Dr. Hayleys' background is a bit convoluted. She started as a research scientist in human cancer and virology, but the ‘lab rat lifestyle,’ being as difficult as it is, led her to go back to school to pursue a different profession. She started off her vet degree in UK at Edinburgh and finishing it off at the University of Sydney. She then debated very seriously about whether or not to pursue an internship. Dr. Hayley discusses that she ended up choosing an internship because “if I left it too long I probably wouldn’t do it at all.” She wanted to cement skills and try to make habits of practicing best medicine, so she chose a rotating internship to start. She found the internship difficult, a lot of work, with a significant lack of sleep. Dr. Hayley laughs as she shares that the emergency part of her rotating internship was especially ‘instructive’ because when you are alone in the middle of the night you just have to figure it out, and it’s great for building confidence FAST.
Dr. Hayley admits that even though the internship was hard, she enjoyed and values her internship experiences, and felt that she made wonderful friends through the process. Dr. Hayley’s internship was at a private practice, where through-put is important and you get more hands-on practical experience, but it is a faster work pace. She compares this to university-based internships that in her experience had a bit of a lower case-load, with rounds, and a more of a learning/research aspect than a business model aspect. This is important to consider when looking at an internship. Both university and private practice settings have pros and cons, and what you want to get out of the internship, and the feel and work-load of the internship, should be considered.
Dr. Hayley went right from her rotating internship to start an oncology specialist internship. She picked this discipline based on her background of working on human cancer research in her previous degree. Dr. Hayley had a very hard time with this field once she was immersed into it. There is a huge ethical component to practice of oncology in animals, and what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ is very personal. Every owner, and every vet, will lie on a different range of the spectrum of how much we should and shouldn’t be doing, in terms of oncology. Dr. Hayley learned in the early months of her internship that oncology wasn’t a career path that she wanted to pursue long-term. She ended up stopping this internship before completion, because she knew it wasn’t for her.
Did you struggle with the concept of ‘quitting’ your internship?:
For Type-A people not completing something you started can feel like quitting. Re-evaluate your expectations and instead of interpreting it as ‘quitting’, think about it as not wasting your time!
‘Quitting’ the internship was hard for Dr. Hayley. “It was a hard one for me, I don’t like to leave anything unfinished as a rule anyways.” Dr. Hayley confesses that “walking away from an internship, or specialist internship, or residency if you do that, it’s never easy and I think I beat myself up a lot over it, and you feel it’s a failure on your part, maybe you’re not good enough, maybe you’re not good enough for the industry”. She shares that those feelings of not being smart enough, or having ‘wasted’ time, were strong, and that even though she knew that leaving that internship was the best thing for her, it led to unconstructive and negative internal dialogues that took time to get over.
KICK ASS VETS discusses that the purpose of an internship is to gain information and knowledge of both how a field works, and also how to progress down that career path. Since Dr. Hayley got the information that yes, there are some amazing chemotherapy options, but in general this isn’t a life-path she wanted to choose- she gained exactly what she wanted/needed out of the internship, even without an official ‘completion.’
It takes a lot of guts and courage to say ‘this isn’t for me’ and to walk away.
KICK ASS VETS suggests that when looking and undertaking an opportunity, and you are very unhappy, it is important to take a moment to re-evaluate your definition of success. Dr. Hayley shares that “leaving something you have worked quite hard to get…there is something freeing about sitting back and thinking to yourself ‘is this really what I want to do?’” She feels that it is better to find something you are truly passionate about instead of just being swept down a path that you don’t enjoy just because you started.
What were your expectations of the oncology specialty that didn’t align with reality?:
Oncology, chemotherapy, radiation, and whether or not to pursue these treatments in animals is a very personal decision. Their utility, and the ethical aspect of these treatments in some cases, can cause very strong, split opinions. Knowing exactly what you are getting into, especially in a very emotive field, is imperative!
“I didn’t approach that career thinking it would be so heavily based on money still… and maybe I thought that you would see more immediate benefits to these patients lives, and in many cases unfortunately we counsel the owners to know that this isn’t going to be a treatment to make them better or cure them, it’s to potentially improve quality of life or extend their life.” The reality was more comprised of “a lot of seeing the slow demise of these pets, and you would hope their life would be better.” The clients are also a different, extremely devoted and committed, breed of person. “You are dealing with extreme individuals” she shares, and this was completely different and unexpected for Dr. Hayley.
What path did you take after your internships?
After leaving the specialty internship Dr. Hayley worked in general practice, covering maternity leave positions. She thought it would be ‘easy’ and that she would know what to do and how to practice confidently and efficiently. Hey, she was two years out, of course she would know… but she shares that it was another huge learning curve. Both KICK ASS VETS and Dr. Hayley share that they feel “the GP life, ya, it’s so hard.” General practitioners don’t get enough credit, and it is a very very difficult job. Not only due to the high work-load, the constant client interactions all day, every day, but also the expectations of society for them to know everything about every specialty, and to deliver it on a budget!
Dr. Hayley shares that through this transition time she had some really supportive clinics which were busy and nice, which allowed her to feel more confident enough to start locuming as well. She enjoyed locum life, choosing her hours, choosing her rates, meeting lots of people, and that was a good break, but it didn’t fulfill her long term. “I had this niggling feeling in the back of my mind to do something to incorporate my research history”…. And this drive led to pursuing a job at the university teaching hospital. This led to a further position where she was running rounds for the interns and students, and she found that it really fulfilled her to work with the students. This made her re-evaluate again, “where do I want to be.”
How did you pick a discipline for your residency?
When you have so many options and can only pick one, it can be hard. Some vets know exactly what they want to specialize in, but others know they want to specialize but they don’t know in what. Thinking about the final career in terms of life-style, income, work options, etc. is important!
So, you’ve decided you want to do a residency… what’s the next step?? Picking the right discipline of course….Dr. Hayley had a mentor that suggested she might like pathology. She used her contacts and ambition to begin volunteering with the zoo doing pathology work. The position at the zoo allowed her to get experience of what it was like on the ‘ground floor’ in the profession. She admits that she wished she had that ‘ground floor’ experience in oncology prior to the internship, because she would have been better informed prior to jumping into that experience. After realizing that yes, pathology is a fulfilling and interesting career choice, she looked into it from a practical life-style standpoint, and saw that pathology provided a decent income, flexibility to be a bit nomadic, research opportunities, and to top it off, the opportunity to involve herself in interesting wild-life cases.
Trying to pick which country, and which residency to choose, was a bit of a logistical decision for Dr. Hayley. The USA and Canada involves going into ‘the match’ (some positions are outside of the match), but with the Trump administration getting a visa for the USA was essentially out of the question. Dr. Hayley did share however that if you are thinking of going to the USA, be prepared to have to fly and interview at each location. Australia didn’t have many options in terms of residencies, and since Dr. Hayley is a UK dual citizen, the UK was the next logical place to look. However, even with citizenship, the academic centres in the UK all wanted their applicants to have ‘residency status’ which involved living in the UK for 4 years prior to starting the residency. This logistically left Dr. Hayley with a private company residency in the UK. She feels she was very lucky to be offered the position and it “seemed like an opportunity that was too good to turn down.” So now, she is starting up her residency, and it’s going really well, she feels like an Imposter (as we all do starting a new career path), and COVID is making life a little difficult, but overall she is very happy!
KICK ASS VETS discusses that there seem to be two camps of people, one that specializes in a specific field because that field is their passion, and one that specializes because they just want to specialize in something, and want to be at the forefront of the field. Dr. Hayley shares that this is definitely the case. She considered surgery because she loves surgery, but the life-style was just not what she wanted. She really wanted to pick a specialty that could afford a good work-life balance.
Does pathology seem to be satisfying the need you have?:
Dr. Hayley loves the concept of the ‘hunt’, and still has that feeling of working up cases, but also get to use part of her research history. She also really likes that you can use the human adapted products and bring them to the vet world. Using less invasive techniques and getting a better diagnosis, and being on the fore-front of making the profession better by making it easier to get a diagnosis and therefore improving patient care, is important, and exciting for Dr. Hayley.
She does admit that “90% appeal to me” is the flexibility of the job. Companies like IDDEXX will employ people from across the world. Flexible time/hours, flexible work locations, these are huge draws for Dr. Hayley.
She does admit that she already misses the human client component. In her current position the vets will come into the lab and discuss cases, so she does get some ‘human communication’ fulfillment by interacting and directly helping others, but that is a down-side to the discipline for sure. That and lack of case follow through would be Dr. Hayleys' two biggest ‘cons.’ However, even as a specialist, working from the comfort of your own home (or on vacation in Ecuador), when vets are able to call the IDEXX (or other lab) help-lines, and speak with the specialist about a case, those specialists are incredibly helpful! So, having that ‘direct case involvement’ does exist, even with these secluded/remote jobs.
How do you recommend getting experience with a pathologist?:
Job shadowing and getting experience with a pathologist is harder then other specialties. Pathologists in a working business don’t have time to take a ‘random off the street’. It is much easier to get your foot in the door when you have connections, or while you are in a program. Dr. Hayley shares that to get experience you should take advantage of opportunities as they come up, because they can be far and few between. So, focus on getting placements as a final year student, or try to get your boss of your internship to help you arrange an externship. Use your contacts, and use your contacts’ contacts! If you have a foot in the door that is better.
Dr. Hayley’s general advice:
1. Prior to pursuing an internship/residency, gather as much information and hands-on experience beforehand as possible. Chat with previous residents, previous interns, set up face-to-face interviews, get as much information as possible!
2. If it doesn’t work out, being willing to say “meh, this wasn’t for me” and step back without feeling guilty.
3. Value yourself more! Dr. Hayley feels “this is definitely something that we [the vet profession] have failed at for many many years.” Dr. Hayley agrees with KICK ASS VETS, and if we get everyone having the same discussion with their employers, advocating for ourselves, we can collectively get employers to make it worth our while to stay in the career! Dr. Hayley shares that “we should be valued, we’ve worked hard, we’re smart people, we do a hard job, we deserve to feel appreciated and appreciated monetarily.”
Dr. Hayley has had such a diverse and varied career so far, and this is such a great aspect of the field. She shares that “the vet degree itself seems so single minded in one way [when we graduate], but actually you have so many opportunities open to you…look around and embrace them.” Her messages of pursuing your dream, and being willing to walk away from experiences that aren’t fulfilling that dream, are important! We shouldn’t feel ‘bad’, ‘guilty’ or like a ‘failure’ for recognizing that something isn’t for you! Also, the information and insight into a pathology residency is invaluable for those considering a residency and not sure which to pick. We look forward to what Dr. Hayley has in her future, and we will touch base with her again in the future!!
Dr. Hayley has also generously offered to speak with anyone that has any questions about specializing, oncology, pathology, internships, or anything else. She is an amazing resource, and if you are thinking of pursuing a specialty she would be an amazing contact. If you would like to get in contact with Dr. Hayley please Contact Us and we will pass along your information!