Q&A: Michael Hamilton on specialising in small animal surgery

Michael Hamilton in surgery

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: Michael Hamilton BVM&S, CertSAS, DipECVS, MRCVS, EBVS® European & RCVS recognised specialist in small animal surgery
Job title: Founder & clinical director, consultant orthopaedic & spinal surgeon, Hamilton Specialist Referrals


1998: Graduated from the University of Edinburgh

Sept 1998: Began working in mixed general practice

2000: Moved to London and focussed on working in small animal surgery

2002: Pre-residency year of specialist training at the University of Cambridge

2003: Started ECVS residency in small animal  surgery at the University of Cambridge 

2007: Passed ECVS diploma examination and  became a European specialist in small animal surgery

2008: Joined Fitzpatrick Referrals as a senior orthopaedic and spinal surgeon

2013: External consultancy work at home and overseas

2018: Became RCVS specialist in small animal surgery (orthopaedics)

2018: Hamilton Specialist Referrals opened July 2018

Did you have a career plan?

Following graduation, I decided that I wanted to gain broad experience by working within mixed practice in the Yorkshire Dales. 50% of my work was with cattle as this was around the time of the Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) crisis. As a young vet, I wanted to save every single animal I was asked to treat, so being unable to do so due to the legislation around BSE was demoralising.

It was time to rethink my plans. As an undergraduate, I realised I had a flair for surgery. I decided to move to London to work in a job that offered me the chance to do more surgically.

Why did you decide that you wanted to specialise in small animal surgery?

In Yorkshire, I was one of a two person vet team and was therefore exposed to a high number of cases. My first employer was a good surgeon and very encouraging. I was able to get quality first-hand experience of numerous surgeries which further fuelled my love of all things surgical.

How did you achieve specialist status?

Following my decision to leave mixed practice and move into surgical work in London, I quickly began applying for surgical residency positions. I went to every relevant surgical congress I could and met lots of people who inspired me to keep focused on getting a residency. I studied for the certificate in small animal surgery and continued to work in practice.


"I went to every relevant surgical congress I could and met lots of people who inspired me to keep focused on getting a residency"


In 2002 I was offered a one year position at Cambridge university, working alongside the other residents in the small  animal hospital. I was not officially registered as a resident with the European college of veterinary surgeons (ECVS) for this year, but after a somewhat nerve-wracking interview, I was finally offered a residency position in 2003 and I began my official specialist training at Cambridge in June 2003. I passed the ECVS Diploma exam first time in 2007, nine years after graduation.

In 2008, I joined Fitzpatrick Referrals and spent five years there as a senior orthopaedic and spinal surgeon. Following my time at Fitzpatrick’s, I did a variety of external consultancy work, both at home and overseas. I made many trips to China, primarily to do total hip replacements, as well as working in Norway and Croatia. I also worked closer to home, in and around London and the home counties.

Can you describe the commitment involved?

It took hard work, mindfulness and many personal and financial sacrifices to become a specialist, however it was definitely worth it in the long run. The vast majority of my spare time was spent at Cambridge vet school or the at the RVC, gaining as much knowledge as possible from the world-class specialists that worked at these institutions. I did as much CPD as possible, wanting to be constantly progressing. I was very determined to become a resident and being the best surgeon I could be. All this was happening while I was still working as an assistant at a busy practice in London.


Michael Hamilton specialist

How do you maintain your specialist status?

I have to resubmit my credentials every five years to the EVCS. This entails accruing points by attending specialist conferences, publishing clinical research and generally being active within the profession as a specialist. If I don’t gain enough points over the five years, I have to re-sit part of the diploma exam to maintain my specialist status. I have re-submitted my credentials twice now and have been a specialist for nearly 12 years.


How do you maintain a good work-life balance?

Balancing work and life can be challenging. Both of my parents passed away recently, which really put things in perspective on how important it is to spend time with my wife and two children.


"We shouldn’t be afraid or embarrassed to have fun at work"


Opening Hamilton Specialist Referrals was hard work, but we now have four surgical specialists working at the hospital, so I am no longer on a one-in-one out of hours rota. A major part of our ethos at work is to provide a healthier work-life balance and also to make the hospital a happy place to work. We shouldn’t be afraid or embarrassed to have fun at work. We want our staff to be happy in their daily lives - we have invested heavily in our staff well-being and development and there is a very positive feel to the hospital.


What next?

Hamilton Specialist Referrals is going from strength to strength and I am excited about our future plans for expansion, growing our team and offering new and exciting services for our clients and referring vets. We have plans to collaborate with hospitals overseas and want our staff to enjoy the benefits of being part of a such a dynamic team.

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