It’s great to encourage the vets of the future

Last week was the annual schools British Science Week (BSW).

By Stephen Bradley, Alnorthumbria Vets
Sunday, 24 March, 2019, 11:39
Back to school for British science week.

On March 15, I was invited along to Newminster Middle School in Morpeth, along with visitors from other local businesses and institutions, to deliver a session five times throughout the day to groups of 25 pupils, sharing our careers and experiences.

The school hadn’t had anybody from veterinary science at the event in previous years so it thought this would be very interesting to include on the day.

As always, I have to think about what I am going to say to 11 to 12-year-olds about being a vet.

I want to tell them about why I enjoy the job and why I think it is a great career for those dedicated to working with animals.

However, I also wanted to get the message across to them that it wasn’t a 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, job and that you have to be prepared for the unexpected to happen at any time of the day or night.

My plans to do some last minute tweaking of my presentation that morning were foiled by a difficult lambing I had to attend to at 7am.

That served as an appropriate reminder to me that you have to be prepared for anything as a vet.

So once I got finished with that, back to school I went with my props, some photographs and a short presentation.

This detailed the background to veterinary practice and the day to day activities of a vet.

The school staff and pupils were very welcoming and all seemed excited about a day which was a bit different to the usual timetable.

Once I started the sessions, I decided the best way to engage the audience was to ask them lots of questions, and I was very impressed with the answers I got.

Nearly everyone had their own pets so I had a captive audience.

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One of the questions I asked was how do we know an animal is feeling unwell when they can’t tell us?

I got lots of great answers around changes to normal behaviour, appetite and abnormal bodily functions so I think the youngsters would already be able to hold their own in veterinary school tutorials.

The pupils also knew how long they and their animals could last without air, water and food. (Three minutes, three days and three weeks if you’re wondering).

One interesting, and understandable, reaction was to a picture of a wound with a large flap of skin hanging off a horse’s shoulder.

Nearly everyone, including the teachers, answered ‘yes’ when asked if the horse would die if it didn’t receive urgent veterinary treatment.

Blood loss and infection were the reasons given, which are logical, but the reality is the horse has 25 litres of blood so can spare a few litres. Likewise, although the wound could get infected, it is more likely now that antimicrobial resistance concerns would justify not using antibiotics in the first instance.

Soon it was my turn to answer questions and I was quizzed on my best and worst experiences.

The best experiences are the ones where you feel you’ve made a difference to an animal’s life, and the worst are when, despite your best efforts, in some cases it’s not enough.

Another highlight was the school lunch, which was delicious, and it was a welcome break to sit down and get ready for the afternoon session.

Looking around the canteen, no one seemed to be put off their food by my gruesome pictures.

At the end of the day there were a few students who were interested in a veterinary career and, who knows, maybe others will want to find out more.

What is great about this initiative is that schools are promoting science careers earlier, giving young people more time to explore and develop their own ideas for future careers.