Q&A: Francesco Cian on specialising in clinical pathology
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: Francesco Cian
Job Title: Veterinary clinical pathologist
2006: Graduated in veterinary medicine from the University of Padua (Italy)
2007-2010: First job in small animal practice in Trieste (Italy) and part-time cytologist at the department of veterinary pathology, University of Padua
2010-2013: Veterinary clinical pathology residency at the University of Cambridge
2013: Received European diploma in veterinary clinical pathology (ECVCP) and FRCPath (Royal College of Pathologists)
2013-2015: Veterinary clinical pathologist at the Animal Health Trust (AHT) in Newmarket, UK
2014: Became RCVS recognised specialist in veterinary clinical pathology
2015- present: Senior clinical pathologist at Batt Laboratories in Coventry, UK
Why did you decide to become a pathology specialist?
During my veterinary studies, I really enjoyed the pathology modules. For my thesis, I had the opportunity to participate in a retrospective research project, which aimed to classify 60 cases of feline lymphoma, using the most recent classification systems.
After graduation, I spent a few years in general practice. During this time, I noticed that cytology and haematology were the parts of my job I enjoyed the most. I also realised that my main interest was reaching the final diagnosis, especially on difficult cases. I was less interested in the treatment part.
How did you become a specialist?
As I mentioned above, I decided to get experience working in general practice before specialising. I believe this was a beneficial experience for a number of reasons. Firstly, it helped me put into practice what I learnt at university. Secondly, it helped me to develop my skills in communication, especially by interacting with pet owners. Thirdly, I was able to develop a good knowledge of internal medicine and pathology when dealing with certain clinical cases, alongside gaining basic surgical skills.
Alongside general practice, I was lucky to have a part-time position at the pathology service at the University of Padua’s department of veterinary medicine. This helped me to cultivate and grow my passion for pathology.
In 2010, I won a scholarship from SCIVAC (Italian Companion Animal Veterinary Association), which allowed me to spend time abroad to deepen my knowledge in clinical pathology. This included a few weeks at the University of Cambridge and one month in Scotland working with Dr Kathleen Freeman, an experienced veterinary clinical pathologist.
"It feels rewarding to share knowledge with other people and see their enthusiasm for pathology"
A few months after this, I successfully applied for a residency position in veterinary clinical pathology at the University of Cambridge. Following the completion of my residency, I was than able to sit my exams and in 2013, I received my ECVCP diploma. The following year, I also became a RCVS recognised specialist in veterinary clinical pathology
Can you describe the commitment involved?
Significant commitment is required both personally and financially. Most of my weekends as a resident were spent studying, especially in my final year. From a financial perspective, the salary of a resident is also significantly lower in comparison to that of a general practitioner. However, long-term, being a specialist is financially rewarding.
How do you maintain your specialist status?
As an EBVS® European and RCVS specialist, I have to be reaccredited every five years. Maintaining these statuses mainly involves doing diagnostic and research work in clinical pathology, either in a private or in a public institution. I am also invited to attend congresses, in particular the annual congress of the college, which is held every year in a different European city. Being a specialist means that I also lecture, write articles and train other residents who want to specialise.
What have you been doing since specialising?
Since becoming a specialist, I have been working in commercial diagnostic laboratories. I prefer the diagnostic side of my job rather than research, although I do enjoy teaching clinical pathology to undergraduates and general practitioners.
Over the years, I have given several seminars and ran CPDs all over the world. Last year, I went to China and ran some cytology CPDs – it’s amazing to see how quickly small animal medicine is progressing in China. I have organised online courses for cytology and haematology and have also been lucky enough to have the opportunity to write two veterinary cytology books.
Digital pathology will continue to influence the way pathologists work by allowing a smoother exchange of information and cases amongst specialists
Running seminars and writing books is currently the side of my job that I enjoy the most – it feels rewarding to share knowledge with other people and see their enthusiasm for pathology.
How do you maintain a good work-life balance?
Working in a veterinary diagnostic laboratory means that I do not have to work nights or be on-call. However, this does not make it an easy job. As well as reading samples and reporting results, I also have to be familiar with the analysers present in the laboratory, follow up on internal and external quality control and in some cases, take care of the laboratory marketing activities. This includes newsletters, informative material for veterinarians and internal seminars/CPDs.
What does the future hold for pathology?
I think that digital pathology will continue to influence the way pathologists work. Some labs have already started moving away from using the traditional glass slide examination (under the microscope) towards using a scanner that produces digital slides. These slides can be read by a pathologist with internet connection from anywhere in the world. One of the veterinary diagnostic laboratories I collaborate with is increasingly using digital pathology for cytology specimens. Digital pathology will continue to make the job of pathologist much easier by allowing a smoother exchange of information and cases amongst specialists.
Francesco’s top tips for specialising in pathology:
- Spend a few years in general practice in order to develop important skills such as communication, basic clinical skills and knowledge of your specialism.
- Identify an institution where there is a residency program in veterinary clinical pathology (e.g. FRCPath, ECVCP, ACVP) and try to obtain a position. By completing the residency and sitting the final exam, you will qualify as a specialist.
- Stay curious in your profession, and be open to learning more and facing new challenges.