Q&A: Smita Das on specialising in small animal 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: Smita Das
Job title RCVS and EBVS® European specialist in small animal surgery at Davies Veterinary Specialists (Davies)
- 2006: Graduated from Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies (Dick Vet)
- 2006-2009: First opinion small animal practice
- 2009: Completed small animal rotating internship at Dick Vet
- 2010: Completed surgical internship at Dick Vet
- 2014: Completed surgical residency
- August - Dec 2014: Locum small animal surgeon at Langford Veterinary Services, University of Bristol
- February 2015 - March 2017: Small animal surgeon at Southfields Veterinary Specialists in Essex
- March 2017: Soft tissue surgeon at Davies
Did you have a career plan?
After graduating, I was keen to do clinical work and knew I wanted to focus on small animal practice. Although I had no intention of specialising, I found that the more I learnt, the better I wanted to be, for both clients and patients. It was this that drove me to take the first step and complete a surgical internship.
When did you decide to become a specialist?
My desire to specialise came during my internship at the Dick Vet. Watching, and working with other surgeons confirmed that surgery was the discipline for me. I particularly liked the way surgeons interacted across all departments.
What interests me most about surgery is the decision-making and management of cases before and after – it’s not just about wielding the scalpel. With appropriate training, the actual surgical process can be taught to any student, but it may not be the sole answer for a very sick patient - the stabilising beforehand and careful management afterwards are equally important.
How long did it take you to become a specialist?
The years spent working in general practice were very valuable and helped prepare me for my residency. In my view, even if it’s just for one year, general practice really helped to ground me. I took what I learnt at university and understood how to apply it to real life cases. It helped me to become confident with making my own decisions with clients and with patients. It also gave me intangible skills such as learning how to listen to both clients and patients – such things can’t be taught from a text book.
I completed my surgical internship in 2009 and my surgical residency in 2014. The residency was the most intense part – it meant minimal holidays or time off work and more or less no life for six years!
Can you describe the commitment involved?
Financially, I took a significant pay cut when completing my internship, but this was something I had prepared for. In general, it wasn’t an unliveable wage and I was provided with accommodation.
However, I couldn’t afford many luxuries and any money I did save I used to travel to see my parents and my partner. It was a big personal compromise; my family were in London and my partner was in Belgium. At the time, my partner (now my husband) and I both made the decision to pursue careers we enjoyed, although it meant being based in separate countries.
How do you maintain your specialist statuses?
Maintaining my specialist status requires fulfilling a points system, with points accrued for a combination of caseload work, attending and speaking at conferences or courses, and contributing to literature by reviewing and publishing. The alternative is to have to re-sit the exams and no one wants to do that!
What’s it like working in practice?
By working in practice full time, I enjoy being able to focus on my clinical work and helping clients and patients every day.
"It’s important to have a proper break from work and properly refresh my mind"
I also do some assessing, teaching, course writing and marking for postgrad certificates for some academic institutions, but this is all done online in my free time and doesn’t interfere with my day job.
How do you maintain a good work-life balance?
Working at Davies allows me to have a good work-life balance compared to what I have previously experienced. However, I believe that to some extent, I am responsible for this in my own way. Being as efficient as possible during the day means I should be able to leave on time.
I don’t have children and it’s not the end of the world if I’m not home on time or if I have work to do over the weekend.
I do, however, try to make sure I don’t take work home. It’s important to have a proper break from work and properly refresh my mind. As vets, it’s important for us to look after our mental and physical health.