What does your job role entail?
I am one of 4 vets who work in a very busy charity-run animal hospital in North London. A typical day is split in to two halves. One half of my day will consist of a very long list of operations which may include anything from spaying or castrating an animal to fixing fractured bones, with some blood tests, x rays and ultrasounds thrown in for good measure. The other half of my working day will consist of back to back 10minute consultations with owners who have bought their poorly pet to see the vet. These consultations can be anything from a simple case of an upset tummy to a very sick animal that requires immediate medical attention.
Do you remember your first experience with dyslexia?
My dyslexia was not diagnosed until I was halfway through my veterinary degree training at the age of 35, I distinctly remember the moment just ten minutes into my assessment when I was told I was “classically” dyslexic, because I broke down in tears. We then stopped for a break and I was left reading a booklet describing a dyslexic girl’s experiences at school and I was so overwhelmed by the way I could relate to her, it felt as though someone had written my life story.
I have a twin brother who is not dyslexic and I always remember how our school would love to ‘categorise’ their pupils into low, middle and top sets for each subject. My brother was always in the top set and I was always in the middle set. I always seemed to struggle more than him to just ‘get’ things at school; I never really had those light bulb moments of realisation when it finally clicks. I had always just assumed I was not as clever as my brother and was resigned to the fact that I was just a bit thick!
How did/does dyslexia affect you?
When I was about 22 I was with a couple of friends and we were in a shop reading funny birthday cards and it wasn’t until we all started reading this one card at the same time and I laughed about 40 seconds later than them that I realised I was a slow reader! I have always loved reading which I’m told is not typical for dyslexic people but I cannot read fast, a book will take me weeks to finish. My mental arithmetic is atrocious and I break out into a cold sweat if I am put under pressure to do it quickly! My short term auditory and visual memory is quite bad so I have to write things down or set reminders in my phone to do things or to go to places – I often say if it’s not in my phone then it won’t happen!
When I was studying I HAD to have silence, I could never understand students who could have the TV or radio on in the back ground, I found it to be a huge distraction. I also started to realise that it would take me ages to get started in a study session too. I had to, and still like to, work to a list of things to be done. Things to be done will whir around my head and unsettle me until I have written them down into a list and then my brain can relax and concentrate.
What did you think your job prospects would be at school/college?
When I told my careers advisor that I wanted to be a vet he simply laughed and said you won’t do that Judy. I wasn’t one of those confident types who would say “Screw you I’ll prove you wrong”, I simply believed him and gave up on the idea. The knock to my self confidence that that day gave me stayed with me for many years. I again assumed I’d never achieve anything, which was hugely frustrating because I didn’t ‘feel’ stupid, I felt I was actually quite a smart kid with a lot of potential! I would read things in science books and devour information and would love nothing more than a good discussion about topical subjects and I could always hold my own in these! I’m a thinker, an over analyser and a critical cynic so I enjoy ‘deep’ conversations about anything!
Did you ever think you would be able to work in the field that you do?
In a single word no! After school I did a series of mundane jobs for 3 years before finally going to college and studying animal care, after this I applied to study for a BSc degree in zoology and was astonished to get onto the course (I spent the whole 3 years thinking OMG they haven’t realised I’m not meant to be here yet!). I then went on and did a Master degree but I still didn’t think I could be a vet. I became friends with a vet and she said why don’t you apply to vet school and just see, so I did and I got in on my second attempt. It was not plain sailing as I alluded to earlier. I was really struggling in the second and third years of the course. I kind of just shut down in classes as it was all just too much so predictably eventually I failed the third year and that’s when I finally got assessed for and diagnosed with dyslexia. After that I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, I finally knew why I had been struggling and all the little things I had struggled with at school now made sense. Once I had the help I needed it was so much easier!
How did/do you overcome the difficulties you thought you may face in this field?
Well as I said mental arithmetic is my Achilles heel and so I keep a calculator in my pocket at ALL times at work for working out drug doses etc. I also have to have a notebook nearby to write things down or pin large notes to my tray so I see them! I am a kinaesthetic and visual learner and so I struggle to learn new procedures or operations by simply reading about them, I find it much quicker and less stressful to either watch someone else or have pictures of something I’m trying to learn. I don’t process things particularly quickly either so I have to see or do them several times before it remains in my memory. I have always been the type of person who needs to know every detail and step in a procedure so I ask a lot of questions too – if you don’t ask you won’t know!
Do you think this is a role that is suitable for dyslexics and what do you think a dyslexic way of thinking brings to the role?
I have always believed that ANYONE can learn ANYTHING if it is just taught to them at their level, or in a way that they can relate to and understand. So yes absolutely being a vet is a role suitable for a person with dyslexia! Don’t let that define who you are or what you can achieve!
I don’t know if I think ‘like a dyslexic’? How does a person with dyslexia think? I have always been very pragmatic and have a very keen ability to see a way to get a job done in what appears to me to be a simple and straight forward way, so if that’s how a dyslexic thinks then it is a very valuable skill to have in any job to be honest.
What do you think someone with dyslexia would find difficult in this role?
It really depends on how your dyslexia affects you. To be honest the most difficult part is the 5 year training course, because there is so much information you have to assimilate and believe it or not 5 years is not very long to achieve that! But once you have got through that the job itself is easier. You have supportive colleagues around you to help you and there is always a way to do things if you are struggling.
Some may struggle with the mathematics, some with the communication skills required in terms of translating very technical information for owners to understand and others may struggle with the day to day stresses of mentally challenging situations and long hours, but I think anyone, dyslexic or not, would find these things hard.
What is your most effective coping strategy?
I have no idea! I think because I went undiagnosed for so long my brain has developed its own coping mechanisms and I am certainly not going to question it now!
Paperbacks, eBooks, audiobooks or other? Why?
A proper book for sure I love the feel and smell of a proper paperback book in my hands.
What was the last book you read/listened to?
The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz, and currently Down Under by Bill Bryson, I have an eclectic choice in books!
Preferred way to keep up with Current Affairs:
TV News and social media (Twitter and Facebook), I don’t have time to read a daily newspaper!
Assistive Tech or O’natural? What tech do you use?
I am a slave to my smartphone! My laptop at home.
Communication in the workplace:
Email, Phone, Skype? Why?
I prefer face to face communication but have to suffice with emails at work or phone when talking with clients