Thursday, 1 May 2014

Vet Students Around The World - Meet Hannah van Velzen

We think veterinary students are awesome! Together with the International Veterinary Students' Association, we are bringing you the stories of vet students around the world.

Today we are talking with Hannah van Velzen, she’s a vet student in the Netherlands studying at Utrecht University. She’s also the Sponsorship Director 2013-2014 of the IVSA Global organization.

What is your favorite animal and why?

I like all animals, but my favorite animal would have to be my own dog. She’s unfortunately not here anymore, as she died last year, but she was my best friend for over 13 years. Her name was Tara and she was the friendliest black lab you'll ever meet. I called her my millennium dog because she was born on January 1st, 2000. She was definitely the most amazing dog ever and will always inspire me to be the best vet I can, so I can help preserve the special relationship between owner and pet knowing I experienced it firsthand.

Tell us about yourself?

I was born in Liverpool, England, and have lived in Canada and Trinidad as well. I have been living in the Netherlands since 1999. I love reading and (of course) animals. I have always had pets and even now in my student flat I have two birds. I also like drawing and play the cello. And of course, in addition to my veterinary studies, I do a lot of extra-curricular activities that have something to do with vet medicine. IVSA is currently my main activity besides studying. I got involved in 2011, when I went on exchange trip to Denmark, then continued the involvement by helping to organize the 62nd IVSA Congress in Utrecht, and now I’m the global director of sponsorships for the organization. I’ve met so many great people in IVSA and loved it from the very start. You meet so many incredibly nice and welcoming people! Now whatever country i'm in, i can simply put a post on Facebook and most of the time someone will reply and give me tips or help me out. It’s really a great network and a great way to make really good friends. It’s such an open environment, you can't help but have a really awesome time whenever IVSA is involved. Working at IVSA, I’ve also been seeing what is out there on an international scale and learned a lot about the many global organizations that are making a difference around the world.

Why did you decide to become a veterinarian?

To be honest mever saw myself doing anything else. I always wanted to be a vet. According to my parents, when I was 5 I already came up to my mom and told her I wanted to be an animal doctor. My parents are both human doctors so I always had that medical side in me – and i guess most of my family expected me to do something medical. However, I remember that I used to love watching vet programs on the discovery channel on TV, and I remember that once I was watching a similar program for human medicine and was completely uncomfortable. So, maybe unexpected for my family, it was always really clear to me I was going to practice medicine in animals. And I feel so at home in my studies, I'm absolutely sure my 5 year old self made the right choice!

What is it like to study veterinary medicine in the Netherlands?

I’ve always considered myself pretty lucky to study in the Netherlands as it has one of the best faculties in the world. To me, one of the best things here is how much the study is focused on giving you a lot of hands on experience. A lot of schools start out with theoretical classes and you don’t really see patients till the third year or so. Here at Utrecht University you’re getting experience with animals and learning that hands-on approach in your first year already. And by the 4th year you're in the clinics seeing and examining real patients. I love the clinic work, which is not only great for experience, but also a safe learning environment. The professors here are really open and will answer all your questions. Also, I’ve always liked that there’s a huge possibility to develop yourself into the career specialty that you’re interested in both inside and outside of the classroom. Our faculty has loads of associations focused on everything from exotics to one health, and members or these associations often get together via committees to organize lectures and excursions. This means there's almost weekly extra activities to go to, but also lots of possibilities to get involved and help organize something yourself. I’m always keeping busy and doing something, always joining two or three different committees a year. I never just come home and sit down for the evening – to be honest I think I’d be really bored if I did.

Can you tell us one of your favorite “veterinary facts” or nugget of “vet advice”?

I think one of the best tips that I’ve gotten was while I was working at a clinic in Ireland, and it came from the farm vet there. I was helping him redo stiches on a dog that had been hit by a car weeks before. The dog kept taking the stiches out and this was the third time that the dog came back to us to fix the stiches. So I was doing the stiches while he was watching me and at some point I stopped and asked if there were enough stiches. And then this vet told me that veterinary medicine is really about doing things in such a way that you can go home at night and sleep well knowing that you did what you believed to be the very best for the animal. So I thought about it, and yes, I would be able to sleep better knowing that this dog wouldn’t pull the stiches out again, so I put in an extra suture. Looking back now I think this was really good advice. I think it’s important to do your work in a way that makes you happy as a vet. It’s good to listen to your gut feeling and if you think something isn’t right, you should change it. As vets, havng studied for six years, we should be able to trust our instincts or otherwise know who to ask for help.

What advice would you give people considering becoming a vet? 

Do it! It’s the best job in the world and it’s so much fun! I think everyone goes through a phase in life where they want to be a vet, but many people grow out of this phase and then change their minds. Vets are the people that never got over that phase and stick with it (even if ideas of other professions made them stray a bit for a while) They’re cool and fun to work with. I’ve never met a vet student that I couldn’t talk to for a half hour. So, anyone that’s thinking about vet med should just do it. And as a plus, you get to cuddle with little baby animals more often than other people! I know it sounds like a joke, but it's those and other good parts of the job that get us through. Sometimes it can be frustrating because you can’t explain to animals what is happening to them or why they feel bad. With people you can tell them what to expect. But with animals, you have to just help them to take it as it comes and be there and comfort them and try to help them with their pain. But seeing all your effort pay off when an animal gets better (or you manage to make the passing easier) only makes the job even more special.

Hannah van Velzen
Sponsorship Director 2013-2014

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