Shanon says a stroke of luck paved the way for an ‘amazing’ career in ECC

It’s a commonly-held belief that experience is the only source of knowledge.

But many starting out in their careers are faced with the disheartening reality that you need experience to get experience.

Fortunately, this catch-22 situation doesn’t apply to veterinary medicine, as Shanon McGuigan can attest.

Having graduated in 2018 and completed our Cutting Edge induction programme in October 2019, Shanon — who is now a veterinary surgeon at our Lincoln clinic — is living proof that less experience doesn’t mean less capable.

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Shanon, 26, grew up in Ireland, on the border between Derry and Donegal and a love of animals which runs in her family meant her journey into the veterinary profession was almost inevitable.

“I’ve wanted to be a vet since I was little,” she explained. “I’ve been around animals from a young age. My granddad had a farm and although he had given up the animals by the time I came around my mam carried on that love of animals.

“I had dogs growing up, as well as various other injured animals that I had taken in. I’d regularly come home with injured birds and other wildlife and then send them to rescue centres.”

Shanon’s passion for animals led her to vet school in Bristol and after graduating, she returned to Ireland where she started working in a mixed practice.

However, reality struck when she found herself dissatisfied in her role and she was left with the unsettling feeling that perhaps her future didn’t lie where she thought it would.

“I always thought that I would go down the mixed practice route and that would be me forever,” she recalled. “I did really enjoy the work but I was working one in three on call in the middle of springtime. I was doing four caesareans a night and losing the will to live.

“I didn’t feel supported and I was at a point where I really was considering giving up and leaving the profession.”

It was then, as luck would have it, she came across an ad in the Vet Times for our Cutting Edge programme, the ideal platform for vets with a minimum of six months in small or mixed animal practice who are looking to embark on a career in emergency and critical care.

Image of Cutting Edge graduate Shanon McGuigan for Vets Now article on Cutting Edge programme
Shanon graduated from university in 2018 and worked in mixed practice before joining our Cutting Edge programme in 2019

“I used to spend most of my lunch breaks at work looking at other job options and imagining what could be, and that was when I spotted the ad for Cutting Edge.

“I read more about the programme and thought it sounded amazing. I kept thinking about it but told myself there was no point applying as I would never get in”

Fortunately, despite those initial reservations, she took a leap of faith and submitted her application.

“I thought I’d just apply to learn more about the recruitment process. I was certain I wouldn’t get in that year, but at least I’d know what they expected when I reapplied the following year.

“And then I found out I had been accepted.”

She was particularly surprised that the course coordinators didn’t view her experience level as an obstacle.

“I always liked emergency medicine even when I was at uni,” Shanon said. “The only thing that stopped me going into it was that I didn’t feel like I knew enough or had enough experience.

“Cutting Edge simply said ‘we’ll train you’ and that was that.”

Image of Cutting Edge group for Vets Now article on Cutting Edge programme
Our Cutting Edge group

As well as providing training on how to deal with the most common emergencies, communication advice and guidance on mental health and wellbeing, the programme also includes a weekend of practical surgery experience, which Shanon found invaluable.

“While I had done some surgery before starting the course, I wasn’t the most experienced surgeon,” she explained. The surgery weekend was amazing as it gave me the chance to learn and practice. Without it, I don’t think I would feel anywhere near as prepared or confident as I do.”

Almost a year since completing the course and Shanon is now part of the Lincoln team, although she had quite an unconventional start.

“It was my birthday and I moved into my new house during my first week at work — I wouldn’t recommend it!

“But I just love going to work now. You don’t know what you’re going to see and it’s really exciting. I just love when these animals come in in a bad way and you know you can fix them. And when they can go home the next day you can think ‘I did that’.

“You also get exposed to so many cases and so many interesting things. I feel like I gained so much more experience in my first three months here than I did in an entire year before I started.”

Image of Mark Ross and the Cutting Edge group with their certificates for Vets Now article on Cutting Edge programme
The group graduated in October 2019 and our chief executive Mark Ross presented them with their certificates

Of course, a satisfying job also gives you the freedom to enjoy life outside of it — something which Vets Now is dedicated to providing. And while it may come as a surprise to some, our people achieve this positive work-life balance by working nights.

“I hate mornings, so I feel like I’m kind of the ideal night work candidate,” Shanon said. “There’s obviously a bit of an adjustment period and it takes time to find what works best for you. But the trade-off is you get more time off to do things than you would in day practice.

“When I was in day practice, I felt like all I did was work and then at the weekends I just collapsed or I was on call, so it was like never leaving work.

“Whereas, in an out-of-hours role, when you’re at work, you’re at work but when you’re not at work, you can switch off.”

While a large part of her job satisfaction comes from the work itself, Shanon is clear that the people she works with are a massive part of why she loves her job.

“I work in this nice little tight knit team and everybody works so well together,” she said. “It’s just amazing.”

Image of Cutting Edge group with their certificates for Vets Now article on Cutting Edge programme
Our graduates are now working in our clinics across the country

And now, having gained a wealth of experience, she is now keen to develop her skills even further.

She explained: “I definitely want to pursue further education going forward, possibly a certificate or another route like an internship or specialisation.

“I had forgotten after I left university how much I enjoyed learning and then I came here and I rediscovered learning for learning’s sake”.

And now that she has found a career she is content with, Shanon has some sage advice for anyone feeling unhappy in their work.

“Don’t stay in a job that’s making you unhappy”, she said.

“Your career is probably not going to go the way that you think it will, but that’s okay. I am absolutely not where I thought I was going to be, and I’m really happy.

“And if you’re thinking about moving into a more specialist field like ECC, but you don’t think you’re good enough or smart enough, which is definitely what I thought, take a chance on yourself and you’ll be surprised.”