Q&A: Gerry Polton on specialising in veterinary oncology

Gerry Polton oncology

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: Gerry Polton
Job title: Clinical director, oncology, North Downs Specialist Referrals


  • 1997: Graduated from Cambridge vet school
  • July 1997: Started working in first opinion mixed practiced
  • Sept 1998 – Nov 2002: Spent four and a half years in small animal practice
  • 2003: Awarded MSc degree in clinical oncology by the Institute of Cancer Research at Birmingham University
  • 2002: Offered oncologist training position at Davies Veterinary Specialists (Davies)
  • 2008: Moved to North Downs Specialist Referrals and launched oncology service
  • 2010: Became a diplomate of the European College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and EBVS recognised specialist in oncology
  • 2012: Became RCVS recognised specialist in oncology

Did you have a career plan upon graduating?

I had planned to become a pig specialist. However, this changed when I realised that hygiene requirements meant that I couldn’t see two high health herds within 48 hours of each other. In contrast, when working in small animal practice, I could see a new case once every 10 minutes.

When did you decide that you wanted to specialise?

Once I became settled in small animal practice, the cancer cases were always the cases where I felt I was able to make a meaningful difference to how the patient and their owner felt about the pet’s illness.

I originally wanted to be a first opinion practitioner with an interest in oncology, however, when the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity arose to accept a training position in oncology at Davies, I chose to take it.

Can you describe the commitment involved?

In total, in took me six years to specialise.  I studied for several hours twice a week from the start of those six years. In the final three years, my studies increased further.

How do you maintain your specialist status?

In order to maintain my European specialist status, I have to revalidate every five years. This requires writing publications, presenting original research, attending specialist meetings and participating in clinical work. Working in private practice makes it easier to fulfil the requirements for revalidation.

Describe your current role in private practice

My current role at North Downs Specialist Referrals is a full-time clinical position, which involves seeing cases every day of the week. I spend approximately half of my time meeting owners, evaluating patients and considering management plans. A quarter of my time is spent caring for in-patients and overseeing or performing treatments and diagnostic procedures. The rest of my time is spent communicating with referring vets, usually about cases that will be managed by those vets and communicating with pet owners who are under my care. 

How do you maintain a good work-life balance?

My children are now 11 and 13 and I have realised over that years that I have spent too much time buried in work and veterinary projects since I began my specialist journey. I have learnt to better guard my family time in order to maintain a good work-life balance.

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