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A final chapter in a lifetime of learning

Inspiring graduate Deborah Alexander talks about a lifetime of learning, assisting with the foot-and-mouth crisis, and how she strives to achieve the best within her varied roles in animal health.

Written by Keith McDonald |

Deborah Alexander - studied Livestock Health and Production
“I strove forward to do the Diploma, supported by the agency. And that’s been really brilliant, because it’s relevant to what I do.”

Deborah Alexander’s long and fascinating career has taken her through many vocations in veterinary science, including mixed- and small animal practice, imaging and radiology.

Accompanying this every step of the way has been an incredible appetite for learning, which she crowned with a Postgraduate Diploma in Livestock Health and Production at the 2018 Graduation Ceremony.

Chatting with Deborah, it quickly becomes apparent how much she has achieved in order to fulfil a broad range of roles to the best of her abilities.

During her early career, she held a research position at the University of Cambridge while studying for a diploma in radiology. Years later, while Head Vet at Wood Green Animal Shelter, she enrolled with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons for a certificate in small animal surgery.

Upon joining the Animal and Plant Health Agency, an arm of the government department DEFRA, her goal to become a veterinary officer drove her towards the Livestock Health and Production programme by distance learning with the University of London.

She began with the Postgraduate Certificate before progressing to the Diploma.

“I’ve always tried to do the best I can in whatever role I’ve had,” she says. “I’ve always gone from one topic or discipline to another, so I’ve just tried to make sure that I’m doing the best I can within that area.”

Supporting farmers

By the turn of the century, Deborah had left practice and was working in the development of medicine for Novartis Animal Health.

The company released her to help with the devastating foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in 2001 that caused the slaughter of millions of animals.

“The British Veterinary Association were looking for any volunteers. I did a couple of weeks and my fees were donated back to the farmer who lost all his animals,” she says.

“It was a very upsetting moment but good to have been of help.”

Unable to relocate with Novartis some years later, Deborah’s thoughts returned to veterinary practice – and further study.

“I thought to myself – it’s been a long time since you’ve done large animal practice. You need something that’s pertinent to that role.”

The Postgraduate Certificate in Livestock Health and Production by distance learning proved ideal, and Deborah’s decade of service was recognised by Novartis, which offered financial support towards the award.

“It’s enabled me to have more meaningful relationships with farmers and understand more of their world, because it’s not just about veterinary science, is it?” she reflects.

“It’s about how the animals are kept, their nutrition, and gaining knowledge. I have shared tutor-marked assignments with other colleagues, which I think they’ve enjoyed and appreciated.”

Deborah Alexander at University of London graduation 2018
"For me, it’s just about where I am today. I’m an independent woman, and I’m proud of what I’ve achieved"

The final graduation

Even after completing the certificate, a break from the books made Deborah realise that she wasn’t quite ready to stop.

“I was getting itchy feet!” she says. “I did the certificate and was very happy with that. I had a rest and thought – should I be taking any more Continuing Professional Development (CPD), trying to fit this in?

“I strove forward to do the Diploma, supported by the agency. And that’s been really brilliant, because it’s relevant to what I do.”

So, is this the final step in a remarkable journey? Deborah thinks so. “I’m delighted I have completed the diploma, but I won’t be doing any more studying,” she says.

Given her remarkable record, it’s difficult to believe that she won’t be tempted at least one more time.

But if 2018 does prove to be her final graduation, what does it mean to depart Higher Education with a University of London award?

“It’s a lovely opportunity to reflect that actually it took me five years in total,” she says.

“On a couple of occasions I was quite ill and was also recovering from injury. The examination team very kindly provided me with a private area so I could stand to write my exam papers.

“It can be quite a personal struggle, so it’s great to have made it once again.

“For me, it’s just about where I am today. I’m an independent woman, and I’m proud of what I’ve achieved.”