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Government Vets

My time as a student vet at the heart of government

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Helena Catherine Diffey - RVC
Helena Diffey

Having normally spent my time driving around country lanes covered in cow poo, my placement at the Westminster Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA) offices provided rather a different experience to my average 2 weeks of extra-mural studies!

As part of my studies at the Royal Veterinary College, I was keen to find exactly what goes on centrally at the ‘Ministry’ (as the west country farmers like to call it) and the kind of work that vets are involved with there.

Two weeks at the 'Ministry'

Over the 2 weeks I was fully immersed in a huge variety of departments, being introduced to numerous different people and areas of the APHA’s work, as well as unbelievable numbers of acronyms! I was interested to discover how multidisciplinary the workplace is in the APHA, something I think is not well understood by the average vet student, but is crucial to how things operate.

In particular, I found the work being done with social scientists on farmer behaviours with regards to biosecurity really fascinating, an approach I think is quite overlooked at vet school. It was also interesting to talk with economists about how their work contributes to policy making and I was encouraged to think about all the different political factors involved in policy decisions other than the veterinary/scientific evidence, possibly the most challenging aspect of the job!

I definitely gained a much more thorough understanding of the vast array of issues there are surrounding bovine TB in the UK, and how the government is tackling the problem in a very logical way. I can now appreciate how truly complex the issue is and how difficult it is to communicate with the public effectively to maintain trust. I also learnt a lot about the role of the APHA in disease surveillance and outbreak control, how different parts of the team work together and how detailed the contingency plans are. It was a shame there was no live action in this area whilst I was there, although I’m sure this is a good sign that current surveillance is effective!

Overall, the 2 weeks provided an extremely enlightening experience in a very different environment to my other clinical placements. I am very grateful to the staff who gave up their time to tell me about what they do and answer all of my many questions. I was made to feel very welcome and gained a real insight into everything that goes on at the APHA. Wherever my future career will take me I know that the insights I gained will be useful in very many ways!

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