Q&A: Lucy Meehan on specialising in veterinary diagnostic imaging
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: Lucy Meehan
Job Title: Senior teaching fellow in equine lameness, Langford Vets, University of Bristol
2007: Graduated from University of Liverpool with veterinary science degree and MSc in infection and disease control
2008: Internship in equine orthopaedics and imaging at Animal Health Trust, Newmarket
2009-2012: First opinion practice in West Yorkshire, 90% equine 10% mixed
2012-2016: Residency in equine orthopaedics and diagnostic imaging at University of Edinburgh
2015: Qualified as EBVS® European Specialist in veterinary diagnostic imaging and RCVS specialist in veterinary large animal diagnostic imaging
2016 – present: Equine lameness clinician and equine imaging lead, Langford Vets
Did you have a career plan upon graduating?
My interest in equine practice developed during my MSc project, which was carried out in association with three large equine hospitals in the UK. After I completed this project, I was able to spend a significant period of EMS time in equine hospitals in Newmarket and Leahurst, which further confirmed my ambition to work in equine practice. Just before I graduated from my MSc, I was offered an internship at the Animal Health Trust with Dr Sue Dyson. I found this to be an excellent training position which combined both a high level of teaching and practical experience within a lovely environment.
Why did you decide to become a diagnostic imaging specialist?
Although I had an interest in equine practice, I didn’t have any firms plans after I completed my internship. I returned home to Yorkshire and spent three years in first option practice, which was a combination of 90% equine and 10% mixed. It was during this time that I developed an interest in specialising in lameness and diagnostic imaging.
How did you become a specialist?
In order to become a specialist, I applied for various residency positions – at the time, there was only medicine or surgery residences available in equine, so I opted for applying to surgical residences.
Although I was successful in getting interviews, the feedback I received was that I appeared more interested in diagnostics than surgery, which was not something institutions wanted in a surgical resident.
"I feel that my time in practice enabled me to confirm my interest and motivation to complete a residency"
However, one of my interviews was at the University of Edinburgh who were contemplating starting an equine diagnostic imaging residency. They initially offered me a year’s contract with a view to stay if the residency was approved. Fortunately, their residency application was successful, meaning I was able to enrol onto the equine orthopaedics and diagnostic imaging residency after I started my year’s contract. Three and a half years later, I passed my board certification exams and became one of the first three European specialists in large animal diagnostic imaging. My RCVS specialist status was approved shortly afterwards.
How long did it take you to specialise?
My whole journey to specialisation took around seven years. Spending three years in first option practice meant that I didn’t start my residency until I was 30. However, I feel that my time in practice enabled me to confirm my interest and motivation to complete a residency. My residency was four years instead of the traditional three, however the extra year allowed me to complete my board exams during my residency. This meant that upon completion of the residency, I was applying for jobs as a fully board specialist rather than a board-eligible clinician.
Can you describe the commitment involved?
I view myself as an ‘all or nothing’ person, so I found the easiest way to cope during my residency was by taking a fully-immersive approach. My on-call rota was one-in-four and was pretty full-on – all the routine patient care was the responsibility of the residents.
My partner remained in Yorkshire whilst I moved to Edinburgh. Luckily his company head office is in Edinburgh, so he was able to arrange his work travel to fit with my on-call rota. We were able to see each other every second weekend and alternated between Edinburgh and Yorkshire to enable me to see family and friends. I was very lucky to have such as understanding and supporting network of family and friends.
Financially, I found that my salary from working in first opinion practice in rural Yorkshire and residency salary in Edinburgh remained similar. I did however lose my practice accommodation and work car. Despite this, I was able to work locum shifts at weekends off throughout my residency, which enabled me to build up a financial cushion.
How do you maintain your specialist status?
As a qualified European board of veterinary specialists (EBVS) specialist and RCVS recognised specialist, I must apply for reaccreditation every five years. To reaccredit, I must prove that my knowledge is current and that I am making an active contribution to the specialism through education, research, clinical work and contributions to the college. I am involved in resident training, residency examinations and have active research interests. I am due to reaccredit this year.
"I hope that the next 12 years of my career continue to be as interesting and inspiring as the first"
How do you maintain a good work-life balance?
I work approximately 9-10-hour days, and do some teleradiology in the evenings. I am very fortunate that my current position does not have a regular out of hours requirement, although I am sometimes called upon to fill in for colleagues or read images after hours. I work with an excellent team of specialists, residents, nurses, interns and grooms who make life at work fun, educational and varied. There is plenty of time to enjoy the Somerset countryside, visit friends and family and embark on adventures such as charity cycle rides.
What’s it like working in academia?
I am fortunate to work in a university but in a clinical role, which I think is a unique position. I spend around 90% of my time seeing cases and teaching the final years as they rotate through the clinic. I do also have some formal teaching commitments and some academic responsibilities; however, these are lower than if I worked in a traditional academic role.
Tell us about your diagnostic imaging certificate
I began studying my certificate in veterinary diagnostic imaging during my time in first opinion practice. I feel that my certificate really helped with my residency application – it helped develop my interest in the area and helped me to improve my skills whilst working in first opinion practice. I completed my certificate during my first year of my residency, although I didn’t sit the designation exam until 2015.
What does the future hold?
After almost 12 years since graduation, I am very happy with the career path I have taken and wouldn’t change any part of it. The path to specialisation has been varied, interesting and fulfilling. I am very fortunate to have worked with some excellent clinicians, nurses, grooms, owners and horses along the way. I hope that the next 12 years of my career continue to be as interesting and inspiring as the first 12.