Q&A: John Parker on specialising in neurology
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: John Parker
Job title: Clinical Neurologist
2005: Completed intercalated degree in Zoology
2007: Graduated from the University of Bristol (veterinary science degree)
2007: Started a mixed-species rotating internship in veterinary medicine at the Queen’s Veterinary School Hospital in Cambridge
2008: Residency in veterinary neurology at the University of Cambridge
2008: Awarded Wellcome Trust Integrated Training Fellowship for Veterinarians
2011: Starting residency programme and PhD in veterinary medicine (clinical neuroscience) at the University of Cambridge
April 2016: Completed the fellowship and remained at the Queen’s Veterinary School Hospital as a Clinical Neurologist
2017: Became an independent consultant in Veterinary Neurology
2019: Began working as a Consultant Neurologist at Hamilton Specialist Referrals
Did you have a career plan?
From a young age, I actually wanted to become an artist! Following graduation and the completion of my veterinary science degree, I had no specific plan for my career. The one thing I was certain about was that I didn’t want to go into general practice.
Doing the mixed-species rotating internship was not something that I had thought about – in fact my father was the one who suggested the idea to me. I was unsure at first but eventually came around to the idea; it turned out to be one of the best decisions that I have ever made. Doing an internship was a brilliant stepping stone to begin my journey into specialisation.
When did you decide that you wanted to specialise in neurology?
I was offered a residency in neurology whilst completing my internship and knew I would enjoy the research side of the job. After my first neurology residency, I was the first person to be awarded the Wellcome Trust Integrated Training Fellowship for Veterinarians in 2008. This provided funding for both the residency programme and PhD in veterinary medicine (clinical neuroscience) at the University of Cambridge.
How long did it take you to become a neurology specialist?
Following my graduation, it took 4 years to become a fully qualified specialist. My PhD included 5 years in full-time study and still remains unwritten. I will complete it shortly - I am just waiting for the right time.
Can you describe the commitment involved?
There is a high level of commitment involved - I was completely dedicated to both my work and study. Financially, I was comfortable but was not able to save as much money as I would have liked. However, now that I am a fully qualified specialist, the financial rewards mean that I am now able to live comfortably and save.
What’s it like working in private practice?
I love working within a private practice within the South of England. I looked into working in academia, however, the pay is not high enough to allow me to live as I would like to.
How do you maintain a good work-life balance as a specialist?
Working as a specialist can at times impact your work-life balance, but I do know plenty of specialists who work flexible hours. They are mostly working as freelance consultants or are part-time employees. Through working in these different job patterns, it allows you to do a job that you love and still manage your life around it.
Do you have any advice for those considering becoming specialists?
One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received is “if you are not sure what you want, move away from what you do not want, and you will find your place”. In my case, I moved away from working within general practice, believing that specialisation was the best route for me.