A passion for orthopaedics and new technologies

Ryk Botes outside Medivet branch
One of the lessons I’ve learned over the years is that every person needs to have some sort of passion in their lives. For me it’s orthopaedics, particularly replacement surgery.

I have been performing hip replacements for years but since joining Medivet, I have expanded my skills to include doing elbow and knee replacements. And the size of the group provides me with a caseload that has given me the chance to become proficient in other advanced surgeries as well.

I’m currently one of two vets who were invited to develop a new elbow replacement procedure. However, my journey hasn’t been straightforward and I would describe the path to where I am now in my professional career as an orthopaedic surgeon as unconventional.

I qualified in South Africa in 1990 and after working in a very busy hospital, where I was mentored by experienced veterinarians, I chose to go on my own. This turned out to be a mistake and for the best part of six years my career didn’t progress at all. When you’re inexperienced, bad habits can creep into your work – I needed the stimulus of learning from others. I woke up one morning and asked myself: ‘Is this it? Is this all that there is to being a veterinarian?’

I had to admit to myself that, professionally speaking, I was a failure! Although I had built up a sizeable business and a good reputation with my clients, I knew the truth – I was in a dead-end street and I was bored. I wanted to be an orthopaedic surgeon. I put the business up for sale and within six months I left South Africa to pursue my dream.

Moving to the UK and actively pursuing formal CPD

Arriving in the UK, I set about observing good orthopaedic surgeons performing their trade, and then applying what I learned. Actively pursuing formal CPD helped to guide me in the right direction. For example, when I realised my diagnostic competence didn’t match my surgical skills, I studied advanced imaging. Understanding how disease processes lead to a need for surgery is critical in helping to decide when to intervene – as well as understanding what we’re trying to achieve through surgical intervention. I devoured any book on surgery I could get my hands on, and combined what I learnt with the practical skills gained by observation and attending course to achieve what I wanted. In the 1990s it was easier to get hold of cadavers to practise on and this greatly helped me to hone my skills. I did my first hip replacements on cadavers using woodworking tools bought at a local DIY store!

Ryk Botes during practice
Ryk Botes during practice

Over the years, I slowly expanded the techniques that I’m now proficient in, but understanding what led to the development of particular problems has also encouraged me to design new techniques or refine existing ones.

Becoming a partner in an Essex based surgery

I was approached by Medivet in 2012 and soon became a partner in a busy little surgery in Essex. I was drawn to Medivet because the way it is structured: it allows for interdependency among its vets. I am not an expert in, for example, cardiology but I can draw on the expertise of a colleague in another surgery within the group. This allows me to advance in my chosen field while maintaining a high-quality service to my clients in areas where I’m less proficient. I also have the opportunity to mentor younger or less experienced vets in the group.

Developing new technologies

The size of the group has offered me the caseload needed to become involved in new technologies. I feel privileged to have been invited to join a small team developing a new elbow replacement technique. I had also previously completed a course on the TATE elbow replacement technique and was asked by KYON, a veterinary surgical product company based in Switzerland, to participate in the development of its new elbow replacement prosthesis. The new technique was launched in Boston in 2016 and is now in clinical development.

Encouraging young vets

When speaking to younger vets, I encourage them to learn from my mistakes as well as from the things I’ve done well! I recommend choosing something in your veterinary career that you enjoy and then to go all out to become the best in your field. Actively pursue CPD – be a sponge – soak up all you can and then don’t be afraid to apply what you’ve learned in a responsible way. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions and observe others who are more experienced than you; they will be willing to help.

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