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How To Become A Fish Vet

Contributed by Emma Burgess

Want to have constant prune-hands, be frequently frustrated, and get weird looks from people when you tell them what you do for a living? Simply become a fish vet, and get all of this and more! OK, it's not as bad as all that. If you're fascinated by fish, piscine veterinary practice will provide you with an incredibly fulfilling and perpetually interesting life. What is more, as most vets tend to focus on land-based animals, you can be sure that your services will always be in demand, and that you'll be at the frontier of a relatively little understood (but growing!) area of veterinary medicine. Fish are, frankly, too fiddly and weird for a lot of vets to fathom, so those who do take the (hopefully not literal...) plunge are true pioneers! If this sounds like something you'd be interested in, but you're not sure where to start, read on...

1 - Be Really, Really Interested In Fish

This may sound obvious, but you're going to have to be incredibly interested in fish to make it as a fish vet. That's the basic prerequisite upon which everything following needs to be built. This isn't just because you're planning on spending a lifetime working with fish - it's also because the path leading to fish medicine is long and circuitous, and if you don't have a passion for fish to carry you the distance, it's very easy to get diverted. So, if you like fish but aren't burning with something bordering obsession for them, take this opportunity to have a long, hard think about whether this really is the path for you.

2 - Keep Fish

It's highly unlikely that you'll have developed an interest in fish without having some kind of direct experience of them, but this is worth repeating nonetheless. Keeping fish will give you a real feel for the animals, as well as bestowing upon you a truly practical understanding of the differing conditions etc that they need in order to thrive. Sadly, it is also likely to give you prior knowledge of the difficulties inherent in getting medical coverage for your fish, and in saving sick fish. Difficult conditions, and working with confused pet insurers is going to be a big part of your job as a fish vet - however tragic and frustrating this will be for you as a fish owner, it will help you to empathise with your clients if you experience this from the "other side".

3 - Go To Vet School

If you want to be a fish vet, you first have to become an "ordinary" vet. This is a big ask. It's 4-7 years of training, 90% of which won't involve fish at all. If you know that you want to specialize in fish, it can get very frustrating to spend years and years working on land mammals. But don't lose heart. A lot of the skills and knowledge you'll learn studying land animals are transferable to fish, and the qualifications you'll gain is invaluable. As your training progresses, you will be able to specialize a bit more, and nudge your studies more toward fish. It can help to delve a little into marine biology (offered at many universities), but you may not need to do this. Fish medicine has been advancing in recent years, so veterinary colleges are becoming more open to offering opportunities to study fish. After all, just a few years ago, it would have been impossible to operate on a pet goldfish. Now, it's not only possible, it's happening!

4 - Carve Out Your Career

There are not, it must be said, many "conventional" opportunities for fish vets. However, there is a demand for the services of fish vets. Depending on what kind of fish vet you choose to be (are you going to work with pet fish, commercial stock, or wild fish? Do you want to actively heal sick animals, or would you prefer to advise on aquaculture, or even to work in a research lab? The permutations are endless!), you will probably find that you have to build up your own client base. You could join a conventional veterinary practice and attempt to offer fish-based services from there, but this is not the route to take if you don't also want to treat other kinds of animals. Alternatively, you could try and build a freelance business. This requires time, dedication, travelling, and a lot of effort to advertise your services. However, if you're good at what you do, and you treat your clients well, it won't be long before your reputation spreads, and you find yourself increasingly in demand!