Most graduate vets leave university expecting to spend the rest of their career working in practice, but what happens if things change?
Thankfully, there are many other applications for a veterinary degree, as VBJ editor James Westgate discovered when he caught up with Merial’s Callum Blair.
Callum Blair qualified from the University of Glasgow in 1994 and went on to spend several years practising in the south of England before deciding the daily grind of consults wasn’t for him. For many young vets such a realisation would be a cause for panic, but for Callum it provided an opportunity to branch off into an exciting new area.
He said: "When I was a schoolboy, I had my life mapped out with what I wanted to do with my career. I thought what was going to happen was school in Edinburgh, get my vet degree from Glasgow then move into mixed practice in the borders of Scotland. That was my dream, that was my career mapped out.
"But it didn’t work out like that. In 1994 I graduated BVMS, met a girl and moved down to East Anglia. During the next six-and-a-half years I had four different jobs, but I was miserable and had to force myself to get out of bed in the morning."
Despite deciding life in practice wasn’t for him, Callum gave plenty of thought to his options before turning his back on a career path planned since his teenage years.
"At the start my big concern was that by moving into industry I would be selling my soul as a vet and no longer have my independence," he said.
"But it can be easy to forget you, as a veterinary graduate, are among some of the highest quality graduates out there and that doesn’t change, you are still all of these and you always will be. The focus can be so intense it is easy to forget your skills can be transferred to a range of other career paths."
So, after much soul-searching, he joined Virbac, where he worked in a variety of roles for 13-and-a-half years before joining Merial earlier this year. The transition has clearly worked well for Callum, who is also a representative of the Association of Veterinarians in Industry. However, he has a few pointers for those thinking of making the move.
He said: "It is a good idea to speak to somebody who is already in industry. It helps to have contacts in that situation – then apply. You also need to gain some experience. You will immediately command more respect from vets you speak to if they realise you understand what you are talking about because you’ve been there. At Virbac, every single member of the technical team had at least six years’ experience in practice and gives you much more empathy for the problems the vet at the coal face is dealing with."
Callum explained while most vets will enter industry in a technical support role, once involved, there are plenty of career paths to take.
He said: "I started out in technical services, that is the way most vets get in and it is the most obvious way of using your veterinary degree. It makes sense to do a job that involves asking questions about products and how to use them, and clinical cases. It’s just like being a vet.
"There are also sales and marketing opportunities, for you may decide to go into research and development in a contract lab – vets are pivotal in laboratory services to ensure animal welfare.
"Another area is regulatory affairs and pharmacovigilance managers, so the licensing and maintenance of that licence for medicines. Increasingly, what we are finding is a pattern of private consultancy, and you will see that both clinically, but also in terms of contract work in services to industry. Working in industry can also provide greater opportunities for career progression, but not everyone will be suited for life in the corporate world.
"If you don’t like people, then don’t come into industry, because we have to deal with people a lot – clients, vets and a lot of other folk beside," added Callum.
"You will also need a strong work ethic, empathy, have the ability to communicate well and be a good team member. Also, you will need to be able to work alone and be prepared to learn. That list is the same any employer is looking for and the same will apply to industry.
"A vet can achieve great things in industry using these skills. There really is nothing you can't do as a vet."
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