Q&A: Stephen Collins on specialising in veterinary cardiology
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: Stephen Collins
Job title: Cardiologist, clinical director
- 1991: Graduated from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC)
- 1991-2008: Worked in mixed and small animal practice with cardiology referrals
- 1997: Gained RCVS certificate in veterinary cardiology
- 1997: Joined practice partnership at Cedar Veterinary Group
- 1997: Founded cardiology referral service at Cedar Referrals, Ringwood
- 2008: Founding member of new specialist referral-only practice - Southern Counties Veterinary Specialists (SCVS)
- 2008 to present: Full-time cardiologist working in specialist referral practice
- 2012: Gained RCVS diploma in veterinary cardiology
- 2013: RCVS specialist in veterinary cardiology
Did you have a career plan?
When I began vet school, I assumed I would become a large animal vet. However, during university I became increasingly interested in small animal work, particularly cardiology. After graduating, my plan was to spend a few years working in mixed practice. I had no particular plan to specialise in either small animal work or cardiology.
My first job was in mixed practice, doing predominantly large animal work. My second job was in a small sized but very busy small animal practice. I then moved to a mixed but predominantly small animal practice which had veterinary hospital status. This is where I had an opportunity to work towards the RCVS certificate in veterinary cardiology.
Why did you decide to become a specialist?
After gaining my cardiology certificate, colleagues in surrounding practices started sending me cardiology cases. I enjoyed the challenge of more complex cardiology cases and the referral service grew quickly. After a few years, I was working almost full-time as a cardiologist. The practice also offered referrals in orthopaedics and dentistry and in 2004, a number of diploma-holders joined the practice. Suddenly my ‘level’ of qualification felt inappropriate for the environment I was working in, so I decided to enrol for the RCVS diploma in cardiology.
Can you describe the commitment involved?
The decision to work towards the cardiology diploma and RCVS specialist status were massive personal and financial commitments. At the time, it was possible to work towards the RCVS diploma in veterinary cardiology on an “alternative track”. In order to meet the credentials for an “alternative track” diploma, I had to spend time with cardiology specialists at other centres. In total, I spent nearly 300 days away from my own practice, my home and my young family. This was achieved over five to six years.
Can you tell us more about your cardiology certificate and diploma?
The “old-style” RCVS certificates were fairly difficult to achieve in practice, but they did offer a fantastic opportunity to develop a “specialist” interest in a particular area and work to higher standards in a general practice environment. The certificate proved to be a great foundation from which I ultimately built my career as a full-time cardiologist.
"I am very glad I have had the opportunity to become a specialist whilst continuing to work in practice"
European and American diplomas can only be achieved through residency training. The RCVS diploma was also traditionally achieved through residency training; however, the RCVS diploma “alternative-track” was an option that could be achieved working from practice. Sadly the RCVS diploma is no longer available and working towards specialisation in other ways has become nearly impossible. I would love to see the RCVS diplomas return, or a European equivalent, as I believe this would give vets an opportunity to evolve as specialists from practice backgrounds.
How do you maintain your specialist status?
Maintaining my RCVS specialist status is subject to a points system, which is achieved by a combination of working clinically, providing CPD, publishing and contributing to the speciality in other ways such as exam invigilating.
Why did you decide to work in practice?
Practice life suits me well and I am very glad I have had the opportunity to become a specialist whilst continuing to work in practice. Following a more traditional route to specialisation through university residency training was not an option I could realistically have considered.