Sarah Parmor is originally from North Wales, and after going to University in Cardiff to study dentistry, she worked as a dentist for nearly 20 years, but decided that she wanted to switch it up, moving into wildlife conservation work. She now works for the RSPB.
What is your current job role?
My current job role is Visitor Experience Manager at Newport Wetlands, overseeing the visitor experience operations on the site. As it’s one of the busiest RSPB reserves in the country, we have a lot of visitors. I manage the team who run visitor activities, events and the front-of-house welcome. We have educational activities on-site where schools come to visit; we show them things like pond dipping and mini-beast hunting and run various nature themes for schools, which is part of their curriculum now
In terms of your switch from dentistry to conservation, what inspired that particular transition?
It was a mixture of not really enjoying the work, not liking the dentistry career that I was in and also finding it very stressful. Dentistry didn’t suit my personality but I stuck with it because after all that niche training I felt like that’s what I had to do, and that’s all I could do. It took me a long time to realise that I didn’t actually have to do the career that I trained for, especially if I didn’t like it. I thought about things that I enjoyed doing - I loved being outside in nature, and I loved wildlife and visiting nature reserves.
The big turning point for me was doing a week of volunteering on Skomer Island, which is a residential volunteering placement you can do with the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales. That week on Skomer changed my life, because after that I knew exactly that’s what I wanted to do. So from then on, I pursued this pathway, volunteering at my local nature reserve, getting more residential volunteering roles and finally ending up with an internship position on Ramsey Island. I learnt about habitat management, wildlife monitoring and visitor engagement. I ended up spending three whole years out there. That was the start of my conservation journey.
How did you transition into a conservation role from dentistry?
It’s essential to get practical, hands-on experience. If you spend time volunteering and building the knowledge, skills and experience, conservation jobs will open to up you. I did long-term placements - 6-9 month positions - on nature reserves.
Alongside that, I began to study for a Master's degree with Edinburgh University in wildlife, biodiversity, and ecosystem health - this was a part-time course over three years and totally distance learning. I could do that alongside my volunteering which worked well for me. There are so many of these distance learning courses now which gives you that flexibility. Although it’s hard volunteering when you’re not earning, if you can do it, it’s really helpful.
What would your advice be for people considering a career switch?
It depends on your personal situation. I was lucky enough to have some savings from my previous career and the RSPB internships include free accommodation and bills so I could live cheaply. For people who might not have that luxury, then you might have to try and fit part-time work alongside it. I would recommend trying to get the full time volunteering roles because it is harder to get the real nitty gritty experience if you’re not in a role that is similar to an employed one.
What’s your current favourite part of your conservation job role now?
I still love the people-side of things, especially with the climate and biodiversity crisis we’re in. It’s so important to get people on board and get them interested. I have years of experience in people engagement and am comfortable talking to people from all walks of life - transferable skills like these have really helped me in my current role. The skills I gained in dentistry aren’t wasted - I just don’t have to do the drilling and filling and all that stuff.
That really came up in my interviews for various conservation jobs. The fact that I’ve done other jobs actually worked in my favour. I sometimes worry that I haven’t got enough relevant experience, but all experience counts.
So, if anyone is thinking of changing careers, don’t be afraid, thinking that you don’t have enough experience for that particular career, because so many skills are transferable.
I have been involved in recruiting in my current role; when I’m looking at CVs and applications, I’m looking at everything - all the little things they’ve done as well – if that’s cleaning or hospitality, it all really counts.
If you or anyone else has undergone a career switch that you know, get in touch! We'd love to hear your story. Email us at email@example.com.