Helping Non-UK Vets Flourish In The UK


By Karlien Heyrman, BVM&S MRCVS, Clinical Services Manager, the Pets at Home Vet Group

As the Clinical Services Manager at the Vets4Pets Support Office, I’m closely involved with the application and assessment process for our International Vet Programme. Whilst I did graduate from A UK vet school, I only moved to the UK when I was 16-years-old with limited English-language skills.

I quickly realised I wanted to work as a vet in the UK because compared to Belgium where I’m originally from, in the UK, pets are treated much more as members of the family, which means most owners expect vet practices to be well equipped and offer the latest treatments available. This makes the UK an exciting workplace for small animal vets.

I’m thrilled that at Vets4Pets, we are able to offer a programme to help vets— who have qualified outside of the UK —to ease into a UK veterinary career. As a ‘non UK’ vet myself, I’m very aware of the barriers and difficulties that exist with coming to work in the UK as a vet in terms of culture, language, legislation and expectations of clinical knowledge and practical skills. Being involved in the International Vet Programme has made me appreciate even more how veterinary medicine is practised differently in various countries outside the UK, and unfortunately, this can lead to miscommunication, loss of confidence and an increase in the risk of becoming subject of a complaint.

Non-UK vets are able to find jobs quite easily in the UK, even without any UK experience; however, working in a foreign country can present many challenges. Our International Vet Programme is designed to provide guidance and support to non-UK vets to improve their UK experience.

My role in the programme is right at the beginning at the assessment stage, specifically assessing clinical knowledge. Candidates are often nervous, which is understandable, but as much as possible, I try my best to make them feel at ease. I think it’s important to remember we’re not assessing to ‘trip people up’. We’re interested in finding out those areas where someone might need further support and guidance so we can match a vet to the right Vets4Pets practice and provide them with the right level of support to ensure a flying start to their UK veterinary career.

If you’re thinking about joining the programme, here are my top tips.

Sometimes during the assessment, candidates can be a little quiet or afraid to ask for further explanation when they don’t understand something, but it’s really important to try to let your personality shine through so don’t be shy and ask questions! Don’t panic if you don’t know certain words in English or can’t remember everything you learned at vet school. A good idea is to write down anything like this after the assessment and look it up later or do some further study and revision. This kind of proactive attitude is also what our practice partners will look for in candidates once they are part of the programme and working in their practice. Your induction into working in practice will be gradual, and whilst everyone progresses at different speeds depending on their skills and knowledge they had when they started, your attitude and enthusiasm to learn new things will make a big difference.

Make sure to read up and revise all the cases you see day to day. Make sure to get stuck in and help everyone in the team even if you think something is not a ‘vet’s’ job. This will help you improve your communication skills and practical skills and will help with team bonding.

When it comes to improving your English, there are, of course, many courses you can take, but don’t underestimate how much you will learn just by ‘immersing’ yourself in UK life and culture. You might have already taken courses and exams in English, but this does not compare to actually having to work and live in a country with a different language. Whilst it may be tempting to seek out friends who come from the same country as you, try and make some UK friends. A lot of practice teams will socialise outside of work so make sure you get stuck in. Find a club to join, whether that’s a sport club or other hobby. This will help you to hear English all the time and speak it, which will rapidly improve your language skills. Don’t underestimate how tiring this can be. When I first moved to the UK, I regularly fell asleep in the afternoon as I had to concentrate a lot more than ‘native’ English speakers.

One thing I did for years was to have a ‘word of the day’. Initially you will learn many new words every day, but it’s amazing how long finding a new ‘word of the day’ can continue. Even now, having lived in the UK for 15 years, I occasionally come across a word I’ve never heard before and don’t know the meaning of!

I do really enjoy being involved in our International Vet Programme, and my favourite part is to see non-UK vets flourish in our vet practices once they’ve joined the programme. We have more than 450 practices across the UK of all shapes and sizes so it’s great when we can match a non-UK vet to a practice where they can really unlock their career potential. Why not have a look at Edy Patouchas’ story. He is the first vet to complete our International Vet Programme.

Good luck, and if you haven’t yet applied for the programme, why not fill out the application form.

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