Living and working overseas is a rite of passage for young vets but does it help or hinder your job prospects when you return home? Angela Tufvesson reports
After finishing her degree and working for almost two years in a busy Sydney practice, Dr Chloë Kempe did what young Aussie vets have been doing for decades: she quit her job and sought employment overseas. In Dr Kempe’s case, she went to Bermuda, a British territory off the east coast of the US, where she lived as a child. Most vets head to New Zealand and the UK, and most, like Dr Kempe, return within two years armed with improved clinical skills and a heap of life experience.
“I did a lot more feline medicine in Bermuda as there’s a lot more cats as pets, so when I returned to Australia, I had much better experience with cat handling,” says Dr Kempe. “I also gained more experience with different conditions. For example, toad poisoning is a real problem in Bermuda.
“Working overseas means that you have more clinical skills in your back pocket when you return home. I feel more empowered having done overseas work.”
But what happens when globetrotters like Dr Kempe return home and search for work? How do prospective employers and clients view overseas experience? Does working with cats in Bermuda, as a locum in the UK or in large animal practices in New Zealand, demonstrate clinical prowess or suggest chronically itchy feet?
A rite of passage
According to Advance, a federal government initiative that connects Australians living abroad, an estimated one million people are living and working overseas at any one time. Most Australian expats are highly educated, highly skilled and aged between 25 and 39. The majority live in the UK, New Zealand and the US and cite employment as the motivation for their relocation. Research by the Productivity Commission found 75 per cent of people return home within two years.
Australian vets working abroad fit this profile almost exactly, says Dr Mark Eagleton, owner of Vetlink Employment Service, a recruitment agency specialising in the veterinary industry.
“People will normally leave university, get a graduate job and stay there for two years to get their basic skills developed so that they can spay a dog, castrate an animal and all those obvious things,” he says. “Then they will go to the UK—that’s primarily where people go—or New Zealand. All Australian vet degrees are recognised in the UK and New Zealand so it’s a very simple process to go there and work.Upskilling
Dr Eagleton says even though the Australian, UK and New Zealand veterinary industries are very similar, there are more opportunities overseas to hone particular skill sets that are in demand locally.
“All Australian vet degrees are recognised in the UK and New Zealand so it’s a very simple process to go there and work.”
Dr Mark Eagleton, owner, Vetlink Employment Service
“New Zealand is a very good place to go if you’re interested in large animal practice, particularly dairy,” he says. “They have so many large animal practices, including a lot of practices where you might look after working dogs, sheep, cattle, dairy cattle and deer all in the one month. The case load over there in large animal work is quite remarkable. That skill set would be very helpful when you came back to Australia.”
Likewise, he says working in the UK is more likely to expose vets to a high case load environment. “There are some very, very busy practices in the UK and it’s interesting to see how they manage their case load and their workload for the day,” says Dr Eagleton. “Although most things are done very similarly to Australia, there’s definitely differences.”
Anecdotal evidence suggests returning expats, especially those who worked for large multinational companies, can struggle to find suitable jobs in Australia because they lack local contacts and expertise.
Thankfully, that’s not the case for vets because there’s an oversupply of jobs, says Dr Eagleton. “The vet shortage is countrywide so if you’ve done two years in Australia and two years in the UK, it doesn’t make you any more or less employable—you’re going to get a job quite easily,” he says.
As for whether overseas experience is a deciding factor for employers recruiting for competitive roles, Adam Gould, managing director of veterinary recruitment agency Seven Animal Health, says returning expats are at an advantage.
“Employers like vets with overseas experience because it shows that they’re adaptable to different environments and different situations, and that they’re versatile and able to thrive under pressure,” he says.
All of which is a definite asset for vets who return home and decide to become self-employed, says Dr Kempe. She now runs her own locum business in Sydney and says her clients value the adaptability, people skills and confidence she gained working overseas.
“You have shown that you can be adaptable and change, and that you’re comfortable working with people from all sorts of backgrounds,” says Dr Kempe. “I feel more confident having done overseas work, and I think my clients recognise that.”
Gould says one of the few issues to confront returning expats is a perception that they may only stick around for a few years before heading abroad again. The solution? “Make sure the role you’re going for is exactly what you’re looking for,” he says. “Employers may be concerned that if a person has gone overseas, they might be inclined to do that again in a couple of years, so it’s about making sure the next position you go into is something you’ll enjoy for the long-term.