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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 10°C

I spent five long years studying to be a vet and I'm up against JobBridge ads paying €50 a week

Veterinary Ireland has said it has written to the Department of Social Protection to express their concerns about JobBridge vet positions. Here, one graduate tells her story.

Veterinary Ireland has said this week that it has asked JobBridge to clarify if vet positions should be included in the scheme and has written to the Department of Social Protection to express their concerns.

Here one veterinary graduate writes about her experience. 

ACCORDING TO THE Oxford Dictionary, the word profession is defined as “a paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification”.

I thought I had achieved this when I graduated just over six years ago. My degree was in veterinary medicine. It takes five years to learn everything there is to know about being a vet and a lifetime to consolidate it.

That’s what a profession really is, a life’s work.

Now imagine a world where the newest and brightest members of this profession aren’t cared for. Where all the knowledge they’ve accumulated isn’t nurtured, but neglected. That was my experience when I qualified.

JobBridge advert

The reason for writing this is I recently saw an advert on JobBridge looking for a vet to work in a practice in Donegal for €50 a week. What self-respecting profession would allow new grads to be treated this way? And the worst thing was, I wasn’t even surprised.

shutterstock_248845186 Shutterstock / VGstockstudio Shutterstock / VGstockstudio / VGstockstudio

When I qualified in 2009, the recession had hit, but the word on the street was that vets were hiring. This was the case, but it was incredibly slow and employers, for the most part, were uninterested in new grads.

Five long years in college 

I was keen to put into practice all that I had learned and to start earning some money to pay back those now terrifyingly steep student loans. It had been five long years of pasta and toasted cheese sandwiches.

It should be stated at this point that the life of a new grad is pretty tough. There is zero support. There is no association or group that looks out for them and helps them find a suitable job.

There are no checks put in place to ensure that a new grad is placed in a mentoring environment. We are literally handed a scroll and left on the side of the Stillorgan dual carriageway to fend for ourselves.

There are internships available, but they are few in number and don’t suit everyone. It is simply a matter of going for interviews and ringing a few older grads to find out if a place is “okay”. The non-vet reading this is probably thinking, grow up, it’s the same for everyone starting out. But what you don’t realise is there are literally no checks in place. A new grad is at the complete mercy of an employer.

shutterstock_286624112 Shutterstock / Andrew Rafalsky Shutterstock / Andrew Rafalsky / Andrew Rafalsky

Remember that a veterinary practice is legally required to provide a 24-hour, seven days a week on call service. So what? Think what that is like for a small practice where the new grad is at the bottom of the food chain. There are rarely any planned out rotas and even if there are, nights and weekends off are generally dictated by the whim of the employer.

Salary uncertainty

I will move onto salary. People reading this may be inclined to say suck it up and think of the money. It must be made clear that in the majority of practices, there is no on-call rate. You are on an annual salary and that includes all out-of-hours work.

Average salary starting out? Anywhere from €16,000 to €25,000. There is no standard of pay. There are of course exceptions, but this was the experience for me and my friends starting out.

I have at times calculated how many hours I have worked a week only to find out that I’ve received less than minimum wage for a career that I slogged away at for five years.

In short, it is quite a daunting task leaving the comfort of the vet college where one is surrounded by peers and mentors, and entering the chaotic world of the on-call vet. The learning curve is a steep one and is made unnecessarily stressful by the fact that most of the major surgeries and emergency situations we have trained for will end up being done without a more experienced vet present.

Instead the new grad will be left with a grumpy farmer staring over their shoulder asking if they know what the hell they’re doing or a receptionist entering the surgery room every five minutes to inform them that there’s a waiting room full of clients and to hurry up. Where is the more experienced vet?

Either too busy with their own workload or too worn out to care. This is the current sorry state of the veterinary profession in Ireland.

The author of this article wishes to remain anonymous.

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