Q&A: Tom Cardy on specialising in neurology
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: Thomas Cardy
Job title: Neurology specialist/co-clinical director
1991-1994: BSc in zoology from the University of Reading
1995-1998: PhD in pharmacology at the University of Cambridge
1998-2006: Management consultant in the pharmaceutical industry
2006-2008: Marine mammal trainer in Bermuda and Hawaii
2008-2011: BVetMed at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC)
2011-2012: General practice in Hertfordshire
2012-2013: Rotating internship at the RVC
2013-2016: Residency in neurology and neurosurgery at the RVC
2016-2018: Lecturer in neurology and neurosurgery at the RVC
2017: Gained European College of Veterinary Neurology diploma
2018-present: Neurology specialist and co-Clinical Director at Cave Veterinary Specialists
Describe your route to becoming a specialist
I did poorly in my A levels (after good GCSEs) and went to Reading university through clearing – I can remember my parents dropping me off outside the gates! I obtained a good degree in Zoology and really enjoyed the research element of the course. I then applied for a PhD in pharmacology at Cambridge university and was lucky enough to be granted a place.
All of my friends were either going to be lawyers or management consultants so after my PhD I became a management consultant working on product strategy in the pharmaceutical industry with a focus on nervous system diseases. I managed eight years before the city started to take its toll.
I had always harboured a secret desire to work with animals or become a vet. Consequently I decided to take an alternative career path and qualified as a marine mammal trainer spending the next three years working with dolphins at Dolphin Quest in Bermuda and Hawaii. The job was fantastic but the side of it that really interested me was the medical care of the dolphins.
"It has been hard work and an extremely unconventional career path but I have no regrets and love the job I am in"
A little research showed that there were veterinary places available for mature students at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC). I sat my entrance exams and one vet degree, one internship, a three-year residency and some very hard exams later I became a European Specialist in Veterinary Neurology. It has been hard work and an extremely unconventional career path but I have no regrets and love the job I am in.
When did you decide that you wanted to specialise?
I decided to specialise when I was working as a rotating intern at the RVC. The neurology team there were fantastic and I loved the beautiful simplicity of neurology. Dogs and cats are really just a large collection of sensors and wires attached to a central computer. Once you accept that concept the rest is easy.
Can you describe the commitment involved in becoming a specialist?
The personal commitment is colossal. Because of the hours I worked when training I lost contact with large groups of friends, family and, in some instances, partners. The desire to learn and treat the animals becomes all-consuming.
How do you maintain your specialist status?
It is essential that I continue to be active in continued professional development. I am required to attend conferences, present at conferences, give my own CPD and continue to publish in my speciality area. Having a good reputation is essential in my field as it is a small community and word will soon spread if your standards drop.
Private practice or academia?
I have worked in academia as a lecturer at the RVC and as a specialist in private practice. There are pros and cons to both roles and I have enjoyed all the centres that I have worked at.
How do you maintain your work-life balance?
I am afraid my work-life balance has been appalling. I’ve started early and finished late, and even dreamt about work at night! I am working hard to change this now as I have a new baby and my family needs to come first.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
As specialists we have all worked extremely hard to achieve our status and still work hard to try to maintain it. We are proud of the high-quality care that we give, and always try to ensure we do the best for our patients. It is an emotional and stressful job but if you get it right it is astonishingly rewarding to be able to make someone’s pet walk again!