|17 Mar 2023
|University of Glasgow
Hi there, I am James Bishop, Class of 2021. I am currently studying Veterinary Medicine at the University of Glasgow and thought that I’d share some of my experiences of vet school with you.
Unlike most students on the BVMS course I haven’t always wanted to be a vet. I was originally interested in engineering, but was dissuaded by a brilliant, yet tedious work experience placement at the steam locomotive engineers in Heywood. Sitting in a workshop, welding the same pipe for 5 days was not the career that I wanted.
So, I went lambing and caught the veterinary bug there. If you are ever on the fence about studying veterinary medicine, I’d suggest you should go lambing, it is brilliant fun, and a great way to learn about diseases, animal husbandry, welfare and ethics. On the downside, it is hard work, cold and the hours are unpleasant. If you can handle a rainy night shift on the moors above Helmshore, then you’re bound to be a great vet!
Bottle feeding this sleepy lamb with colostrum because her mum didn’t have enough milk.
I particularly enjoyed my introduction into veterinary, as my experiences have always been exciting and varied. It’s the variety of the veterinary career that appeals to me the most, and so far I haven’t been disappointed. For example, a normal day for me starts in the pool, where I train with the university triathlon club. I then head out to the vet school and begin the day. We often have practical classes in the morning, this could be conducting a cattle clinical examination or examining tissues in a histology lab. After lunch, we have lectures on all manor of things, last week our lecture titles ranged from “Neoplasia diagnostics and staging” to “The ethical transport of animals and surrounding legislation”, as I’m sure you can see, a broad spectrum of topics.
I chose to study at Glasgow simply because of the location of the veterinary school, the friendliness of the city and the good access to fantastic sailing, cycling and hill walking. I hadn’t really looked at the courses or curriculum. There are less than a dozen veterinary schools in the UK, but they are all different and I am sure you’d be able to find the right one for you.
Thankfully, it turned out that the course at Glasgow is really enjoyable. Within the first week we were suturing wounds together, practising giving injections, taking blood samples and we had practical classes in animal handling and husbandry. The lectures have been interesting too. So far, they have focussed on anatomy, the pharmacological interactions of drugs, and pathological processes. It may sound like a cliché, but I rely heavily on my A Level subjects for all these classes, especially Biology and Chemistry - so pay attention to Mr Cassidy’s enantiomers and his organic chemistry lessons. The most enjoyable aspect of the course has been my EMS (Extra-mural studies) placements. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons dictates that all students must attain 12 weeks of Pre-clinical EMS, focussing on animal husbandry, welfare, communication skills and building basic veterinary knowledge. The placement filled my holidays, but I enjoyed absolutely every minute of it. EMS is also where I have seen the most development in my skill set and knowledge, whether this is castrating 40 bullocks at Aldi’s beef farm in Galloway, or giving an intraperitoneal glucose injection to a lamb at 3 o’clock in the morning: these are the moments that have really made veterinary school for me.
Microscopy of sperm in a semen analysis practical. Each white speck is a sperm cell.
As I mentioned previously, lambing has been the most enjoyable escapade so far. Last year I helped at a beef and sheep farm in Dumfries and Galloway. My shifts began at 9:30 and we often finished after 02:00, as you can imagine I was exhausted by the end of the three weeks, but the feeling of euphoria after helping a ewe with a difficult lambing makes up for the lack of sleep. We began the day with field rounds, ensuring that all the lambs and new mothers in the fields were healthy and that lambs were not being rejected by their mothers. If this was the case, the lamb would have to be taken down to the ‘lamb bank’ and fostered onto another ewe. We would then process the next batch of lambs, this involved dosing the ewe with anthelmintics - to reduce the risk of parasites such as liver fluke, we would dock the lamb’s tails and castrate the male lambs. In the afternoon tasks ranged from vaccinating the beef cattle, to fixing fences and walls. All the while we would need to check on the lambing shed, to catch any ewes in labour and ensure that the lambs were delivered safely.
Rearranging triplets after a difficult lambing for this ewe
What it’s all about, happy lambs and happy ewes out at fresh pasture - New lambs at Torkirra 2022
But University is not all hard work, I have joined the sailing club and we spend most weekends team racing against other universities across Scotland and the north of England. We qualified for the BUCS nationals last year, only to come last, but university sport has a brilliant ethos, and I’d strongly encourage anyone to get involved in sport at university. There truly is a sport or club for everyone, no matter how bizarre, the huge population of the student body allows for diversity anywhere you look. Furthermore, I have found that people are much truer to themselves. I found that at school there was a huge need to ‘fit in’ and to enjoy what everyone else enjoys, at university it really doesn’t matter.
Gybing at the windward mark at the Scottish Student Sailing Fleet racing championships
We hit a squall going through the western Kyle of the Isle of Bute, loving it!
The first two years at veterinary school have been enjoyable, and the practical activities have been the highlight for me, ranging from post-mortems of sheep to microbiology. But I look forward to third year when we begin the clinical phase of the programme and learn more about diagnosing illnesses, appropriate treatments and surgery.
I’d like to offer some advice to students who are looking to pursue a career in veterinary medicine, this is by no means a definitive list, but hopefully should point you in the right direction.
Firstly, I would like to stress the importance of having a strong interest in the sciences, particularly biology and chemistry. These subjects will form the foundation of your veterinary knowledge, and it is essential that you have a good understanding of them before you begin your studies. Make sure to pay attention in class, ask questions when you are unsure, and seek extra help if needed, because at BGS it will always be given to you- this is a priceless asset, make sure you make the most of it.
Additionally, it is important to gain practical experience working with animals. Look for opportunities to volunteer at animal shelters, veterinary clinics, or farms in your local area. This will not only give you valuable experience, but it will also demonstrate to veterinary schools that you are committed. Farms are a great place to start, they are always eager for help, and you can begin to understand husbandry and disease. Bleakholt Animal Sanctuary was also a great place to volunteer, I would stress that a wide range of experience in many different species is best.
When it comes to applying to veterinary schools, it is important to start early and stay organised. Research the schools that interest you and make a list of their requirements and deadlines. Be sure that you have lots of arrows in your quiver when it comes to the interview and selection process. Your grades will only get you so far, so make sure that you have something to talk about, so that you stand out.
Once you are accepted into a veterinary program, be prepared for a challenging but rewarding experience. Be sure to manage your time wisely and seek help when you need it. This will allow you to make the most of veterinary school, time has flown by for me, and I’m sure it will be the same for you, so don’t waste it.
Finally, remember that there are many different career paths within veterinary medicine. While becoming a vet is a common goal, there are also opportunities to work in a laboratory, as a researcher or in specialist fields. Explore your options and keep an open mind, this will make you a better student.
In summary, I would urge anyone unsure of a career in veterinary medicine, to give it a go. Reach out and get some experience, in a practice, on a farm or at an animal sanctuary. Get hands on, get stuck in and give it a try, what have you got to lose?
Make sure that you’re an interesting person, don’t just follow the trend and play FIFA every night, find a hobby or sport, and be proud of it. This is what will make you stand out, and it’s how to find friends at university and beyond.
Whatever you do, make the most of your time at BGS and never let an opportunity pass you by. There is no other school that compares. Make sure that whether you’re in the Founders' Day parade or at the top of a mountain in Africa or visiting the submarine engineering works in Barrow, that you make the most of the opportunity and learn something new from all these experiences.
If you have any questions about applying to veterinary school, then do not hesitate to get in touch. The Development Office has my details, and I’d be more than happy to help out.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my first years at vet school and would recommend it to anyone interested in animal science, health and welfare.