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The Vet to be

"So, what kind of vet do you want to be?".

I got accepted into University of Copenhagen to do veterinary medicine in August 2016, and ever since then, this has been the most common question - except maybe: "Are you going to put your arm in a cow?". The answer to the first one is: I have no idea, the second: Been there, done that. Really difficult when you're 5'2, if anyone was wondering.

Being 5'2 might take me out of the running when it comes to being a dairy-farm veterinarian, now I think about it.

But I digress. What kind of veterinarian do I want to be? I'm in my second year, meaning I have 4 years to go, so really there isn't a lot of stress, but it's a question that occupies my mind - and that of my fellow Students - and the assumed benefits and negatives of each opportunity, is discussed often.

I don't know how it's done everywhere else, but at my university we get to choose what to specialise in. We do 3 years and get our bachelor degree, where after we start our final 2.5 years. Within these, it's in the last 1.5 years, we get to choose what branch of veterinary medicine we would like to spend our time studying more in-depth - our differentiation, or "diff" as we call it.

The importance of this is probably a little overrated amongst us student. Choosing one differentiation doesn’t mean you can't practice as another when you're finished, but it is a way for us to specialise within a set field. Therefore, 'what kind of vet do I want to be?' becomes a relevant question early on.

When we choose our differentiation at Uni of Copenhagen we have 5 choices, or branches:

Companion animals, equine, herd health management, biomedicine or one health.

At the moment the two most popular choices is biomedicine and equine - the only two with a grade entry-requirement.

When specialising in biomedicine the course includes modules of laboratory animal science, in vivo pharmacology, and microbiology. You're taught modules of drug development, toxicology, cancer and much more. It's definitely a course that combines the theory of the classroom and the practical of the laboratory. It's the way into the research world for many students, also because you will receive a license to perform animal experiments in Denmark.

The one health differentiation is a bit similar with its research approach to the course.

In the one health differentiation you get to work with interdisciplinary, joint efforts and communication in all aspects of veterinary and human health. For example working with and talking about the Avian Influenza epidemics and its like.

Both sounds really interesting to me, but I think I always saw myself in a more hands-on position. At the same time, I love the work in the laboratories and the investigative approach we take. It's a very new field in Denmark and full of options and opportunities.

Of course, there's also the more direct and "classic" animal approach.

But that begs the question, which animals? The horses, small animals or husbandry?

If anyone has paid attention to the blogposts I write, it will come as no shock that I love dogs. But besides that, I love the work with the small animals, from dogs to cats, bunnies and anything in between. In the companion animal differentiation you will be trained in the problem oriented medical record, used in clincal practices. You're also trained in patient contact, communication and of course the practical aspects of surgery and diagnosis. I'm not going to lie, it was where I saw myself when I first started my degree. I enjoy the attention you get to pay to each animal, and their owners. I've been fortunate to do externships at quite a few veterinary clinics, both in the UK and in Denmark, and have always found the experience very rewarding. On top of that, it's such an advancing field, full of new operations, and options in general for the animals.

However, I've also been so lucky to spend time at a equine veterinary hospital in southern UK, which showed me a whole new side of veterinary medicine - one I until then hadn't considered. This place mostly dealt with racehorses, and seeing the animals as athletes - and seeing the care the owners, trainers and vets put into them, was a great opportunity. I never got to learn to ride as a child for several reasons, but experiencing the horses firsthand, has caused me to sign up for classes - better late than never. In the horse differentiation you in many ways take the same approach as you do with companion animals, just with horses. The focus is also aimed towards diseases, diagnosis’s and complications that often affects horses. It's a very different field than small animals, but as interesting and complicated as any.

There's also the option of specicialising within herd health management, but as I said, being 5'2 that isn’t easy. Jokes aside, I don't have a lot of experience with herd health, but still find the course quite interesting. At this differentiation we get to work to solve problems concerning health, breeding and animal welfare in a production setting. Quite a different take than the one where you solely base your conclusions on the health of one animal. Personally, I think I always hoped for a very hands-on job with the animals, and at least in Denmark, veterinarians have more of a supportive-role on farms. It is difficult to say though without a lot of first-hand experience - except from following around the vet that came to visit my grandfather’s pig farm in the 90s, but I imagine the field has changed a lot since then.

In the end I still don't know for sure where I want to end up. Luckily, neither does the majority of my peers. Many of us went in with our eyes set on something specific, and have after 2 years learnt that our passion for the course spreads more widely; to cover more species, fields and even professions. A veterinary medicine degree is a multifaceted degree; opining doors I didn't even realise when I first entered into the world of animal health and welfare. I went into it with a passion for animals, and a desire to learn as much as I could about the clockwork our, and the animals', bodies is - and how to fix it when it stops ticking as it should. No matter where I end up, as long as I get to do that, I believe I will be happy with my lot – and luckily, I still have a few years left to get closer to a decision. The best way to do this, is to get out there, try something new and different, for example by doing externships locally – or travelling to Zanzibar!

Looking to help us abroad?

Veterinary students volunteering with wildlife zebra in Africa
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