..is very different! Working hours in the clinics in the UK, are at minimum 0830 - 1700, though my fellow peers will laugh as we all know that this isn't true, often its closer to 0730-1800. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I also said an hour lunch break is something dreams are made of, instead sometimes lunch is scoffed in the student corridor at the speed which is guaranteed to give you hiccups all the way through surgery or afternoon consults.
I feel very passionate about maintaining a good work-life balance during my career, and I believe that generally, I have lead a reasonably balance student life. I realise now that really, my life was balanced only when comparing to others without any. During the 7 weeks I have been in Norway so far, I have really noticed this change. This is a change both in myself, a reduced stress level allowing for more energy and enjoyment of life but also in veterinary culture and the expectation that you can go home! I am retaining knowledge better, I can recall information from the course better, I can communicate with staff and students more easily and I actually sleep well. I have now understood the difference between doing an activity for enjoyment and as a coping mechanism. In the UK, I love walking my dog or playing the violin, but I not only want to, but need to. Here, I go skiing just because I want to and therefore I can completely enjoy it. It sounds a little over-the-top, but after a lot of consideration and talking to the other ERASMUS+ students, I believe that it is true. There was talk about the reason for mental health issues being so prevalent in veterinary because of school selecting the wrong candidates, but in my opinion this has little to do with it. Nature has its part, but I think that nurture is the significant driving factor here. The veterinary culture in the UK is completely outdated, harping back to days or yore when the world was a different place, when it was a mans world. Things have changed, for the better, but veterinary is slow to catch up. Instead it is reluctantly accepting the change in gender balance but stubbornly refusing to lessen the bravado factor of long, stupid working hours and dangerous working environments.
On the other hand, there is much reduced expectations of students, this is regarding professionalism, initiative and knowledge. It seems to be an unhelpful side effect of the flattened social structure and low practical experience. Whereas, my fellow ERASMUS+ peers and I feel an increased level of respect from clinicians and staff, it is rarely that the day begins on time due to tardiness.
Additionally, we have had to complete a minimum of a year voluntary work experience, both on farms and in clinics to build an understanding of the industry and animal handling skills. I would never call myself horsey and I'm no 'farmers girl' but I've realised just how competent we are after being here. Particularly in the equine hospital - in Norway trotting racing is the most popular form of racing and they use Standardbreds or native breeds (cold blood types). These are generally incredibly calm and docile temperaments (I'd recommend for a happy hacker or a first time pony..) and are worlds away from the fractious and unpredictable nature of a thoroughbred. The result of this is a much reduced care and awareness around the animals, which more than once I have felt the need to inform the students of the importance of reading equine body language. I bury my head in my hands at the idea of behaving the same way with a racing thoroughbred, I would be confident to say there would have been numerous severe injuries by now.
Another interesting aspect was welfare; student welfare is highly prioritised, but animal welfare has been a lower than my expectations, which was surprising for a country who is considered (and considers itself) very advanced society. There are high welfare laws in place, but equally there are a lot of convenient get-out clauses. Being a dog is pretty decent, but the production animals get a really raw deal!
There is so much that we should be learning from each other, both at home and internationally, to challenge the status quo and stir-up more ideas. Unfortunately, we can often only look overseas for inspiration, not answers. For example, Norway has had a fantastic eradication program in place for a number of the disease UK farmers struggle to control and prevent and their controlled antibiotic usage is leaps and bounds beyond most of Europe. These are subjects which we have discussed at length during my rotations here in the Farm animal clinics. One element I notice people always forget is the role economic strength, agricultural industry and geography play in this. The role of subsidies in Norwegian farming, financial incentives and compensation for culled herds have allowed farmers to survive the eradication programs and production losses from reduced antibiotic usage. Additionally, there are geographic challenges to the spread of disease, this has meant that minor transport controls can have a large effect.
I have enjoyed every element of my exchange: meeting new people, trying to improve my Norwegian, the challenges and the easier aspects of university and cannot encourage other people to take this fantastic opportunity enough!