Q&A: Jonathan Elliot on specialising in pharmacology and toxicology

Jonathan Elliot Vice principal at the RVC

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: Jonathan Elliott
Job title: Vice principal – research and innovation and, professor of veterinary clinical pharmacology, Royal Veterinary College (RVC)


1985: Graduated from University of Cambridge (veterinary medicine)

1985-1986: Internship in small animal medicine and surgery at the University of Pennsylvania

1986-1989: Secured PhD scholarship from the Wellcome Trust to study for a PhD in pharmacology, University of Cambridge

1989: 6-month locum assistant physician post in the department of clinical veterinary medicine, University of Cambridge

1990: RCVS certificate in small animal cardiology

1990: Lectureship in veterinary pharmacology in the department of veterinary basic sciences, Royal Veterinary College (RVC)

1997: Promoted to senior lecturer at the RVC

1999: De facto diplomate of the European College of Veterinary Pharmacology and Toxicology

2001: Promoted to reader at the RVC

2003: Became professor at the RVC

2004: Became vice principal at the RVC

Did you have a career plan?

Having enjoyed research during my research project in pharmacology as part of my veterinary degree, I had an inkling that I wanted research to form part of my career. I also enjoyed the teaching component of my internship in small animal medicine and surgery at the University of Pennsylvania. I felt that having a career in academia teaching basic science and clinical veterinary medicine, alongside research in cardiovascular pharmacology applied to veterinary medicine, best suited me.

When did you decide that you wanted to specialise in pharmacology and toxicology?

My decision to specialise in pharmacology came part way through my internship. During the internship, I applied for a PhD scholarship funded by the Wellcome Trust. This meant that I could return to the UK and undertake a PhD in vascular pharmacology.

How long did it take you to become a pharmacology and toxicology specialist?

In total, the internship was one year, the PhD was three years and the assistant physician post was 6 months. When the European College of Veterinary Pharmacology and Toxicology was established in 1999, I submitted my credentials and was approved de facto as a diplomate. I am currently president of the college.

Can you describe the commitment involved?

Having begun my journey to specialisation in the 1980s, the financial commitment was not as much of a burden as it is today. I did not have any debt when I graduated and the stipends for my internship and PhD were tax free and covered my living costs. I did however have little time for leisure pursuits during my PhD years!


"Specialisation has provided me with many additional options within my career and led to excellent job satisfaction"


Although undertaking a veterinary degree and specialisation is both a financial and personal commitment, I do believe it has provided me with many additional options within my career and led to excellent job satisfaction. It is a concern to me that the financial commitment required for veterinary graduates to follow such career paths will mean fewer people will follow this pathway.  

How do you maintain your specialist status?

As a European specialist in veterinary pharmacology and toxicology, re-accreditation occurs every five years. This involves being active in the college, publishing in my academic discipline and training residents. Training residents can be difficult due to there being a limited demand for people to do a pharmacology residency. This is because pharmacology residencies are not a requirement to follow a career in pharmacology within academia, clinical practice, or within government and industry.

Tell us more about your RCVS certificate in small animal cardiology

When I did my 6-month locum assistant physician post after my PhD, I was able to study for my RCVS certificate in small animal cardiology. This coupled with the 15 months I worked at the University of Pennsylvania was considered sufficient experience to sit the certificate. Completing the certificate complemented my basic science interest in cardiovascular pharmacology and has really helped my teaching of the basic sciences by giving them a real clinical perspective.

What’s it like working in academia?

The academic role I have suits me perfectly – I have the freedom to organise my own time and to focus on the projects I want to. It is a real pleasure to supervise PhD students of my own and see them develop - several of my PhD students are now academics in veterinary schools and are developing careers as specialist clinician scientists, something that is really satisfying to see. I also really enjoy teaching, although this is something I do less of these days now that I have strategic management role at the RVC. The interactions I have with scientists (both basic and clinical scientists) are also very interesting – fostering collaborations between these two groups of researchers is one of the most satisfying parts of my role and the specialist training I had earlier in my career has helped me to succeed in this role.

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