A while ago, when I was about rounding up my national service, a Diaspora friend of mine while asking what my plans were for the future had asked, “Do people really visit vets in Nigeria?” That question did so much in deepening my anxiety at that time and really summarizes the fate of many young graduates of Veterinary Medicine in Nigeria.
Veterinary Medicine is perhaps one of the least popular academic disciplines in the country. Before I got into the University, I really didn’t know people spent such time to learn how to raise and treat animals. 95 percent of my 118 size class in year one never filled in to study Vet. Medicine but took it up as a last option following the unavailability of the desired. Many of us nursed the ambition of changing over to our desired course (which was mainly Medicine or pharmacy) in the second year. Some succeeded, many did not.
Perhaps even more worrying was the fact that the course was itself a difficult business. If you studied in any of the Universities that had a vet school, you would appreciate what the life of a Vet student is. The schedule is unimaginable. The course content is endless. The Volumes of notes is brain cracking. The lecturers are merciless. The exams are scary. The results bring so much despair.
It’s not unusual that vet students rank among the top over stayed students. I lost so many of my classmates to the embarrassing verdicts of Professional exams. From 118 at the beginning, just 47 of us finally took the oath and were inducted into the Profession up on graduation.
Vet students don’t have holidays. We are on campus all year round. We run a schedule that is same as that of our Human Medical colleagues. We do basically the same courses and more. We study the husbandry, medicine and surgery of at least seven species plus a comparative study of Humans. We are literarily made to develop a seventh sense to use in decoding our patients problems since they don’t talk. We pay as much as the Human Medical students for our studies. Our official course duration is six years just like them. We use the prefix of “Dr” too.
But that’s as much as the similarities go. Right there on campus we begin to feel the stigmatization. You hear such derogatory terms as “Animal Doctor” and soon you are proud to be addressed as such. You try so much to put the negatives out of your mind and concentrate on the positives. Gradually you get to appreciate the fact that unlike your human Medicine colleagues you have no guaranteed life after graduation. You find proof of this in the number of your senior colleagues who return for their masters with the hope of joining the more lucrative academia. Chance meets with these senior colleagues tells tales that suggests that “all is not well”.
Upon graduation you head for the national youth service. Friends, family and society now know you as a Doctor. With that name comes so much expectation. While serving all you are thinking of is a job after the service. Hardly any job advert requests the services of Veterinary Doctors. Who really employs Vets? You find yourself caught between joining your fellow corpers in applying for the available jobs mostly the banks or sticking with your profession. You feel strongly about the six years you spent to obtain the DVM and you don’t want to vie away.
Even when you decide to apply, you come to discover that employers in Nigeria hardly remember that people study Vet in this country. Drop down buttons for “qualification” never has space for vets. You will find B.sc, B.A, B.Engr, B.Agric, B.Ed, even B.Pharm and MBBS, but never DVM. This makes you begin to question yourself again about who you really are. Worst still, your fellow corpers don’t consider you as being on the same boat with them. They think the “Dr” in front of your name makes you immune to bothering about a job. They don’t seem to understand why you should be hustling for a job like them.
Once I turned up at the venue of a bank interview. I felt like an alien. When I got tired of answering the “Doc, wetin you dey find for here?” question, to which I responded that I only sauntered in to see a friend, I left the place. Honestly I had hoped to gate crash as I didn’t receive an invitation though I had applied. I didn’t wait to see if gate crashers would be welcomed. I left sharp sharp.
Not to mention here that you are worlds apart from your Human Doctor corper friends. Having had the privilege of a one year Housemanship post graduation where they get very juicy pay, they throw car keys around when you are discussing with them. While you jump okada’s and Buses, they Cruise around. You don’t stop wondering if it is not the same doctor that you are that they are too.
After service, Human Doctors get jobs more readily. At the very least a Private clinic takes them. These private clinics pay them appreciably well. But for the Vet it’s a whole different issue. Who really employs vets? Private vets clinics are so few, most of them hardly satisfying their owners own financial needs. Adding hands to be paid is thus unwelcomed. Those that employ pay peanuts. Peanut is the word. I don’t know how else to describe working from 8.00am to 6.00pm daily (Saturdays inclusive) and receiving less than N30,000.00. Matter of fact there are very few (if any) vet clinics in Nigeria that pay their employed vets anything above N30,000.00. How do you reconcile that with the tough years of training and the high expectations of family and society given the “Dr” prefix?
The only lucrative options for young vets seem to be the academia and the civil service. Jobs from both of these sources however are as scarce as water in a desert. In any case how many vets can be taken by them? There are only eight vet schools in Nigeria. How many vet lecturers retire in a year and how many new lecturers are taken? The civil service doesn’t take staff every other day. The result is that there is a backlog of vets who are unemployed, under employed or simply not doing something fulfilling.
Recently the Nigeria Police in its recruitment advertised spaces for Vets. I couldn’t see myself in a Police Uniform at whatever prize so I didn’t bother. In any case I hadn’t the N1000.00 for the scratch card. But classmates that did came back from the verification exercise with tales of meeting with other colleagues who graduated way before us. It simply meant that for all these years, they have not found anything good enough. How sad for such a nobel profession.
Of course I know some people will bring up the issue of private practice. The existing private clinics like earlier mentioned are on a daily battle for survival. In any case establishing a private practice as a vet is a damn big step of faith. Unlike the Human medic who has a guaranteed clientele, the vet is thrown into a battle with the existing private outfits for the very few clients. Would you advise your son to go into that world of uncertainty?
Perhaps the other option left is livestock farming. People don’t often seem to remember that it takes so much money to start a farm and that there is great risk involved in running one. How many livestock farms are owned by vets? Do you need to be a vet to own a farm? Given, as a vet you have the training to be able to establish and run one effectively but then, it is not anywhere as easy as it sounds. I know many who have tried. Some even had the balls of taking loans. A good number didn’t come out of it with pleasant tales.
So the post graduation experience is not a pleasant one at all for the young vet. It’s not been pleasant for me nor for a host of my colleagues especially those of us who didn’t vie off or who tied and weren’t very successful. Unemployment is already a huge problem in the country but for the Vet it’s even more. Worse still you spent so much time in the university trying to graduate that you know little or nothing else outside Vet Medicine. Save for some of us who did other things (at the risk of flunking our professional exams) a host of my class mates know how to do nothing else. Some never heard of Hi5 or facebook until recently. Other began computer appreciation classes after graduation.
Studying vet feels like driving into a Close. You feel trapped in there. You feel tied to the six years wahalla and the name. Yet you are getting nothing out of it. Employers outside the profession are not eager to hire you. Either they feel they can’t pay you or they just feel you know absolutely nothing outside needles and syringes or dogs and meat. Our people do not keep pets and simply kill any sick animal. They thus hardly have any need for a vet. No matter how optimistic you are in life, you begin to actually wonder why in the world you spent all those years studying this course.
I am done complaining. This is my signing out piece. The FCT minister had on my passing out from service announced an automatic employment for me and ten others who won the Honours award. I thought I had escaped the dilemma. Four months on and its now obvious the word “automatic” doesn’t have the same meaning in the dictionary of the FCT administration as is found in the English dictionary. Not the money, not the job has showed up. I am done waiting for them. At a proper time I will launch my attack against them. For now I am looking for other options. I am looking up.
Pitifully a whole lot of my colleagues are yet to come up to this level of thought. They daily grapple with the challenge of answering a big name and being very small in the pocket. It’s not their fault. It’s the fault of the system. A system that judges you basically by what degree u hold. Veterinary Medicine no doubt is a great course, but sincerely in Nigeria it’s a hard knock life for Vets.
Sylva Nze Ifedigbo