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Government Vets

Working as a government vet: my story

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Linda Smith

I had decided to be a vet when I was 8, and later, this crystalised into a specific aim: to be a horse vet. At vet school I concentrated on equine options, so it was quite a shock, when I qualified, to discover that there were very few jobs available at all that year.

I managed to get one of the few posts on offer: a research and teaching job at the vet school. I was amazed to discover how much I enjoyed working with cattle and sheep, particularly my 45 bulls. During those 3 years, I did small animal locums, but the bills weren’t getting paid. Seeking financial security, but still longing for more horses in my life, I took my first government vet job, in Northern Ireland. Again, I was teaching, and also doing OVS work in red and white plants, and disease control. After 3 years, I took a job in what was then called MAFF, and I have stayed ever since.

From learning the basics to becoming a manager

My first post was in Huntingdon. Here, I learned the basics. Most of our work is connected to legislation, so we work with local authorities when necessary, to protect animal health and welfare. Prosecution is never the aim; it’s one of our tools. I really enjoyed animal welfare work, as there is great satisfaction in improving on-farm situations. I also discovered the fascination of working with poultry.

Then I moved to East Sussex. BSE was the main problem, although VHD in rabbits briefly took up a lot of time when it was notifiable. I moved, in quick succession, to Maidstone and then Reigate. Here I completed a certificate in State Veterinary Medicine and took my first steps into management.

Promotion to Head Office required me to commute daily which was a great opportunity to read books. I was the Veterinary Advisor for the Veterinary Resource team. We offered a wide range of support services, including recruitment, dispute resolution, health and safety instructions, finance and legal liaison. It was a wonderful mixed bag, but not much mention of animals.

Disease outbreak and beyond

During this time, the foot and mouth disease outbreak of 2001 occurred, and I took disease reports from vets in the field. Later on, I was the person who sourced vets from overseas governments. I still sometimes think of Thursday as "American arrival day". I brought in, and inducted, over 450 vets, and was even permitted to act as a temporary Registrar for the Royal College of Veterinary Services, as it was difficult for them to cope with demand.

After this, I moved to Reading as Divisional Veterinary Manager. Occasionally I saw animals again. I worked briefly in Bristol, in charge of the TB endemic area, and nationally responsible for zoonoses. Then I was linked to our Head Office, leading projects on local authority liaison and funding. I also spent three months working with the HPA in the pandemic flu office.

Next, I worked at Defra in policy. I developed International Trade team instructions, contributed to legislation linked to Veterinary Surgeons Act exemptions and reviewed the poultry health scheme.

For 3 years I worked in our laboratory surveillance service, improving my pathology knowledge and helping to rationalise the service.

Currently, I am the Veterinary Head of Careers, Education and Quality. I create, arrange or buy training opportunities for vets, liaise with universities and other organisations, and I’m particularly enthusiastic about making sure undergraduates know about the very varied career they could have with Animal & Plant Health Agency - which I think my story illustrates!

I have many stories to tell. I still don’t see enough horses, but I have lots of poultry.

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