The ever vivacious Becky Burns is a baby vet- one year out from graduation. She’s experienced the most diverse and crazy experiences in her degree so far that we couldn’t refrain from asking her a few questions. We had to tear her away from the four girls she lives with, the almost empty bottle of Baileys and of course we had to pause If You are the One. But she’s here. We’ve got her.
What does an average day at vet school look like?
Vet school is super super busy. On any given day I could spend my entire day in a lecture theatre learning about cardiac diseases of dogs, to having my whole arm up a cow to see if she has a baby, to looking in a microscope to see if a cat has an ear infection, to dissecting a horse’s leg. We usually do our placements in our uni holidays. In 2014 my work placement was wildlife medicine in Africa. Somehow I found myself shooting tick serum from a helicopter out of a gun to galloping giraffes below. This year I will get to spend some time with Aboriginal remote communities doing health projects on street dogs, and next year I’ll be travelling to Laos to work with small holder farmers in improving their agriculture practices. Apart from spending time in the library- there’s usually no average day!
What did you do to get where you are? (Did you study, was it necessary?)
To be a vet you need to go get your vet degree! I’m currently at Sydney Uni but there’s a lot of vet schools around Australia and the world. There are also opportunities to be a vet nurse which you can complete either at uni or tafe. Little side note, vet nursing is awesome!
What do you love about your job?
A degree in veterinary science is so diverse. The best part is being outside for a couple of days of the week.
When people think of a veterinarian, most picture your average dog and cat vet at the local vet clinic. However, there are horse specialists, cow specialists, bird vets, specialist surgeons! There are even vets who work in abattoirs upholding standards of animal welfare, and vets in government organisations. There are vets who work in zoos, vets who work at fish farms. There are vets that teach vet students (they are the craziest). There are vet pathologists and vets who go into science research. The possibilities are endless.
Lastly, it is soooooo satisfying when an animal comes in ill and you are able to work out why it is sick, treat it, and send it home well. The best!
What is the most challenging component of your job?
You have to know a lot of sh*t about a lot of sh*t. Study is hard and I’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices to do well at vet school. We spend a lot of out time in our rooms/in the library keeping up with course work because, not only do we need this knowledge to pass our final exams, but we need the knowledge to save the lives of animals.
The thing I’m most nervous about is doing surgery on animals. The first time I stitched up from my first “spey” (where you take out a dog’s girly bits) my hands were shaking so much I almost dropped my instruments! I’m also super scared of animals just dying under my anaesthetic care, as it happens from time to time. There are so many procedures I am yet to perfect!
By the way- last week I put a tube into the stomach of a cow. Proud Becky moment.
Is the industry competitive, if so why and how did you navigate it?
It’s true it’s hard to get into vet school, I didn’t straight out of school! I mean, who gets 99.9?!?!?! To get around that, I did a year of animal science and ended up doing so well I was able to transfer into vet school.
At the moment Australia is graduating more veterinarians than we need, which is scary. I’m doing some extra placements in science and public health to broaden my experience and hence the jobs that I might be able to get.
What are some common misconceptions about your job?
People think vets get paid very well because vet bills are so high. The truth is that vet bills are hardly enough to cover costs of procedures as there is no medicare for animals, and vets get paid very little. The average pay for a graduating vet is $37,000 per year, which isn’t very much. I also don’t know many vets who get paid over $80,000 per year. If you want the big bucks, being a veterinarian isn’t for you.
Being a veterinarian can also be quite stressful, as there are often a lot of cases in your care, plus you may have to do a lot of overtime, afterhours work or weekend work depending on which clinic employs you. Having said this, most vets that I have worked with on placement have had a high sense of job satisfaction.
If you could give your 18 year old self any advice what would it be?
I would say “you do you, Becky. You do you.”
Oh! Also “Don’t burn the candle at both ends!” In my second year at vet school (I was 18-19) I was doing vet school, working three jobs, on numerous sports teams plus going out every weekend. Hence, I ended up with glandular fever! My advice is to choose some things, work/uni and something fun, then also give yourself your down time.
Any last thoughts?
If you are thinking seriously about becoming a vet, I would say go for it! Don’t let anyone say to you “you’re not smart enough to get in”, because being smart is not something you’re born with, it’s something you can work at (like this guys needs to…).
And with anything, keep an open mind! There are often so many more options then when first meets the eye.