Podcast #31

Picture of Curious George
Being a veterinarian is AMAZING! There are so many different possible career choices and aspects that at KICK ASS VETS we really feel that any vet can find an avenue that fulfills them! Part of our goal at KICK ASS VETS is to display and highlight some jobs and avenues that aren’t the ‘common stream’, to let other vets know opportunities that are available.

This blog is a written summary of the podcast with a veterinarian that has had an interesting and varied veterinary degree so far. He has wished to remain anonymous due to not wanting his information available to animal activist groups that would condemn him for his work, and we of course, have respected that. For this reason we will refer to our veterinarian guest as ‘George’.
George’s Background:
George completed an undergraduate degree in Molecular Biology in London and followed that with a Veterinary Degree in Sydney where he worked as a veterinary nurse at an emergency centre throughout his degree. Upon graduation he immediately pursued an internship in Emergency and Critical Care, followed by working for a University in their surgical research facility. He then became an ECC locum while pursuing a Cardiology Residency.

George has had an interesting, varied and dynamic career already, and it looks to continue that way. When asked about general practice, George replied that it is “a bit too slow for my liking, just not enough adrenaline in it.” He is ambitious and motivated, and has taken complete control of his career to get what he needs to feel fulfilled!
Would you Recommend an Internship?
Textbook open along with glasses
“You walk out of vet school with a textbook in your head but no actual practical knowledge” - George
George pursued an internship directly out of school which isn’t typical for Australia, but recommends it for any vet. “You walk out of vet school with a textbook in your head but no actual practical knowledge…I think that doing the internship straight out pushed my career forwards by 3-4 years in one go”. George felt that his internship was a great learning experience and helped prepare him for his future career. However, not all internships are created equally.

We asked George what he recommended for students or vets looking for an internship he had the following advice:

1. “If you know you want follow a specific pathway maybe focus the internship on that specific discipline because you might find the rotating internship quite difficult when the subjects which you are not interested in come up.” And “if you are undecided a rotating internship is a good idea.”

2. Have the right expectations: Internships are hard work, long hours, and you don’t get paid much.

AUSTRALIA FOCUS: We asked George about salaries of an internship vs. new graduate salaries. Since many new grads are only being paid ‘Modern Award’ which is the same as an internship salary, is there really a financial hit? “The different way of thinking about it is …you don’t get paid much per hour.” Is George’s response. Making $52,000 for a 38-hour week is different from getting paid $52,000 for an 80-hour week.

3. “You don’t go into an internship for the money, you go in it because you want to gain that experience and knowledge fast.”
Why Cardiology?
ECG trace with a heart in the background
“When you have a specific passion or focus it is hard to remain in a field that is not exactly what you want to do… you will feel unsatisfied and there is something missing.” - George
George is obviously a motivated, ambitious, career driven and curious individual… so why cardiology? Many vets know they want to specialize because they know they want to push their knowledge and careers, but have a hard time picking which discipline to commit to, which can leave them flailing.

George initially was interested in emergency or surgery, but he found that “the cases I had most interest in were the cardiac cases coming in… and I have a very big interested in interventional radiology so cardiac does fit in well with that.” George used his experience of his internship and locuming to determine what really excited him! By trying different jobs, different career paths and different clinics, George was able to narrow down what really interests him, and now has a clear idea of where he wants to go! Fulfilling your goals is so much easier when you know clearly what you want, and George has accomplished that first very important step!

Also, when chatting with George about why he wants to specialize, it is a clear and easy answer. “When you have a specific passion or focus it is hard to remain in a field that is not exactly what you want to do… you will feel unsatisfied and that there is something missing.”
The Research Job!
Now to the meat and potatoes of this blog… George’s research job! This job, this career path, is one that isn’t commonly seen or known about by vets. In fact, George didn’t really know about it either. He found out about it through a specialist surgeon friend, and that friend made introductions which lead to employment. This goes to show that connections and networking, and being open to new opportunities, can lead to some really interesting experiences!
What does the job entail?
George’s research job is based in a human hospital, and studies medical devices designed for human medicine. These include surgical devices, biomaterials and new devices designed for ACL reconstructions to name a few. “We tested them out, in animals, for FDA approval.”
Image of a research mouse
“Anything animal related was my job…” - George
As George informed us that these devices, designed for human use, are being tested in animals, our curiosty led to the question... ‘Why aren’t we using these products in animals?’ George explains that some of the devices went on to the veterinary world, or are in works to bring them to the veterinary world, however a lot of the procedures/devices aren’t practical for animals due to the pathological process of the diseases, but more importantly the financial limitations. George shares that some spinal fusions were done in animals but the cost is prohibitive for veterinary industry at this time.
What is your role?
To get a better idea of what the research job entails, George was questioned about the details of his job. “Anything animal related was my job…We would do the surgeries… post-op problems… husbandry… culling and post mortems.” Since the projects that George was involved with were more complicated, it required a full-time vet on site. Most projects don’t have a full-time vet on site, but there are many positions for vets including being on ethics boards, on-call for lab animal care or as George’s job, being more hands on with the projects. George does feel that there are roles for vets in the research avenue, and the field would benefit from more vets on site.
How Do I Become a Research Vet?
Since this is such a different job, the approach to finding out and getting these jobs are going to be different as well. George was questioned about how to approach looking for a research job. “Cold-calling is probably not a bad idea half the time… you are probably looking in the wrong place half the time.” George explains that sites like Kookaburra or Vet Locum List won’t likely have these jobs, and instead they are posted on job sites such as Seek or Indeed.

Also “if you know any specialists they are good people to talk to because they tend to have their fingers in many different pies including these research ones. So they are often good avenues into the jobs.” George also suggests that pathologists are also a good avenue or contact point for an introduction to the job as they are often aware of ongoing projects, because complicated histopathology samples often require a pathologist specialist.
Which Personality Type is Best for Research?
George suggests that patience and an interest in research are both imperative to succeed in this role. “Research is very interesting at the beginning and very interesting at the end but very boring in the middle.” If you don’t have an interest in research, and an understanding and respect for the scientific method and research protocol, you won’t enjoy this job.

Also, it is a “very different way of thinking, everything is very regimented and very structured, you don’t deviate away from the plan because the moment you deviate from the plan your research becomes invalid. So you can’t be the person that always wants to do something different and break the rules.. you have to follow the protocol”. George explains how the research protocol can be frustrating at times because even if you see a way to improve processes you cannot pursue changes or you will throw off the whole experiment. He also explains that research involves a large amount of repetition, performing procedures over and over to get significant numbers.

George explains that research can be a life-long career for some, and for others can be a stepping stone to obtain publications, the currency of academia and residency positions. He suggests that 2-3 years out of school at least is a good idea, and strong confidence in surgery for positions such as his. It’s “not a new grad thing because you’ll be doing a lot of surgery… You need to be good at surgery when you walk in on day one. You can’t [say] I can’t suture, you won’t get the job.” George suggests this as a more long-term position for someone that has 10-15 years experience and has lost the love of clinical practice, and is looking for a change. He also suggests that some sheep/pig/rodent experience is helpful, as these are the common research models.

Financially, George shares that research is often more lucrative than clinical practice, especially when compared to a new/recent grad salary in Australia at the moment. The salaries are often regimented as they are dictated by the university standards, and the job often comes with perks such as 20% Super, salary sacrifice, car leasing, and other perks.
Never say NO:
Curious George with YES written beside him
By being a ‘YES-Sayer’ this curious George has had great experiences, and this has led to opportunities that many of us, and George, didn’t even know existed!
As a final conversation point, George shares his advice for other vets, or individuals in general. His mantra is “Never say ‘NO' ”. “So many opportunities come your way and if you say ‘no’ eventually the opportunities will stop coming.” George suggests that it is important to be willing to give something a shot, even if you aren’t sure you are interested. You never know what door will open from a path explored!

KICK ASS VETS thanks George immensely for sharing his time and information with us! Learning about all the incredible opportunities and doors that open with a vet degree, and learning how to explore and take advantage of these opportunities are important. Research is an avenue that we don’t often think about, especially in the capacity in which George has pursued which involves being so hands on with the projects.

So, if you have become disenchanted with clinical practice and are looking for a different avenue, consider research! Any questions for ‘George’ or comments feel free to Contact Us at anytime!
Written by Dr. Ann Herbst BSc, DVM

Published May 1st, 2020

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