can help inform the choices young people have to make.

“I would suggest this type of work experience – for youngsters doing their GSCEs and A-levels – is undertaken on a case-by-case basis, where attitude and ambition win over grades and background.

With the right candidate it can be really exciting to watch his or her enthusiasm grow and his or her veterinary career begin,” Peter added.

It is a good idea to formalise the relationship between the employer and the school through developing protocols, agreeing behaviours and nominating key contacts on both sides.

Alternative ways to get involved

For a busy team that takes its corporate social responsibility seriously, but doesn’t have the resource to cope with traditional work experience, employers can also get involved with mentoring, local competitions and challenges, work tasters and career talks. This could result in local press opportunities and help towards achieving business accolades, such as Investors in People.

Ultimately, take the time to consider the commitment your practice can make to work experience, be selective about who you invite to represent your brand, put the right measures in place for the students who are welcomed into your practice – and do not recruit Rhod Gilbert.


Legal duties to consider as a work experience organiser

  • The work experience organiser will deal with parental consent.
  • Students on work experience are classed as employees for health and safety purposes.
  • Where an employer has never employed a young person under 18 before (including on work experience), the employer will need to review its risk assessment.
  • All practices must have public liability insurance to cover clients on their premises and this should also cover work experience students.
  • The position of the RCVS is clear cut; no layperson should have care of an animal in terms of medical treatment or procedures and there should be no delegation of duties by the veterinary surgeon to a work experience student.
  • Employers should also consider a disclosure and barring service (DBS) check of someone who has a specific designated responsibility for supervising a student.