My time at Cambridge University studying Veterinary Medicine
Ollie Bardsley (OV2018) tells us about what life is like at University of Cambridge and his path to becoming a Veterinary Surgeon.
Growing up in modern-day society, children and teenagers are inspired by role models – be these celebrities, sportspeople, academics or politicians. My inspirations were of those characters that took to the screens at 8pm on a Tuesday evening on BBC1 – Holby City. While now, I see this show as an unrealistic presentation of the life of a surgeon, I can say with courage that it was my inspiration for applying to Medicine.
During sixth form, despite an absolute drive to obtain a University place to study Medicine, I was met with incredibly high application standards at several open days at the Imperial College and University College, London, as well as at University of Birmingham. Bogged down by what felt like an impossible task, I decided not to waste my final day staying in London and go and visit the Royal Veterinary College in Camden. It was here that my eyes were opened to the life of a Veterinary Surgeon – and I felt it suited me better.
So, relatively late in June of lower sixth at BVGS, I decided I would alter my entire plan for university study, and focus on getting a place to study Veterinary Medicine. It is arguable that Veterinary Medicine is much more difficult to get onto than Medicine – there are only 8 Vet Schools in the country compared to the 33 Medical schools, and many of these have far fewer places to study Veterinary Medicine than human Medicine. In addition to my application, I had to acquire a minimum of 6 weeks of work experience spanning the animal husbandry and veterinary practice industry – which, given that I only had 6 weeks off for summer before making my University application, was a challenge. However, despite the seemingly-impossible task before me – I made a successful application to University of Cambridge as well as University of Liverpool for Veterinary Medicine, and received conditional offers from both of these following a rigorous process involving interviews, supplementary application questionnaires and additional entrance exams.
My first term at Cambridge was an absolute blast. Cambridge is made up of 31 ‘colleges’ which can be considered individual, smaller universities (hosting between 150 and 1000 students each) that provide your accommodation, support your studies and most importantly, form a friendly environment where you meet students studying a range of subjects – and it’s safe to say some of my best friends I’ve ever made I have met through Magdalene College. The university eases you into your studies – in the first year of both Medicine and Veterinary courses at Cambridge you take 3 modules together; Biochemistry, Physiology and Statistics. In addition to this, as Veterinary students you also take Veterinary Anatomy and Principles of Animal Management, as these are critical parts of the course which form the basis for your clinical studies.
Living at Cambridge is incredibly different to home. Cambridge is a tourist-hotspot and it isn’t rare for you to wake up late on the weekends and see tourists visiting your College out of your window! The experience is surreal, and I wouldn’t trade it in for the world. You can cater for yourself, or eat in halls – an option that many of us choose to do. On occasion, you can choose to eat in Formal Hall, where we all dress in Gowns and Formal wear and enjoy a delicious 3-course meal with our friends/family – only for £8 at Magdalene!
I can confidently say that every term I’ve spent at Cambridge has topped my first; I’ve been getting involved with aspects of sport, learning several new skills, meeting some incredible new people and making new best friends (as well as getting incredibly acquainted with the amazing nightlife)! My studies in first year allowed me to explore what I was most interested in – how the body works and how this can be manipulated surgically. I also found a new interest in the form of large animal exotic medicine, which is a topic I hope to be able to explore in my soon-approaching clinical studies and potentially, my career.
Entering second year after doing incredibly well in my first year exams was a challenge. Every year of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine counts towards your final grade, so I had to work incredibly hard working towards the grade I wanted to graduate with. The modules I take in second year include Pharmacology, Pathology and Reproductive Biology, as well as Neuroscience – which I have found fascinating thus far and will be doing a research project in for most of next year. At the end of next year, I will graduate with a degree in Natural Sciences with Veterinary Medicine – an incredible opportunity unique to the Cambridge Vet School which gives us more diversity in career options having graduated with 2 degrees by the end of 6 years at University.
Looking back on my studies, particularly at BVGS – I feel as though the drive to apply for Veterinary Medicine and University of Cambridge was driven by myself, but the support from the school to keep going when times were difficult was invaluable. I genuinely believe that without the supportive atmosphere I had going into school every day, even during exam season when stress levels were incredibly high, was the reason I am here today, being able to follow my dreams and hopefully make a huge difference to the profession. Cambridge has taught me that there are no ceilings to how passionate you can be about something – if I want to explore concepts in my study, I feel as though there are no restrictions, and that’s helping me understand how I can best make a difference to the lives of animals once I have graduated.
Despite term ending abruptly, the University is still running albeit online, and my studies thus far have been barely affected by quarantine. I sit my lectures through Zoom, or through Panopto recording software, and I’ll be progressing with my degree as normal regardless. My current career prospect is to work with a range of species, both in practice and voluntarily, to try and improve the lives of domestic animals in the UK, and wildlife abroad. I’m planning in the next 4 years of my degree to visit several different parts of the world such as Sri Lanka and South Africa in the hope of improving my understanding of the Veterinary industry globally, and investigate careers in wildlife medicine.
My advice for anybody applying to University is to follow your dreams – no matter how impossible they seem! I wouldn’t be where I am now if I decided to back down at every challenge. Sixth Form can be a stressful time, but the supportive atmosphere at BVGS allows you to achieve your goals, make lifelong friends and encourages you to try your best – even when the odds aren’t always in your favour. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about Cambridge Life, applying to Oxbridge, or Medicine/Veterinary Medicine in general.