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12-05-2008 - Drive to increase diversity of veterinary profession

Drive to increase diversity of veterinary profession

8 May 2008

Image: Sanjay and Meena Mangabhai

The veterinary profession has launched new careers materials today (8 May 2008), at the Rainforest Café in London, in a bid to broaden the range of applicants to veterinary school.

Under the theme 'Veterinary Science… for all walks of life', the new DVD and brochure demonstrate that vets can come from a variety of backgrounds. They explore the diversity of career opportunities available, as exemplified by Head of Veterinary Services at Bristol Zoo Gardens, Sharon Redrobe, small animal practitioner Sanjay Mangabhai, and TV vet Steve Leonard, all of whom spoke at the launch (PDF 128Kb).

The materials were produced as part of the Government's Gateways to the Professions project. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and six out of the seven UK veterinary schools matched funding from the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills.

The current profile of the veterinary profession is 98% white, with a growing proportion of women: 79% of those admitted to veterinary school last year are female. In addition, it has traditionally been seen as a profession for those from the higher socioeconomic groups.

An increasingly homogenised profession may mean the UK is missing out on some potentially excellent vets. It is hoped that the new materials will attract those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, those without professionals in the family, and boys.

As Sanjay Mangabhai stressed at the launch, a lack of awareness about the veterinary profession is a barrier to some: "Although my family and friends actively tried to persuade me out of my career choice, this was largely due to a poor understanding of the profession," he said. Image: Professor Philip Duffus

In fact, a veterinary degree gave Sanjay a greater degree of flexibility and opportunity than a human medical career would have, with the added benefit of allowing him to set up his own business: "I always had a desire to run my own business and be an entrepreneur - being a vet has allowed me to do this," he says, having recently opened his second practice.

Modular in approach, the DVD features vets involved with small animal, large animal and equine practice, government service, the army, research, academia, commerce and zoo work. The latter, as Sharon Redrobe explained, includes vital work with rare breeds: "We treated an Okapi with pneumonia - when you consider there are only 50 in captivity and about 3,000 in the wild, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, then you can appreciate that the health of one Okapi is a serious issue."

Chairman of the project's steering group, Professor Phillip Duffus, believes that the veterinary profession's role in wider society is becoming more important: "With a growing number of diseases that can be passed from animals to humans, the potential of bioterrorism, and global climate change placing many animal species under threat, veterinary scientists are taking a more central role," he says.

"Veterinary graduates develop skills that are of potential benefit to the population at large, not just animal owners. We hope to attract a broad base of applications to veterinary school so that the profession can benefit from the best talent available."

TV vet Steve Leonard is a good example of how these transferable skills can be put to diverse use: "Being a vet is all about communication. All animals we see come with a person attached. The BBC recognised that I had the ability to explain often complex messages in simple terms, and that this would be a good quality in a TV presenter. I have ended up a long way from where I thought I would be and have had some fantastic experiences along the way," he said.Image: Shomari Lyon and Steve Leonard

Bill Rammell MP, Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, commented: "I welcome this new DVD and brochure developed by the RCVS and its partners to encourage diversity within the veterinary profession. This is exactly the sort of project which we are looking to encourage through our recently-launched High Level Skills Strategy consultation, which highlighted the importance of improving information, advice and guidance."

He added: "The project was one of a number funded through the Gateways to the Professions Development fund, which aimed to improve access to graduate jobs in the professions for people from a wider range of backgrounds. Over two years we have funded 24 projects to the tune of over £4 million."

The DVD and brochures will be sent to every secondary school in the UK, towards the end of May. A digital brochure, which incorporates the DVD modules, is available online.

For further information please contact:

Lizzie Lockett, or 020 7202 0725 (press enquiries) or 020 7202 0791 (other enquiries)

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