Ten-minute chat - lecturer in shelter medicine
How did your interest in shelter medicine come about?
I've volunteered at shelters since I was a kid, and there were always waifs and strays at our house – my mum would end up bringing things home, too; my poor dad used to tear his hair out. Once I qualified, I worked in mixed practice but in my holidays I started doing some overseas trap-neuter-return (TNR) with a small charity called the Kismet Account. This morphed over time into training trips to engage local charities, vets and welfare workers.
Meanwhile, I started my PhD in epidemiology and virology, which involved spending quite a bit of time in shelters. It was at that time that I met Kate Hurley, who was one of the first shelter medicine practitioners in the USA. I heard about the things she did and realised that someone really ought to do them in the UK – and that if nobody else was doing so, maybe I could. I was also fortunate enough to meet Rachel Dean, director of the Centre for Evidence-based Veterinary Medicine (CEVM) at Nottingham, who was also interested in shelter medicine. She was planning to fund a post in shelter medicine and I was determined that I was going to get it! Since then we've worked closely together to learn about shelter medicine, and spread what we've learnt within the profession and also within the curriculum at the vet school.
What kind of activities does your job involve?
I spend quite a lot of time visiting shelters and finding out what they do, and about their problems and concerns. I also get involved with clinical work, and that will be increasing as I now have a clinical lectureship. I'll be spending more time out in practice with the final-year students, helping them to get hands-on with first-opinion work, with a strong shelter/charity client component. I also give some lectures, practicals and facilitation at the vet school – my main interests are in shelter medicine and infectious disease, but I'm involved in a variety of teaching relevant to first-opinion knowledge and skills.
The rest of my time is spent carrying out research into population health, welfare and infectious disease problems, both with colleagues here at Nottingham and further afield. I'm also part of the CEVM, which focuses on delivering relevant research to clinicians in a useable format to facilitate evidence-based decision-making to improve patient care (www.nottingham.ac.uk/cevm/). So on any given day, I might be going out to a shelter with students, teaching, supervising research projects and spending some time doing stats in front of my computer – every day is different.
What do you like about your job?
Everything! It has tons of variety and every day I learn new things. Our students are great; they are smart, motivated, lovely people and being around them is really inspirational. Plus the people I work with are a joy – I have the best job in the world.
What do you not like?
Nothing – I know how lucky I am.
Why is your job important?
I think it's great that shelter medicine has been acknowledged as a topic of importance in its own right. I really hope that I can use this job to continue educating myself and others to improve the health and wellbeing of animals in shelters, and also of the people caring for them.
What advice would you give to others who are interested in this subject?
I would say get out and do it – there's always somewhere to volunteer if you can't commit full time. And join the Association of Charity Vets – it's a great forum for people working in this area to exchange ideas and push the discipline forward.
What's the best piece of advice you were ever given?
Try not to worry. It wastes energy, and most of the things you worry about never happen.
What was your proudest moment?
Watching my mum graduate with her Open University degree, aged 67, having left school 52 years before.
...and your most embarrassing?
My most embarrassing moment is quite difficult to choose as I seem to have a bit of a knack for that kind of thing. However, I will share what was possibly my poorest piece of judgement, which was to think that running the London Marathon four weeks after fracturing my foot would be a good idea. It's never healed right, and I did it in a rubbish time, too.