Veterinary Diagnostics:

Clinical Pathology – A Residency in Retrospect with the Veterinary Pathology Group

Hi, I’m Annie…

I’m lucky enough to introduce myself as the newest resident at the Veterinary Pathology Group (VPG), a member of SYNLAB UK and Ireland, in the Hitchin laboratory. During vet school, I was that weird girl who actually liked microscopes. When I graduated, I became the weird vet who actually liked microscopes. So, I sought out my own kind and am now on the path (get it?) to becoming a Veterinary Clinical Pathologist!

Odds are that you’re reading this article because, like me, you find clinical pathology fascinating. At only 18 months graduated, I wouldn’t be here without the help of some REALLY awesome people. So, to pass on the favour, I’m going to be sharing my residency journey via this blog.

My hope is that by offering a glimpse behind the scenes, I can share what I learn with likeminded people as I progress through the residency and offer advice to anyone also considering a career in clinical pathology.

And if that’s not enough, follow me on Instagram – @clinpath_resident – where I will be posting interesting cases and fun infographics.

My inbox is always open, so please fire any questions my way.

Annie


Blood, Sweat and Ears: How I landed a residency in Clinical Pathology

With many vets looking to diversify, residencies in Clinical Pathology are in extremely high demand. In this article, I reflect on how I secured my residency and offer some advice on how you can land one too.

Vet School

My third-year project was lab-based, and I loved it. Despite not touching an animal, it felt great to work on something which would have a positive impact on the veterinary industry and ultimately promote animal health and wellbeing. This led me to VPG Hitchin, and after two weeks of shadowing some very intelligent people, I departed enamoured by their passion for clinical pathology. My most prominent recollection was that every pathologist I had spoken to genuinely loved what they did.

Fast forward to rotations. They were fun for the most part. But even after back-to-back clinical placements, I most looked forward to my six weeks of pathology. Bizarrely, I was the only person in the year who requested extra pathology?!

After graduation

Soon after graduation I joined a companion animal hospital in Northamptonshire. They had all the toys, including a (very fancy) microscope that no one else ever really used. Before I had completed a year in practice, I was furloughed. I contacted a local independent practice and asked if they needed an extra vet, and before long, I was back in the consulting room.

A few months later, I joined full time; a decision that was based on my ultimate goal of becoming a Clinical Pathologist. The job was harder, but it allowed me to negotiate one day a week which I could dedicate to my pathology resume. Practicing without an in-house laboratory also helped me to appreciate the importance of an excellent diagnostic service. Still, I couldn’t do without a microscope, so the practice purchased me my very own Leica DM500 in recognition of my voluntary work.

Make the most of every opportunity

I spent many hours on applications only months after graduating, thinking eventually they’d see my name and think, ‘damn, this girl is persistent’. But time in practice is important. We need to empathise with our clients, the vets. Not to mention the old cliché – what’s common, is common. Clinical experience brings advantages when considering likely differentials as a pathologist.

Aside from experience, it’s important to show enthusiasm. I used my day off to arrange a weekly placement at VPG Hitchin which helped me to get my foot in the door. The rest of the time, I watched and made notes on relevant webinars (which I then published on LinkedIn), joined Facebook groups like the ‘Veterinary Cytology Coffeehouse: Cases and Conversation’ and used my microscope as much as possible – granted, not everyone has their own microscope!

Sometimes, it’s who you know

I’m an introvert. I spent a week debating whether or not to ‘bother’ VPG, but I’m so glad I did. Residency programs who know you personally will spare you a further thought. So, book a visit! Send an email. The worst they can say is no, and in my experience (even during a pandemic), many labs will be delighted to help. And get LinkedIn. Yes, once you oust the recruiters, you’ll find some really cool, relevant and helpful people. Ask them questions, and post about what interests you. Use it as a platform to show off your passion.

So, you want to start a residency?

Undertaking a residency is a 3- or 4-year commitment and means leaving many aspects of clinical practice behind (basically, no more puppy cuddles). If you are serious about pursuing a career in pathology, it would be smart to follow these 4 steps.

  1. Do your research – the majority of residencies are run by universities, but more and more commercial labs, like VPG, are beginning to offer workplace residencies or ‘Residency Academies’. The two vary in structure, so research which one suits you best. Visiting is strongly recommended and will benefit future applications. You might find positions advertised on the esvcp.org website.
  • Gain experience – do plenty of relevant CPD and find a way to showcase what you learn. Apply this knowledge in general practice whenever possible. If you have any time off, plan ahead and arrange to shadow a pathologist for the day.
  • Network – LinkedIn is an excellent tool for expanding your pathology network. The social media presence of the vet world is still in its infancy when compared with other industries, but the big names tend to get involved early on. Make connections, comment on posts, ask questions (they don’t mind!), and get yourself known.
  • Provide value – if one thing is certain, it’s that you will have competition. In order to rise above the rest, consider how you can add value to your application. This could be as simple as writing up interesting cases to publish on (you guessed it) LinkedIn, but it’s worth seeking out opportunities to get involved in research. A publication will go a long way.

If you’re interested in knowing more, subscribe to the blog, follow @clinpath_resident on Instagram and join me on this journey to becoming a Clinical Pathologist!

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