Q&A: James Hunt on specialising in animal welfare

James Hunt animal welfare 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: James Hunt

Job title: Clinical anaesthetist


1998: Graduated from the Royal Veterinary College

1998-2004: Mixed practice in south-west England

 2004: RCVS certificate in veterinary anaesthesia

 2004-2011: First opinion small animal practice

 2011: Began MSc by research into perioperative analgesia at the University of Bristol

 2011-2017: Research roles related to analgesia and pain mechanisms in canine osteoarthritis at the University of Bristol

 2016: Became a diplomate of the European College of Animal Welfare and Behaviour Medicine

 2017: Joined Cave Veterinary Referrals as a clinical anaesthetist

Did you have a career plan when you graduated? 

Having started my degree intending to work in small animal practice, I found the variety of mixed practice I saw during EMS was very appealing, and I was lucky enough to work in the beautiful south west on qualification. The learning curve going into practice was steep, but from the earliest days I was passionate about analgesia and pain management, although I found anaesthesia relatively intimidating. 

When did you decide that you wanted to specialise? 

At graduation I remember vowing never to sit another exam in my life and had no intention of specialising; however, after a year working with an inspirational certificate holder in my first practice I began to feel that perhaps this was something I could explore. Initially, I considered both anaesthesia and small animal medicine, but eventually decided on the subject that I was least confident of – anaesthesia. I filled in the RCVS application to enrol for the certificate and promptly forgot about it for a couple of years while life carried on apace. 

What happened next?

Two or three years after enrolling I was settled in a practice and decided I really should start working towards the certificate requirements. The case log took me a little over a year to collate, and I also spent evenings working on the 10 case reports to submit for the examination. To my surprise, my submission passed, and I undertook the written and viva examinations later that year. 

I continued to work in first opinion small animal practice following the certificate, but before long I started to look at opportunities for further training. The obvious route was to undertake residency training towards the European College of Veterinary Anaesthesia and Analgesia diploma examinations. Unfortunately, the syllabus required significant time spent working with horses – a species to which I am severely allergic. I had begun some clinical research projects while in practice, and had collaborated in a study with Polly Taylor, Jo Murrell and Nicki Grint: following completion of this study the opportunity arose for a MSc studentship at Bristol and I was fortunate in being selected for the position. After completing my MSc, I remained at Bristol, carrying out further research into analgesia and pain mechanisms in canine osteoarthritis.

So how did you gain your specialist status?

The publications that I produced during my time as a researcher at the University of Bristol all related to animal welfare in terms of pain management and analgesia, and I had also delivered undergraduate teaching in welfare. I was therefore invited to apply for de facto diplomate status of the European College of Animal Welfare and Behaviour Medicine (ECAWBM) in 2016. I find that the diversity of specialists within the ECAWBM provides so many interesting perspectives, and is a wonderful reminder that things are rarely black and white. 

Like all European Board of Veterinary Specialisation specialists, revalidation is required every five years. When I come to revalidate my specialist status, my contribution to the speciality over the previous five years will be considered to ensure that I am continuing to deliver high-quality research and teach in my specialist area. 

"The diversity of specialists within the ECAWBM provides so many interesting perspectives, and is a wonderful reminder that things are rarely black and white"

What are you doing now?

I currently work in private referral practice, where I am part of a team of four anaesthetists. I also have the major responsibility for treating persistent pain cases, which may obviously have significant welfare considerations. I am fortunate that clinical research is supported in the practice, so I am also able to maintain my research interests.

How do you maintain a life balance?

As in all clinical roles, days can be pressurised and nights on call inconvenient; however, I still feel a sense of achievement when I am successful in managing a patient’s pain and anxiety. 

Home life is a great refuge, and I am lucky enough to have a very understanding husband who appears with a cup of coffee and a hug after late nights at work when things may not have gone as hoped. 

A lot of my downtime tends to revolve around animals – we have three dogs that I enjoy training in scentwork and herding, a small flock of whiteface Dartmoor sheep and a slightly agoraphobic cat – but when I can, I love to go to see a favourite band play and enjoy being entertained for an hour or two.    

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