Monday, 19 February 2018

Horse vet turns to medicine

Final year Monash medical student Carl Barker is adamant that he’s not interested in obstetrics and gynaecology. “I've done enough foalings!” Carl worked as a horse vet – largely in the racing industry based in Geelong treating Melbourne Cup winners – before deciding on a change of career.

Carl Barker worked as a horse vet for eight years before deciding to study medicine

A draining occupation

“[Being a horse vet is] a ridiculously physical, mentally draining occupation. Just being out in the sun, handling 500 kg horses, getting kicked … being exposed to radiographs. We'd take more x-rays some days than what they would do in Bendigo Health.” As difficult, he found treating million dollar horses for millionaire owners unfulfilling. “I'd much prefer to treat a little sick pony who'd got colic; something that actually needed to be seen as opposed to making race horses win races.” Recognising signs of burnout, his partner helped him realise that he couldn’t continue. Why don’t you study medicine? she asked.

Medicine not possible for people of my background

Growing up one of eight kids on a Queensland vegetable farm, medicine was not a career he’d ever considered. “I didn't think being a doctor was even possible for people with my background.” Carl’s parents still don’t understand why he’s doing medicine so he feels it’s really important that rural medical training programs target kids with his background to show them it’s possible.

But Carl knew he didn’t want to take up farming. At 13 he went to Brisbane to play soccer at Cavendish State High School and boarded with seven families until he completed year 12. One particularly difficult situation was a turning point. “I just stayed in my room and I started to study. I went from getting average marks to getting super high marks.” Despite a guidance counsellor telling him he wasn’t smart enough, he’d decided he wanted to be a vet and he succeeded in getting into a veterinary course.

Learning to learn again

Going back to study medicine after eight years as a vet, he’s had to learn how to learn again. “I walk into the hospital and know that I might be older than a lot of the doctors there, but I just have to accept that I don't know anything compared to what they know.”

But he hasn’t yet walked away from being a horse vet. Continuing to work weekends and university breaks has been a boost to his self-esteem as much as his finances. “You know you help a lot of clients, they really respect you, you're an authority on your area of interest.” And he enjoys being part of the team he works with at the Bendigo Equine Hospital despite his ambivalence about the industry. “I feel kind of bad for leaving the veterinary industry because I'm needed as a horse vet … but all my friends who are horse vets, they're really happy for me that I've got out of it.”

Doing what I love and getting paid for it

With an interest in urology, general surgery and general practice, he’s considering being a GP proceduralist. He’s also looking forward to earning in his new career after five years of study. “The truth is as an intern I will be on the equivalent of what I was on as a vet who had eight years of experience.”

He’s quite pragmatic about his motivations. “Money is important and I think anyone who says that money's not important obviously has never had a need for money. Am I going into medicine for the money? Yes, but I'm also doing it because I'm doing what I love and I'm going to get paid for it.” He has no interest in a big city. “I feel like I'm not needed down there. I can relate to farmers.”

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