Q&A: Jon Hardy on specialising in veterinary dermatology
As part of a series of articles on veterinary specialisms, My Vet Future is talking to vets about their route to specialisation, with the aim of helping vets better understand how they can become specialists.
Name: Jon Hardy
Job title: Dermatologist
2007: Graduated from Cambridge vet school
2007: First job in private small animal practice in Egham, Surrey
2008 – 2009: Moved to the PDSA in Coventry
2009 – 2010: Undertook a rotating junior clinical training scholarship (internship) in small animal studies at the RVC
2010: Returned to practice as a locum for 1 year
2011-2014: Dermatology residency at the RVC
2014: European Diploma in veterinary dermatology
2015 – present: Joined Willows Veterinary Centre and Referral Service
2015: RCVS Specialist in dermatology
Did you have a career plan?
Initially, I just wanted to go into small animal practice and learn the basics. I knew quite early on at vet school that I wasn’t going to be so suited to large animal work, although like most people, I liked the idea of practising in a rural mixed practice somewhere.
"I realised that the increasing corporate ownership of veterinary practices was going to make partnership in an independent practice much less likely"
I suppose I always thought I might end up as a partner in a practice or a specialist. I had grown up with my uncle owning his own veterinary practice and the thought of doing something similar seemed very appealing. I had also visited Willows Referral Service in Solihull (where I now work) while at secondary school and been amazed by the work the specialists were doing.
Throughout my years at vet school and in practice, I realised that the increasing corporate ownership of veterinary practices was going to make partnership in an independent practice much less likely. This probably helped send me down the specialism route.
When did you decide that you wanted to specialise in dermatology?
I actually started to think seriously about specialising within my first year in practice. One of my colleagues in my first job had just finished an internship at the RVC and was incredibly focused on becoming a specialist surgeon. During my first year in practice, he returned to the RVC to complete a residency, and his enthusiasm encouraged me to start looking into further training.
I also remember attending a CPD event given by the dermatologist Peter Hill on the topic of atopic dermatitis; I found it interesting and inspiring and it kick-started my interest in this field. I then started reading books and articles on the subject; I liked the fact that you didn’t need any fancy bits of kit to do dermatology and that you could see the lesions in front of you!
Jon currently leads the dermatology referral service at Willows Veterinary Centre
I moved from my first job to the PDSA to further my experience and to build on my CV. My next step was to apply to the RVC for a clinical training scholarship (internship). The RVC has a really excellent dermatology department, and I spent my elective time on the internship shadowing the service. This allowed me to meet the dermatologists there and I was eventually fortunate enough to be offered the residency with them.
How long did it take you to become a dermatology specialist?
Specialism for me took 4 years: 1-year general small animal internship and 3 years for the dermatology residency. I sat the European diploma exam at the end of my 3-year residency.
Maintaining specialist status involves regular attendance at CPD meetings, lecturing, article writing, and working within a referral setting. It can also involve training residents and being on various committees within the speciality. It is not too onerous, but it requires lots of reading to keep up to date!
What’s it like working as a clinician?
I really enjoyed the teaching element of my residency and miss this aspect in my current job in private referral practice. However, I decided to specialise to become a more competent clinician and never really saw myself in academia, where research is a larger part of the job.
Can you describe the commitment involved?
The commitment for both an internship and a residency is significant. However, I had started off as a new graduate in a job working one-in-three weekends and doing night work. This would often be on my own with night work throughout the week and weekends; so, I really didn’t find it too bad when it came to the hours involved in doing the internship and residency.
"The RVC has a really excellent dermatology department, and I spent my elective time on the internship shadowing the service"
As far as my RVC internship was concerned, the rotations were often based on shift work where you work as part of a team. The shifts are long and its hard work, but you still have enough time off.
The residency is slightly different, as the working days vary between disciplines. Many people would think of dermatology as being an easy option (compared to for example, internal medicine), and in terms of on-call commitments and hours in the clinic, it probably is. However, studying for any diploma requires a lot of hard work, and I regularly worked 12-hour days during my 3 years.
There is a clear financial drop when leaving practice to take up further training posts, but I never found it too bad. Many specialists take up jobs after training that make up for those few years of lower pay.
How do you maintain a good work-life balance as a specialist?
Running a dermatology referral service in a big private hospital involves long days and hard work; I regularly turn up around 7am and leave by about 5 or 6pm. However, one of the great things about dermatology is the lack of night and weekend work, so work-life balance for me is much better than it was in general practice.