“I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a vet!” explained Jane Alexander (30) who hails from Belfast, Northern Ireland.
“I didn’t grow up on a farm, or even have any pets, but I was completely obsessed with animals from a very young age.”
Jane studied veterinary medicine at University College Dublin and graduated in 2012. “Having come from school where you are essentially babysat through studying and exams, university was a real learning curve!”
“Vet Med is an intense course which requires a huge amount of focus and dedication, but we managed to balance the library hours with our fair share of social events and parties!”
“I found the content more difficult than I was expecting and the sheer volume of information that needs to be absorbed and memorized for exams was always daunting!”
After graduation, Jane began working in a clinic which was located in close proximity to her home in Belfast. “Leaving university to enter the ‘real world’ of work is a shock to the system!”
“Working life as a vet can be stressful and exhausting - I was suddenly responsible for the health and survival of many animals, yet I felt totally inexperienced and out of my depth.&rdquo
After a number of years in work, Jane spent eight-months travelling before eventually returning to her home soil to work in a different practice in Belfast.
Now, she has been living in Uganda for almost a year and works as a vet in a local clinic in Kampala, the capital city. Her husband, Ross, is a civil engineer and was offered a position with an NGO working to develop schools and improve access to clean water across East Africa.
“Uganda is an incredible place to live - it is an absolutely beautiful country full of the friendliest people.”
“The weather is always glorious too, which is a real change from Ireland. To say it is different from being a vet in Ireland is a total understatement!” Jane said.
“Pets are not nearly as popular here as they are at home, although this area is slowly growing in Uganda,” she explained.
She explained that the agricultural sector is a major industry and livestock is the sole source of income for a huge proportion of the population. “Yet, compared to Ireland, intensive farming practices are almost non-existent.”
Stock are kept in small herds and flocks, often grazed nomadically and brought to grass and water by farmers or their children.
“Livestock is of great importance to Ugandans, providing income for farmers and their families, but financial constraints mean that farmers often do not seek veterinary attention if their animals are unwell.”
“I think there is great potential, especially in terms of herd health, to improve productivity on farms here.”
Access to routine drugs and equipment is unfortunately very limited so Jane and her fellow vets have to be creative with treatment options.
“I’ve made buster collars out of wastepaper baskets to stop dogs licking their stitches!”
“Working in a local clinic has made me aware of how spoilt we are as vets in Ireland! I’m working with a lovely Ugandan vet, Michael.”
“Disease diagnosis is a real challenge too; we have to bring animals to the local human hospital at night to use their X-ray machine!”
A major difficulty for the 30-year-old has been recognising symptoms of exotic diseases that we would not find in Ireland, such as Ehrlichiosis Trypanosomiasis and even Rabies.
The Belfast native is currently enrolled in a masters in One Health, which looks at the intricate links between human, animal and environmental health.
“I feel it is so relevant here in Africa, where people live so closely to and rely so heavily on their animals.”
“There is also a lot of conflict with wildlife here- wild buffalo and antelope act as a reservoir for disease that can be spread to domestic livestock in areas where they co-graze.”
The effects of climate change are having a massive and devastating impact here; unpredictable rains, rising temperatures and extreme weather patterns are making life increasingly difficult for farmers here.
“I think vets could really make a big impact in Uganda, maximizing the potential and profitability of livestock and helping protect people from zoonotic disease.”
Working as a vet in Uganda has many challenges but it can also be rewarding, the 30-year-old explained. “I think it’s been good to be pushed out of my comfort zone - to adapt to a new place and working environment.”
“I feel like I’ve learnt many new skills during my time working here so far.”
Jane encourages anyone considering a career in veterinary pursue this, but wants them to be “realistic”.
“It is a job full of variety, where every day is different and there are many opportunities to make a big impact on the lives of animals and people.”
“Yet, it is truly a vocation. It is often stressful, the hours can be isolating and anti-social and, contrary to public belief, the salary is poor.”
“However, becoming a vet is something I have never regretted, even during long, frustrating days here where I feel I can do little to help."
Her advice to vet students and young vets is to try and find a practice that provides you with support; she advises them not to be discouraged when things don’t go to plan. “You simply can’t save every animal.”
“Working as a vet can consume your whole life if you let it, so a work-life balance is incredibly important!” she stressed.
Looking to the future, Jane and Ross feel they are only scratching the surface of their African adventure, revealing there are so many incredible places to explore.
“I would love to see more local vets graduating here and improved access to drugs and equipment to make it easier for vets to make a real impact on the lives of Ugandans and their animals.”
“I love living in a country of such diverse species of wildlife and perhaps will get involved in conservation in the future.”
“Ross and I are so glad we’ve had the opportunity to live here - it’s been the best decision we’ve made!” Jane concluded.
If you are a veterinary practitioner and you want to share your story, email – firstname.lastname@example.org – with a short bio.