By Dr. Hannah Godfrey BVetMed MRCVS
If you’re fresh out of university or you’re a vet student looking ahead to your future career, you might be considering specialising in orthopaedic surgery. Or, perhaps, you’ve been a GP vet for a while now and are looking for a new challenge and wanting to follow your love of surgery. Why not register with The Vet Service and explore your options? If you are not yet a specialist, we provide a range of options, including graduate vet jobs.
Whatever stage your career is at if you’re considering branching into orthopaedics, do you know where to start?
Why become an orthopaedic veterinary surgeon?
A love of surgery is an absolute must if you want to become an orthopaedic surgeon! But there are lots of other reasons why orthopaedics might appeal to you. After all, it’s a discipline where your handiwork can make a real difference to an animal’s mobility, comfort, and quality of life. A pet can present to you in pain and immobile, and you can follow their recovery until the final sign-off where they (hopefully) walk into the room as if nothing happened. If you thrive on building a good rapport with clients, helping them understand their pet’s injury, the potential procedures, and the risks involved, in return you’ll receive their trust and appreciation.
The pathway to becoming an orthopaedic veterinary surgeon…
A variety of veterinary roles fall under the term ‘orthopaedic veterinary surgeon’, and each requires a different level of training and qualifications. The option you choose will depend on whether you want to be a recognised veterinary specialist or just take internal or local referrals. You might decide that taking on more orthopaedic surgeries in your current practice is enough for you, or you might be looking to become an Advanced Practitioner or Diplomat.
Experienced Orthopaedic Veterinary Surgeon
While it’s always important to work within the limits of your knowledge and skills, you can gain orthopaedic experience and develop your surgical skills while working in general practice. You’ll certainly need to do some Veterinary CPD courses to build your expertise and gain confidence. It’s best to choose courses that include some wet lab or practical sessions, especially if you don’t have much exposure to orthopaedics in practice. On the other hand, if your practice has a veterinarian with an orthopaedic caseload, it’s a great idea to take an interest, shadow them, and scrub into surgeries when you can. Once you have gained experience in basic orthopaedic surgeries, you can expand your repertoire.
Advanced Practitioner (CertAVP)
Another route to becoming an orthopaedic veterinary surgeon is to gain an RCVS Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice (CertAVP). This certificate can be undertaken at any of the UK vet schools, but comparative post-graduate qualifications exist further afield. The format of the CertAVP study can be self-directed or more structured remote learning, depending on which course you enrol on. There are six modules to complete, some are compulsory while others can be chosen to suit your interests. Bear in mind, though, that if you want a designated small animal surgery certificate (CertAVP (GSAS)), you will need to take surgery-based modules and sit a synoptic examination at the end of your studies. While certificate holders aren’t specialists, they can offer a higher standard of care than the general practitioner. Therefore, local practices may choose to refer cases to a certificate holder when referral to a specialist isn’t required or isn’t an option.
Diplomate (ECVS residency)
The only way to become an accredited orthopaedic specialist is to become a Diplomate of the European College of Veterinary Surgeons. To do this, you must complete a training programme known as a residency at one of the ECVS accredited veterinary hospitals. The residencies are usually three years long and involve intense training both actively during orthopaedic surgeries and while studying. The rate of pay for a resident is not comparable to many clinical roles, meaning it would have to be financially viable too. Once the training programme is completed to the supervising ECVS diploma holders’ satisfaction, the veterinary surgeon can apply to sit the board exams. Once passed, the veterinary surgeon is a qualified ECVS Diplomate.
So, if you’re interested in becoming an orthopaedic veterinary surgeon, what’s the first step?
The first step to becoming an orthopaedic veterinary surgeon depends on your end goal and your starting point:
If you’re a veterinary student beginning to take more interest in orthopaedics, or you’ve always been fascinated by fractures, joint replacements, and other orthopaedic topics, you’ll have to ask yourself an important question. Do you want to be a general practice vet who takes on some more basic orthopaedic surgeries, or do you want to take things further and become a specialist? If you know already that your future lies in specialist orthopaedic work, you might want to consider gaining an internship immediately after qualifying, which will hopefully lead you to continue to a residency. On the other hand, you might not be sure yet, and that’s fine. If you’re unsure what lies ahead in your veterinary career, why not try a few years in practice before deciding? You could even do a CertAVP if you want to elevate your work without doing a residency. If you want some tips as you prepare for you vet job interview you check out our blog “What Questions Should You Expect In Your Vet Job Interview?”
If you’re a new graduate veterinary surgeon with an interest in orthopaedics, it’s best to get involved in as many of the orthopaedic cases as you can. Communicate with the veterinary surgeon who currently manages the orthopaedic cases and let them know that you’re keen and would like to help. By shadowing someone more experienced, you’ll gain skills and confidence at a manageable pace. It’s also important to do some Veterinary CPD introducing the fundamentals of orthopaedics so that you can improve your knowledge and stay up to date.
If you’re working in mixed practice and have found yourself increasingly interested in orthopaedics, it might be time to consider switching to a primarily small animal caseload. This will allow you to focus your time and energy on your main interest, as well as give you the experience you need to progress. If you can’t stand the idea of turning your back on mixed practice, don’t worry, it’s certainly possible to do general practice orthopaedic work while still doing regular days of farm or equine work.
As a CertAVP holder, assuming it’s a designated small animal surgery certificate, you’ll probably already be doing some more complex orthopaedic surgeries. You’re also likely to be accepting referrals from colleagues as well as nearby practices that lack the facilities or level of skill. However, if you strive to become a recognised specialist, you might want to consider enrolling in an ECVS residency to fully unlock your potential.
There are multiple types of orthopaedic veterinarians, and the one you aspire to will depend on your personal circumstances and the aspects of your job and caseload that you enjoy. Once you’ve decided which orthopaedic role suits you, this article should help you plan your path to achieving your goal.
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