As one of the youngest BCVA presidents, Nikki Hopkins doesn’t have to think too far back to remember her graduating year. With the 2020 cohort having an especially unique and challenging experience, Nikki wanted to encourage those just starting out in their careers. Her message is “you are good enough and you are welcome to this truly great profession. We are here to support you.”
Why did you choose vet school? Rumour has it you wanted to be an archaeologist!
That might be true! I did a BSc degree first, and that made me realise that I wasn’t ever going to be happy doing anything else other than my initial plan of vet school. Obviously, it also gave me a chance to be a student for a bit longer! It’s a bit cliché but I would honestly say that some of those years were the very best of my life and it was the best decision I ever made.
How did you feel after finals?
I would have been elated that the exams were over, but I remember also being extremely daunted at the thought of losing the support network that I had in my friends, as we all went our separate ways – both geographically and job-wise.
The close relationships you build in vet school aren’t quite like in other degrees - you study together, you live together, stay up all night with a colicking horse together and share every funny and difficult moment of vet school together. The rug is pulled from under you a little bit when that ends and the job you are about to start is properly challenging.
That’s why I would urge new grads to join an association like BCVA and coming to events like the annual Congress. It is really important to maintain your old networks and important to build new ones. You get a chance to connect with more people who understand you – who have walked in your shoes. I am very lucky in that some of my best friends now are former vet school friends - but you do need to make efforts to stay in touch and meet up regularly, which is tricky around out of hours rotas etc. There is nothing better than being at a Congress social where you can reminisce about the good old days! That might not be possible right now, but those opportunities will return, and I hope to see lots of new grads at these events in the future.
How did you go about getting your first job? What tips do you have?
When I was looking for my first job I wondered if any new employers would think I was good enough. The first thing I’d like to say to the 2020 graduates is that you are good enough. Not only did you get into vet school and graduate vet school – you did it in a year like no other. You did it in extraordinary circumstances and any employer should applaud that.
My experience – I remember being really late for one of my job interviews because my tyre blew out when I was driving there, so I had to change it on the side of the road and then couldn’t drive over 40mph as the spare tyre was one of those space-saver wheels.
I really thought that would have blown my chances, but I think they were so amazed that I could change a tyre, I got offered the job! Interviews were quite different back then - you turned up, were shown around the practice, had a sit-down informal chat with a partner, and then left an hour later. Everybody got a job through word of mouth, seeing practice or from adverts in the Vet Record, as there was no other way of advertising at the time. I wouldn’t say that this always gave the best insight into the practice and in normal circumstances I would advise anybody to spend some time at the practice, go out on some calls and try and talk to as many people in the practice as you can.
Also, when it’s possible, do go and explore the local area to see what it has to offer. It’ s not solely about the job, you need to be happy and fulfilled about where you are going to live and that the local area is going to satisfy your needs for social things outside of work.
Obviously much of this may not be possible during current restrictions, but it would be possible to chat over the phone or in virtual meetings with different employees, and you can still research the general area online.
I had a virtual interview once, when I was travelling in India. I didn’t have the webcam on, so didn’t like to tell the interviewers that I couldn’t see them. It was slightly embarrassing several months later when I met them in person but didn’t know who any of them were!
Obviously, new graduates today are a lot more tech savvy than me, so won’t be making such mistakes. Although a virtual meeting might feel like a weird way to be interviewed for a job, just be relaxed and be yourself and remember that everyone will be in the same boat, including your prospective employers.
Why did you choose to be a cattle vet? What do you love about it – and what are the challenges?
I worked in mixed practice for quite a long time, so have worked across a lot of species. I ended up choosing the work I loved the most. I’m rather ‘vertically challenged’ and I can’t change that, but you find ways to adapt and farmers love bringing me out boxes to stand on!
I think it’s the client relationships that I cherish the most; the mutual respect that you build over time that really underpins the vet-farmer relationship. It means that even when you might have differences of opinion, neither of you are afraid to share them. You may not always even agree on a course of action, but it can be debated freely and without fear of reprisal. I like being challenged by farmers wanting to know new things.
It’s especially nice to feel valued within the community once you have established yourself in a practice – which can happen pretty quickly. I like being waved at when you drive down the road and it’s lovely to be bought numerous drinks at the local pub!
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