Who would be a government vet?

Written by: Sion Rowlands
Published on: 26 Aug 2022

Gov vets feature picA sizeable gap exists – for some, maybe even a chasm – between what something new and different is believed or understood to be versus the reality.

Let’s take, in my son’s example, eating healthy green vegetables. “Sickening” or, more accurately, “yuck” (at six years old) my eldest would proclaim. And look at him now – a lover of broccoli, a firm appreciation for garden peas and a notch above tolerance for spinach. Who would have thought?

Possibly not the best demonstration of my point, but useful nonetheless – that things aren’t always what you initially perceive or are even told. I know I had some reservations about becoming a government veterinary surgeon all those years ago. What would I become? What would I be giving up? What might the benefits be?

It’s been more than 20 years since I became a government vet and I have yet to regret my decision. As I’ve moved through my roles, from frontline field work to veterinary advisor, veterinary leader and now, in my position as veterinary head of careers and education, I can say my decision has been vindicated beyond any of my early expectations.

I’ve worked with official veterinarians, individual farmers and communities, industry unions, policy colleagues and enforcement bodies – all in the interest of supporting and maintaining standards of animal health and welfare.

I’ve been involved in five sizeable exotic disease outbreaks across Great Britain, making lifelong friendships “in the heat of battle” with colleagues across government and associated delivery partners.

The often-used saying “not one day is the same” is certainly true of life as a vet in the APHA, and if you’re prepared to invest in your development, so many rewarding and satisfying careers exist to explore and choose.

These roles include:

  • Senior veterinary inspectors – field vets, dotted across Great Britain, involved with everything from farm animal welfare work, controlling endemic diseases and visiting farms to monitoring authorised plants and responding to exotic notifiable diseases.
  • Veterinary investigation officers – pathologists conducting examinations on farm animals and providing key surveillance data, supporting private vets and the farming community with information on animal disease threats.
  • Veterinary research – the APHA’s Weybridge lab has an international reputation, with vets posted in a number of research and development roles. Vets work on new diagnostic techniques and vaccines while communicating with experts across the world.
  • Veterinary policy advisors – some of our vets provide key advice to the UK governments on an array of veterinary pieces of work, including animal welfare, international trade and exotic diseases.

If the roles are so varied and the opportunities so numerous, why don’t more vets look to careers as government vets?

What I do know, from speaking to colleagues in the profession, is that a number of vets have indeed thought about a change of career, have looked at working in the APHA and in Government, and, on paper, considered the roles to be too complicated. Some even incorrectly believe they are under-qualified even to apply.

Like most jobs advertised, across all industry sectors, a perfect candidate almost never exists. That was certainly the case with my application all those years ago. The APHA looks to recruit on the basis vets will have some of the skills and competences required for the advertised role; the rest is up to us.

One of the most valuable skills sought is that of communication. Whether working in private practice, in an academic setting, or in food safety, most veterinary roles are reliant on the ability of individuals to communicate effectively and, where necessary, have influence. In the APHA, that’s one of the most valued transferable skills we need.

Without knowing it, so many potentially great candidates will have prematurely rejected themselves when, in fact, many will have been more than suitable.

How would I get to a point where I am being effective in my job?

Extensive training and support will be offered and provided for the entire time you are with us.

Whether learning about your role as a regulator of animal health and welfare, or developing new skills and knowledge such as field epidemiology and postmortem examinations, the APHA will cater for your development and support you throughout.

What about my clinical skills? What will happen to these?

Regarding my clinical skills and what will happen to them, I am frequently asked this. Well, that’s your choice. Of course, many of those clinical skills accrued in practice will not be deployed routinely in the APHA, but some will come in use.

Field vets, for example, will perform clinical exams during the course of an exotic notifiable disease investigation. And those vets involved in research and veterinary investigations roles will require practical skills – some transferable and some unique.

It is worth noting that for those vets who want to retain some private veterinary work, this is also feasible. During my 20-plus years in the APHA and its predecessors, I have continued with companion animal work, and even to this day I still work Fridays in a nearby clinic. It’s the perfect balance for me and many others have chosen to do the same.

What next? If you’d like to learn more detail on the nature of our work or better understand the variety of roles then visit the APHA careers website for more information.

The site also lists the recruitment vacancies currently being advertised.

If you’d like to speak to one of our vets to gain their view on working in the APHA, and to discuss the veterinary roles in more detail, please email us with your details via vetjobs@apha.gov.uk

Remember, it’s never too late to try broccoli for the first time.

  • This article first appeared in Vet Times (Volume 52, Issue 26, Page 16)