So you don’t want to be a vet anymore?’
This was (and occasionally still is) the question asked when I announced that I was leaving first opinion veterinary practice for a career in research. My long-suffering parents, who had supported me throughout my veterinary degree and those first few terrifying years in practice seemed a little disappointed. I had spent five years studying animal husbandry, anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, microbiology, pathology, pharmacology, parasitology and clinical veterinary medicine as well as countless hours putting it all together seeing practice in order to gain my degree in veterinary medicine. After I qualified I spent my first few years as a stressed new graduate working in mixed practice before finally finding my feet.
Now I was going to work in a lab?
They thought it seemed like a bit of a waste. I understood where they were coming from. To most, the reason you go to vet school is to become a practicing veterinary surgeon but there so many career options and opportunities to people with a degree in veterinary medicine. Our skills and breadth of knowledge developed during our degree and afterwards can be applied in many fields. Of course I still wanted to be a vet! Just one with a slightly different job.
Why does research need vets?
Vets are suited to become researchers for a variety of reasons:
• We benefit from a wide based scientific education. Our studies span several fields which we must able to understand and link together in order to diagnose and treat disease.
• We have practical, front line experience and skills which can provide valuable insights into development, execution and interpretation of research.
• We are natural problem solvers, spending every working day finding solutions to complex clinical problems. We have to think on our feet, often contending with limited time-frames and other pressures such as financial restrictions.
• We use research in our daily lives. Every day we use the principles of Evidence Based Veterinary Medicine in order to appraise and apply the latest well-conducted research to the diagnosis and treatment of our cases.
Vets have made enormous contributions to research and in 1996, veterinary surgeon Peter Doherty was co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his contributions in the field of immunology. Unfortunately, it has been difficult attract enough vets into a research career.
The Report of the Committee of Enquiry into Veterinary Research
In 1997, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons to set up a Committee of Enquiry into Veterinary Research in order to ‘assess the current state and provision for veterinary science and research and to develop a strategy, from which funding priorities can be determined, to ensure UK veterinary research and research training are at the forefront internationally and meet the nation’s needs in the future.’
Key findings from the report included:
• There is a distinct lack of veterinary surgeons involved in research
• Young vets who undertake research tend not to continue past doctorate level.
• Veterinary education may be too focused on preparing for a life in practice leaving graduates unaware of other options and with a lack of understanding importance of advancing veterinary science • A much closer relationship between veterinary schools and research institutes is needed • Major gaps in funding were identified T
The Committee made several recommendations which included:
• Re-evaluation of the veterinary curriculum in order to provide more exposure to research.
• Providing opportunities for students through elective and vacation studies in research institutes
• The development of collaborative research programs between veterinary schools and research institutes.
Since then, there have been major initiatives launched to encourage veterinary graduates into research such as The Veterinary Training and Research Initiative funded by DEFRA and the Higher Education Funding Councils of England and Scotland and Research Training Fellowships offered by the Welcome Trust. Numerous intercalated degrees were offered at universities in order to provide early exposure to research to veterinary undergraduates. More recently, the University of Bristol provided opportunities for qualified veterinary surgeons to spend six months performing research as part of its Clinical Veterinary Primer Scheme, encouraging more vets to consider a career in research, with some continuing on to a PhD program. In addition several funding bodies provide opportunities specifically for veterinary surgeons such as the Research Scholarships offered by the Horse-race Betting Levy Board (HBLB). In order to support vets after doctorate level, the HBLB have recently introduced funding for Equine Post-Doctoral Fellowships.
Why do vets need research?
In order make improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of animal disease we need well-funded and well-designed research. Our patients and clients deserve the best and veterinary medicine has advanced at lightning speed in recent years with new drugs and surgical procedures becoming available to our pets as well as improvements in diagnostic imaging. We are able to care for animals better than ever before and this a direct result of research. Veterinary research also benefits human health, as we are able to better understand and control zoonotic diseases and make improvements in public health and food animal health and welfare.
If you can’t tell by now I love my job. Although I do miss the clinical side of things it is great knowing you can make a contribution, however small, to the knowledge base we have. I’m so glad I made the switch and I’m passionate about getting more vets interested in a career in research.
Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose veterinary research.