Q&A: Isuru Gajanayake on specialising in small animal internal medicine and small animal nutrition

Isuru Gajanayake, small animal specialist

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: Isuru Gajanayake

Job title: Head of Internal Medicine at the Willows Veterinary Centre and Referral Service 


  • 1998: Graduated from the University of Sydney
  • 1999-2001: Worked in mixed practice in rural Australia 
  • 2001: Moved to the UK 
  • 2001-2005: Worked in small animal practices in the UK including the Willows Veterinary Centre
  • 2005: Completed RCVS certificate in small animal medicine 
  • 2005: Started rotating internship at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) 
  • 2006: Began residency in internal medicine and clinical nutrition at the RVC
  • 2010: Became American and European Specialist in small animal internal medicine
  • 2010: Returned to Willows to work as a specialist in internal medicine and clinical nutrition
  • 2012: Became RCVS Specialist in small animal medicine (internal medicine)
  • 2016: Became American Specialist in small animal nutrition
  • 2018: Appointed head of internal medicine at the Willows Veterinary Centre and Referral Service


Did you have a career plan when you graduated? 

I had a vague plan to specialise after graduation, but I wasn’t sure in which field. I had a strong interest in dairy medicine, but I wasn’t able to find a job in this field. I ended up joining a mixed practice in rural Australia. My boss at that practice was keen on canine and feline surgery but less keen on medicine, so I inherited many of the medicine cases. This is where my interest in internal medicine grew. 

How did you become a specialist? 

I initially undertook an RCVS certificate in small animal medicine to improve my knowledge and skills. On the back of this, I started to look for a residency, but I soon realised that most academic institutions required experience from a rotating internship from their prospective residency candidates. For this reason, in 2005 I began a rotating internship at the RVC, followed by a residency, also at the RVC. 

How long did it take you to specialise?  

The entire process of my training to become a specialist took five years, consisting of a one-year internship and a four-year combined residency. 

Can you describe the commitment involved? 

There’s a lot of time and effort that goes into specialist training. At the time, I didn’t have family commitments, meaning I was able to dedicate much of my time to training. 

"My certificate was a very important part of my development as a specialist"

How do you maintain your specialist status?  

All specialists (American, European and RCVS) are expected to meet certain requirements to maintain their specialist status. This includes specific requirements for the minimum amount of time spent working as a specialist, performing research, training students/residents and other activities such as working on committees. Most colleges work on a points system, meaning a minimum number of points must be accrued over a period to maintain specialist status. 

Tell us about your RCVS certificate in small animal medicine

My certificate was a very important part of my development as a specialist. It taught me valuable skills such as how to practise evidence-based medicine, report case details in a structured format and solve clinical problems. Most importantly for me, the certificate affirmed my ambition to become a board-certified specialist. 

Private practice or academia? 

At the moment, I work in private practice only. As a general rule, academic practice is geared towards teaching and research whereas private practice is more focussed on clients. However, my current job enables me to enjoy the best of both worlds where I can see a lot of interesting cases, collaborate with specialists in many other fields, use cutting-edge equipment to investigate and treat patients, perform clinical research and teach students. 

How do you maintain a good work-life balance? 

As a father of young children, I have tried to reorientate my work-life balance to focus more on home life. I am very fortunate to work with a large team, which enables me to do this. A big part of my job is report writing and client communication, which I can do from home. 

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