“Our veterinary graduates are ready for a career in any area.”

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It’s not just cats and dogs. The field of veterinary science is a wide one and that’s something that’s easy to see at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, a place where the international feel to the University is at its most intense.

There are students from France and Belgium, but also Latin America, Australia, India, Israel, Canada, and South Africa, says María Estrella Jiménez, a lecturer on our bilingual Bachelor’s Degree programme.

We spent some time with her talking about this degree which is for passionate and driven people”. That drive is obvious in her own teaching in lecture rooms and laboratories: “We have to live up to the international standing that we now have. Our accreditation from the EAEVE has made us one of the top choices for those across the world who want to study Veterinary Medicine.”

The lecturer María Estrella Jiménez during a practical lab session.

What does this accreditation mean in practical terms?

It means that we have now joined an elite club of veterinary faculties in Europe. It’s a guarantee of the highest quality. For our graduates, it gives them extra prestige and makes them more employable, as the degree they gain here will enable them to work in any country in Europe.

You’re a CEU UCH veterinary graduate too. How has the Faculty changed since you were a student? What do you think the old you would think of the place that you now lecture in?

The old me would sign up for a degree here again. But the change and growth of the Faculty has been spectacular in every sense. In terms of the amount of practical training the students receive, it’s of a different order of magnitude. And it’s the same for the opportunities they now have to be in contact with animals of many different species. Of course, we did have practical training too back then, but not as much as now and we didn’t have these opportunities across so many different areas.

“STUDENTS CAN BEGIN THE THIrD YEAR AND HAVE ALREADY UNDERTAKEN 400 HOURS OF EXTRA-CURRICULAR PRACTICAL TRAINING.”

The practical training students now get is one of the things that makes the Faculty’s educational programme stand out. How does it work?

There are two types of practical training: the students’ compulsory practical training – that which forms part of courses on the degree – and then also the extracurricular or voluntary type. For the compulsory practical training, students are placed into groups of 10 or 12 at most, and that’s a real advantage both for the lecturer and especially for the student. Sometimes these groups are even smaller, perhaps only five students. Students handle dogs and horses, or they may carry out necropsies, just to name a couple of examples.

All this would be more difficult without the right facilities, wouldn’t it?

We’re lucky to have the facilities, the equipment and the human team at our veterinary hospital, the Hospital Clínico Veterinario, the  Teaching Farm, and the laboratories at the new Health Sciences Building. As part of the compulsory practical training in microbiology, for example, we use exactly the same techniques that food companies or clinical microbiology laboratories use.

But students are also busy away from campus too, right?

That’s right. We have around 50 agreements with different companies where our students can undertake their compulsory placements. The agreements are with veterinary clinics, hospitals, abattoirs, food processing plants and external laboratories. Students can also choose a company or clinic of their choice, in Spain or abroad, and then the University can then put an agreement in place with that company, meaning that students can undertake a placement anywhere in the world. In fact, we’re negotiating an agreement with an organization in South Africa right at this very moment.

Many of these placements are obviously focused on a particular area. How do undergraduates come to the decision to focus on a specific field?

In the first two years of the degree, students are given a general education in veterinary medicine, looking at areas such as anatomy, physiology, chemistry, physics, and parasitology. These two years provide the foundation for the rest of the degree. Over the following three years, students come into contact with the specialist areas: clinics for small and large animals (mainly horses), animal production – divided by species, taking in poultry, cows and pigs – and then finally food safety and technology. Then in the summer following the third year, the placement option chosen indicates which specialty the student is heading toward.

Dogs, cats, rabbits and the odd snake… Does the stereotype that people have in their minds of what vets do correspond to what the degree consists of?

To work in this field you have to have a real vocation for it. There’s much more to being a vet than what people think. The profession involves a whole world of different things. That’s why our students on the degree see a bit of every kind of career they may end up having.

“all of our latest graduates from the english stream are now in work.”

Many people who aren’t vets don’t know, for example, how involved they have to be throughout the animal farming process.  

That’s right. And that’s why we have to cover all specialties and train these future veterinarians so that they can operate in any of them. It’s obvious that we need to train them in clinical care, but they also need to know about animal farming and food safety. Each of these areas in turn have further professional niches, which can involve consulting, business or technology. A commercial farm needs vets from the beginning to the end of the process. We are essential and necessary to protect not only the welfare of the animals but also human health.

We’ve talked about specialties and now we need to talk about graduate prospects.

Well, I can tell you that, for example, all of our latest graduates from the English stream are now in work. Many of our students end up being hired by the organization where they do their fifth-year placement. I recently heard that one of our students has got a job at an equine clinic in Canada, the place where she did her final-year placement just a few months ago.

You teach on the bilingual English-Spanish stream and on practically all the different study years. What do you expect of your students?

We want every student to come here with an open, inquiring mind and to maintain that spirit and enthusiasm right through to graduation.

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