Alternative careers for vets

alternative careers for vets
Dr Emma Davis has a lot to say about alternative careers for vets.

When a vet decides they don’t want to be a vet anymore, there is a wide variety of fulfilling career options available. Kerryn Ramsey reports

Working as a veterinarian is a very satisfying but stressful job. During their career, it is common for vets to change their professional goals, desire a better work-life balance or simply become burnt out. For many reasons, vets sometimes decide they don’t want to be vets anymore. They may want a temporary break or decide to make a permanent career change. 

Fortunately, the skills, qualifications and attributes obtained while working as a vet are transferable to many other careers. These opportunities often involve animals or animal care but the work is entirely different to the stresses and day-to-day activity of clinical practice.


Dr Sarah Britton began her career working as an employee in a number of small animal practices in NSW and Victoria. Eventually she started her own practice in Melbourne, only selling when she moved to Orange in Central West NSW. There, she started another practice and by the time she decided to change careers, she had been an owner/veterinarian for 13 years.

“I loved owning and running practices,” says Dr Britton, “but I’m also one of those people who needs new challenges. I really like working with animals but I wanted to find a way to have a greater impact.”

Today, Dr Britton is the NSW chief veterinary officer and group director of animal biosecurity for the NSW Department of Primary Industries. She has oversight of government vets in the state. Her role in animal biosecurity is to protect animal industries, the community and the environment from animal pests and diseases. Her department is involved with public health and investigates notifiable, emergency and emerging animal diseases.

“I love my veterinary career to date; it’s been full of surprises. I love the challenge and unravelling the puzzle.” 

Dr Emma Davis, founder, Global Veterinary Solutions

“The beauty of clinical practice is the chance to interact with individual animals and people,” says Dr Britton. “You are very much part of the family with your clients. Moving to my government role means that my impact is far greater. We are working hard to protect industries and communities.”

The stats

The Australian Veterinary Association’s workforce survey 2016 looks at the current profile of the veterinary profession and anticipates future trends and changes. While it finds that about 73 per cent of vets are working in a clinical role in group, solo or corporate practices, the remaining vets spread their expertise across a wide variety of fields. These include teaching, research, biosecurity, animal welfare, export certification, pathology, pharmaceutical and meat inspection. 

International opportunities

Dr Natalie Robertson graduated from the University of Melbourne in 2006 and worked for three years in a companion animal clinic. Unfortunately, she wasn’t enjoying the work but still wanted to use her veterinary degree, skills and knowledge. She applied for a job advertised with Pfizer Animal Health, now Zoetis, and has never looked back.

“I’ve been with Zoetis for 10 years,” says Dr Robertson. “After working in a variety of roles from research and development through to veterinary operations and marketing, I recently accepted a global role. My current position is associate director of precision livestock farming portfolio strategy and lifecycle. I’m about to relocate to our head office in New Jersey.”

Precision livestock farming is an exciting field that uses smart sensors to collect data on individual animal health and activity. The sensors can detect oestrus activity and certain diseases earlier and more accurately than traditional methods. 

alternative careers for vets
Dr Sarah Britton, NSW Department of Primary Industries

 “Precision livestock farming is designed to empower vets and farmers to take action earlier, maximise animal welfare and minimise any impacts on productivity,” says Dr Roberstson. “Ultimately, we’re working towards goals such as supporting vets to reduce the amount and frequency of antibiotic use, which is a critical challenge for our industry moving forward.”

Careers and coaching

Of course, not all vets want a complete severance from clinical practice when redefining their career goals. They may take a sabbatical, they may decide to concentrate in one area of clinical practice or they may choose to work part-time. On the other hand, some vets choose to make a full change, embracing a new position or business so completely, there is no time for traditional clinical practice.

“The whole thing about our job is that you can use your skills in many different ways. There is no downside to trying other opportunities.” 

Dr Sarah Britton, NSW Department of Primary Industries

Dr Emma Davis has multi-streamed her career since graduating from the University of Sydney in 2001. While working in full-time practice, she also volunteered with Lifeline and a number of other local charities. At present she works full-time building her business, Global Veterinary Solutions (GVS). This enterprise has two arms—Veterinary Careers, a career hub for veterinarians highlighting the diversity of roles available for them, and a service providing technical and administrative virtual assistance to help veterinary businesses solve problems.

Additionally, Dr Davis runs a veterinary career and business coaching business that helps people improve their veterinary business while propelling them towards financial and personal success.

“I love my veterinary career to date; it’s been full of surprises,” says Dr Davis. “I love the challenge and unravelling the puzzle. I spent five years working in mixed and equine practices, and then moved to a government position. I’ve worked on really interesting projects including highly pathogenic avian influenza in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, ensuring equine influenza didn’t breach our borders again, animal welfare, and safe production of food. Now I get to support the amazing people who work in these fields, and support them in creating positive change for our quiet, caring profession.”

Veterinarians have a wide skill set and attributes that are highly sought after if they decide on a career change. These agile, highly trained professionals possess resilience, resourcefulness and great communication skills. They are used to applying risk-based decision-making and dealing with distraught clients. “It’s great to assist them in tapping into this wealth of experience and attributes, and see them take charge of their careers again,” says Dr Davis.

Dr Britton agrees. “It’s amazing just how diverse is the veterinary degree and the opportunities it can offer. While working in clinical practice is a passion for some vets, those who are feeling unfulfilled can turn to government, industries, university, research, or whatever. I’m really keen to see that vets don’t close off their options. The whole thing about our job is that you can use your skills in many different ways. There is no downside to trying other opportunities.”


  1. A few other more common reasons for vets to change career include: seeking a challenge, and improved remuneration.

    Vets have become less likely to move into government agriculture roles over the last few decades and are more likely to work with dogs and cats in a clinic. For the minor number that do change profession, a complete back to Uni reroute occurs for some into fields such as human medicine and dentistry.


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