When Victoria Challes fell agonisingly short of getting the school grades she needed, she feared her dreams of being a vet were over. But next summer, Victoria will indeed fulfil those dreams when she graduates and begins her life as a fully-fledged vet.

And while much has obviously been down to hard work and determination, Victoria says a massive part of her success is down to being an ACA at Vets Now in Bristol.

It’s a role she absolutely loves, combining weekend shifts with her various studies for the past six years. She insists going from ACA to vet shows the huge potential of the role. And even as she sadly contemplates giving up her ACA duties, Victoria is already considering a veterinary career in ECC with Vets Now.

“I was really devastated when I didn’t get my grades as being a vet was all I ever wanted to do,” said Victoria. “I looked at doing a degree first and then maybe veterinary medicine, but I took it that not getting what I needed was a sign this wasn’t for me. I figured it showed I just wasn’t the kind of person meant to be a vet and, as I loved biology and maths, I could do a biology degree and still do some sort of animal-related work.”

Victoria started her three-year degree at the University of Bristol in 2016 and, at the same time, saw the ACA role advertised at the Vets Now clinic in the city. What she initially viewed as just a nice way to be close to animals while earning money to help her through her course, turned out to be so much more.

“I had absolutely no idea what I was walking into,” admits Victoria. “It was exciting and eye-opening and because I was the first ACA at the clinic, the role sort of adapted as I went along. I really got stuck in and had so many different experiences.”

On the completion of her degree in 2019, Victoria was accepted on a new Graduate Accelerated Veterinary Medicine course at Bristol.

Interest in the four-year course was huge and Victoria’s in no doubt that her Vets Now duties were a major factor when the interview came around.

“A large amount of the success in that application was because I’d been working in the veterinary industry and had really good experience,” said Victoria. “I was hands-on every weekend and I had so many examples of things I’d handled to help answer the questions.”

Victoria has only a few more months to go before completing her course and once again, she reckons being an ACA all the way through has been a real bonus.

“The course is all case-based and having watched and assisted in cases and seen the vets make their decisions has fitted my learning style really well,” said Victoria.

Thanks to the common things we see at Vets Now, I could work through the cases. I was very confident in discussing them and saying what we would do. Really getting involved in those cases has helped me rather than just relying on what's in a textbook.

Victoria Challes
Vets Now Victoria Challes in Vets Now Bristol clinic

Although her studies have obviously taken her veterinary understanding to much greater levels, Victoria has been more than happy to continue her ACA shifts. She has been able to glean more from the vets as to exactly why they do things in a particular way, applying the knowledge from her degree into clinical practice. But a large part of it is simply that she still looks forward to working at the clinic.

“I absolutely love it,” said Victoria. “I’ve been there six years, so I’ve got to know a lot of team members and it’s just been fabulous. I think you need to be certain type of person to thrive in this environment and you do see some devastating cases. I’m able keep a calm head, understand what people need in different situations and manage expectations. More recently I’ve been able to pass that on and help train other ACAs.”

As a veterinary surgeon, I think I'll have a much better understanding than someone who has gone straight into it from school and hasn't had real-life experience. A lot of new grads can find emergency situations quite overwhelming, but I feel prepared.

Victoria Challes

Victoria’s current placement is at Zetland Vets, which is the host practice for the Vets Now Bristol clinic, so she feels very much at home. It’s a part of IVC Evidensia, and Victoria is hoping to be accepted for the next intake of the highly-rated Graduate Academy next year. She feels it will give her all the support and mentoring she’d like as she starts her vet life. And ECC is something she is thinking about revisiting in the future, with a potential return to Vets Now.
Having come so far, she is a massive advocate of ACAs.

“I’ve seen ACAs go on to do their nursing apprenticeships or degrees and obviously, I’m moving on to be a vet,” said Victoria. “So, it’s a great way to start and maybe see what you’d like to do. If you’re thinking of nursing but not sure about university, then an ACA role can give you a taste and an apprenticeship may then suit better. But it needn’t be a stepping-stone, it’s just such a lovely rewarding role.”

While Victoria will be sad to step away from being an ACA after graduation, she’ll take away some of her happiest veterinary memories.

“When we get emergency caesareans, I obviously can’t be involved in the surgery or anaesthetic but looking after the puppies is one of my favourite things,” added Victoria. “They’d get passed to me for the resuscitation and you’ll be juggling dealing with them at different stages. It’s a great feeling when you see them thrive and giving them all back safely to the owner is such an amazing thing to see.”