My supportive first job gave me a leg up to specialisation

Amie Wilson equine vet

After graduating from Glasgow vet school, I moved to beautiful Northumberland to work at Alnorthumbria Veterinary Group. I was lucky to find myself in a really supportive first job that gave me a positive start as a vet working in first-opinion practice, and taught me a huge amount.

I stayed for almost three years before taking a year out to travel. I visited 24 countries in 13 months and even squeezed in doing a stud season in New South Wales, Australia.

I knew I wanted to specialise in equine medicine, but it is a competitive field and there were times when I didn’t think it would be possible for me to achieve this. During my travels – especially during the foaling season – I had the time to reflect on what I really wanted to do. I was determined to keep learning, try new things and keep stretching myself. My goal was to gain a residency in equine medicine.

On returning to the UK, I joined the Ashbrook Equine Hospital in my home county, Cheshire. I completed an internship and was lucky to gain an MSD Animal Health research bursary. This allowed me to start my first research project on equine vaccination, which I’m hoping to submit for publication soon. When it comes to applying for a residency, it’s important to have experience of research and it can be challenging to meet this need working in a first-opinion setting. The bursary gave me the extra help I needed with my application to the University of Liverpool’s Leahurst Equine Hospital.

I stayed on at Ashbrook as part of the ambulatory and hospital team and just over a year later I heard I been accepted for a four-year residency in equine internal medicine at Leahurst. That was probably my best day so far, and an unforgettable moment; it was also pretty surreal as I took the call while walking a horse with colic.

As a resident, my job is largely clinically based with teaching and research. I am fortunate to work in a really busy equine hospital with a varied caseload and numerous specialists to work with. Leahurst sees a large number of colic patients needing both surgical and medical management and this is an area I really enjoy.

I love my current job. Learning new things every day is great and we have such interesting cases.

'I have to remind myself that I’m still learning and it’s okay not to know everything'

Normally, an important component of my job involves teaching undergraduate students and interns. Unfortunately, we can’t have students with us during Covid-19, but I’m looking forward to their return. The students are fantastic. They really add to the experience. They make us smile and it’s great to see them blossom into confident and competent fledgling vets during their final year. I miss not having them around.

During my residency training, I am undertaking some research on veterinary epidemiology as part of my masters degree. My research is largely focused on preventive healthcare through a project on equine vaccination and another on antimicrobial resistance, in partnership with the British Equine Veterinary Association. I had little experience in these areas before starting my research project and I’ve been grateful for the support I’ve received from the university, MSD Animal Health and Rachel Dean, the director of clinical research and excellence in clinical practice at VetPartners. Her wealth of experience and enthusiasm really helped my research development.

Typical working day

Work starts at around 8 am. We catch up with the night vet team before the full clinical team assembles and meets for hospital ward rounds.

Next, we catch up with the vet students (when they are here), review the cases and make a plan for the day together. Sometimes we do an impromptu tutorial if time allows and the students are keen!

'Out-of-hours emergency cases are really interesting and worth skipping a night’s sleep for'

Outpatients usually start arriving from around 10 am and we also have to manage our medical inpatients throughout the day.

Evening rounds vary week to week, but by 6 pm we generally catch up on paperwork, call the owners we want to speak to and complete case updates.

Out-of-hours we have a busy emergency caseload, but this is often where we see the most interesting cases; they are definitely worth skipping the odd night’s sleep for.

What are the challenges?

When working in a specialist referral hospital it can be tempting to compare yourself to some immensely talented and experienced vets and be a little harsh on yourself. I have to remind myself that I’m still learning and it’s okay not to know everything.

What essential skills you have gained?

Communication – communicating with clients, colleagues and students is the most important part of our job.

Who has inspired you?

I was initially inspired to be a vet by my granny. She was one of the first female vets to go to Cambridge vet school. She used to tell me tales of practising venepuncture on her classmates and still delights in telling the story of how some members of the rugby team fainted in a practical.

I’ve been inspired by colleagues all the way through my career, and continue to be. I’ve got some excellent mentors professionally and I owe them a lot.

What are your career plans?

Currently, my goal is to complete my residency and pass my diploma exam. I’d like to do a PhD involving further research on equine preventive healthcare. In the long term, I will always try to keep a clinical role but would love to keep teaching.

How do you achieve work-life balance?

I think my partner would say I don’t...but I do have a great support network of friends, family and dogs.

I enjoy the fact that my partner is not ‘horsey’ and will only tolerate a certain amount of work talk at home. It’s healthy to be able to switch off.

I also love walking my dogs – my beautiful Labrador Rummy and a Jack Russell called Maisie, who’s a bit of a character. I’ve recently starting horseriding again, which I’d forgotten how much I enjoy. I’m a reluctant runner, but I do get my trainers on and go out with our hospital running club.

What advice would you give your younger self?

It would be the same advice that I was given by a lovely colleague in my first job: ‘It’ll be fine, and if it’s not fine, we will make it fine.’

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