My name is Stephanie-Rae Flicker and I am a final year Veterinary Medicine student at the Royal Veterinary College. Raised in Enfield, North London, I was the child with a ‘zoo’ in my back-garden! My family kept dogs for years and my dad had an avid interest and experience in caring for all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures. From a Harris hawk, to barn owls, to bearded dragons and leopard geckos, we probably owned it at some point throughout my childhood. During my secondary school years I took on the responsibility of hand-rearing a litter of ferrets. Although their smell may put some people off, they are highly energetic and inquisitive animals - adorable too!
Growing up I told others I wanted to be a vet but at secondary school I opened up my thoughts to other potential careers - influenced by lessons, trips and other extracurricular opportunities in and outside of school. Eventually whittled it down to a) I want to work with animals and b) either the sciences or art (which are very different career paths, I know).
Setting this as a goal, I started gaining work experience from Year 11 onwards to build my application for vet school. I achieved good GCSE results so I was able to take my A-Levels at the same school in the Sixth Form – Biology, Chemistry, History and Art.
Throughout the first year, I found my art work demanded more attention so I was not spending the equivalent amount of time on my sciences. This was reflected in my AS exams – the results did not meet my predictions. After talking to my parents and the Head of Year about my options, and presenting to them that I had researched about the routes I could take to still apply to a veterinary-related course, I decided to retake some of my modules with my A2 exams in the second year. Finding the RVC’s Gateway programme was important in my circumstances; being the only course I applied for. A risk but I felt that my AS grades were not good enough to support my application into the 5-year programme and I could find greater opportunity in having a foundation year to consolidate my learning. It took determination and dedication, and the belief of being capable to achieve attending the university; looking back this motivated me the most.
The foundation year was a stepping stone; testing my ability and self-belief to do well on the course - 5 years later, I’m so happy with how far I’ve come. Luckily in my school there were teachers that could advise me and believed I could get to where I wanted to be; but not all schools are the same. At 15/16, I had to map out where I thought I would be at the end of my secondary education and prove to my teachers I could achieve that. Being the first to go to university in my family was also a learning experience for my parents. When you ask some vet students about their support into vet school, it is not uncommon to hear that a teacher told them "you will never be vet" or something similar. This is not to say this was the case with all schools, however it is still hard to hear. Although it may have been to do with the student's personal performance, I believe more so that it is the lack of education in applying to veterinary degrees for not only pupils, but staff supporting students in key transition stages being misinformed. This is one of many reasons why I support the work of Animal Aspirations.
Everyone should make the most of opportunities that come their way, but not necessarily wait for them to fall in your lap. Seek them. Keep trying to find those placements. Go to the open days, summer schools and seminars. Read around your prospective career. Engross yourself and show others (and yourself) that you have the passion to follow your dream - regardless of your background and personal circumstances, you have the same right as anyone else. I go back to my secondary school and support other events to talk about my journey, in the hope that even if students don’t want to be a vet or have a science career, they can start aspiring to be something they’ve always dreamed of. Knowing they can make choices about their future, and to do so without prejudice.
Written by: Stephanie-Rae Flicker
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