Q&A: James Guthrie on specialising in small animal surgery

James Guthrie

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: ­­Dr James Guthrie BVM&S CertAVP(GSAS) DipECVS MRCVS
Job title: Senior surgeon (orthopaedics)


  • July 2010: Graduated from the Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies (Edinburgh)
  • July 2010: Rotating internship at Northwest Surgeons (Cheshire)
  • July 2011: General practitioner with a bias towards surgery at Nine Mile Veterinary Hospital (Berkshire)
  • June 2013: Surgical internship at Fitzpatrick Referrals (Surrey)
  • July 2014: ECVS approved small animal surgical residency at Fitzpatrick Referrals (Surrey) and VRCC (Essex)
  • July 2017: Surgical registrar at Fitzpatrick Referrals
  • February 2018: Passed ECVS examinations to become an EVBS® recognised specialist in small animal surgery. Became a senior surgeon at Fitzpatrick Referrals

Did you have a career plan?

Half way through vet school, I decided I wanted to become an orthopaedic surgeon and was already mapping out my career plan. I think I was in the minority, as most of my classmates were planning on going into general practice and then deciding where their veterinary degree would take them. Even rarer, I think I was one of the few who had such a plan early on, and then followed through with the same unwavering goal.  

Describe your route into specialisation

In my third year at vet school, I started to work on accomplishments that would aid me in obtaining a residency position. I started working with one of the surgeons at vet school on a research project for publication. I tailored my EMS to work with specialist referral surgeons in order to introduce myself as a future residency candidate and learn more about their roles.


"I feel that being able to specialise in a field you love is a fantastic opportunity to do what you cherish"


My first job applications were all to undertake an internship, as this is both a fantastic learning opportunity and a prerequisite for most residency positions. I completed my RCVS Professional Development Phase (PDP) within a year and then immediately enrolled on an RCVS certificate in small animal surgery once I started in general practice. I spent evenings and weekends working though the certificate modules and would visit referral hospitals during annual leave. If there was something I could do to improve my skills and application – I was trying to do it!

Competition for a surgical residency is fierce, so to improve my application and my knowledge, I decided to undertake a second internship solely in surgery. Fitzpatrick Referrals was the perfect place for this – there are a significant number of vets who have gone on to become specialists after completing internships or residencies at the practice. After my internship, it was a privilege to be offered to stay on as a resident to achieve my goal of becoming a specialist surgeon.

How long did it take you to become a specialist?

Graduating from vet school to becoming an RCVS and EVBS® Specialist in small animal surgery took seven and a half years.

Can you describe the commitment involved?

Becoming a specialist is a huge commitment, so you need to be sure it is something you definitely want. I made many sacrifices such as missing weekend reunions with friends, holidays with family, weddings and Christmases at home. However, once you become a specialist, the rewards are huge. What helped me the most was that I never saw being a vet as a ‘job’, but more of a ‘lifestyle’.

How do you maintain your specialist status?

Every five years you are required to re-certify to prove you are still practicing at a high enough standard to be recognised as a specialist. Operating 200+ cases a year, attending and lecturing at CPD conferences, publishing research, supervising residents, being a member or aiding the specialist college are just some of the ways you can prove this.

Tell us about private practice

I love being a surgeon in private practice and doing all that I can to achieve the best outcome for patients. I prefer the faster paced environment and the wider breadth of patients and conditions that come through the door. By spending so much time in the operating theatre, I feel I’m constantly improving, and therefore so are the outcomes for the patients I see.

How do you maintain a good work-life balance?

As a specialist, the work-life balance is generally good – I think there is potential for it to be as flexible as you desire. For most who go on to specialise, they are doing a job they love, and subsequently spending more time working in something they enjoy. For others, they can use the increased salary that often follows becoming a specialist to reduce their working hours and enjoy time doing other activities.

Why would you recommend a specialist veterinary career?

The veterinary degree opens up so many options. I feel that being able to specialise in a field you love is a fantastic opportunity to do what you cherish. Specialists are individuals who have achieved the highest standards of clinical practice -  this gives vets a fantastic opportunity to attain the best for their patients by referring or seeking specialist guidance.

I have loved the journey to becoming a specialist and love the job that I am privileged to do. Many people have helped me along the journey - I would like to say a big thank you to all of them!

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