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Stubborn as an equid

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AS the door shut behind the last veterinary student of spring, the whole practice breathed a sigh of relief. While this year's crop of students had been from various universities and across all three clinical years, the last student, in particular, had been challenging.

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In general, vets like taking students out on calls. It reminds us of our own youthful days when every visit was new, exciting and exhilarating. Veterinary students always seem particularly keen and enthusiastic about even the most mundane tasks, such as foot trimming or routine pregnancy scanning. Emergency calvings or caesareans incite a whole range of questions, as well as an opportunity for the student to get involved with reviving calves, or stitching up the skin. For us seasoned practitioners, students are a veritable font of the latest techniques and research, and lively clinical discussions fill tedious car journeys from farm to farm. The gentle massaging of one's ego when a difficult calving goes well is returned tenfold when the student who saw you do it is barely able to restrain themselves from informing every other vet student via social media. It's also useful to remove the rose-tinted spectacles many students acquire and make sure they are fully aware of the long hours, the wide range of clients encountered and the forests of paperwork they will be expected to complete, but also just how great this job actually is.

The last student, however, was not interested in farm practice. Their knowledge of farm diseases and common conditions would have struggled to fill a postcard. When dealing with some visits, it was safer to leave the student near or even (on one memorable occasion involving a lively Limousin heifer) in the car, rather than risk their safety entering a pen of animals. Despite a wide variety of sick calves, baffling sheep maladies and even an off-colour alpaca, this student never seemed to need to do more than lightly rinse the mud off their wellies, having remained at a distance despite encouragement. Freshly born calves worthy of any Disney advert were glanced over and quickly dismissed. It became apparent that the student was simply ‘ticking the box’ for farm animal practice in order to complete EMS.

After several fruitless discussions, we discovered the trigger word for stimulating conversation: horse. This particular student had submerged themselves fully in the equine world and could talk at length about anything and everything to do with horses, tapping deep wells of equid veterinary knowledge and awareness of all the latest research. The enthusiasm and honest excitement about veterinary surgery was dazzling to behold.

Unfortunately our practice does not treat horses, except for the odd old pony euthanasia. This left the student in something of a quandary, needing to see farm animal practice but really preferring to see equine practice – all day, every day. For us as the host practice, it was even more confusing: how could a student not be intrigued by the mysteries of cattle and sheep? Were those preclinical years studying all areas of veterinary science just a hurdle to navigate in order to graduate as a horse doctor? Doubtless the student found us a perplexing example of Fundum veterinarius medicum and at the end of a protracted week, with each side trying to convert the other, we agreed to disagree and went our separate ways.

While I admire and applaud students trying to find a suitable niche of veterinary medicine to pursue, I fear for the dwindling future population of farm animal vets, in an increasingly pet-orientated (in my opinion, horses by definition are pets) industry.

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