Have you considered becoming a veterinary pathologist? - Veterinary Practice
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Have you considered becoming a veterinary pathologist?

Dr SIONAGH SMITH reports on the global shortage of veterinary pathologists and outlines what’s involved in making a career move into this challenging field – and the determination needed

RECENT issues of Veterinary Practice briefly reviewed a selection of diagnostic laboratories in the United Kingdom which are either commercially run or universitybased pathology departments offering a diagnostic service.

It is clear there is a significant amount of choice and the pathologists and technicians working in those laboratories collectively provide a wide spectrum of services and often intra-disciplinary specialisations.

No doubt you will have your laboratory of choice, whether for reasons of geography, finance or professional links – but have you ever wondered how your “local” pathologist actually became a pathologist? Or have you perhaps considered pathology as a possible career move but had no idea where to start?

Decide early on

There is no single route to becoming a veterinary pathologist. Regardless, potential trainees need to decide very early whether they want to focus on anatomic or clinical pathology.

Anatomic pathology refers to necropsy examinations and histopathology (e.g. surgical biopsies) while clinical pathology entails examination of fluids (including haematology, biochemistry, peritoneal fluid analysis, etc.) or cells (e.g. aspirates and impression smears) as well as laboratory management.

Broadly, there are two ways to train as a pathologist: “on-the-job” or in a residency programme; it has ever been thus. Training whilst you are working has some advantages, including better remuneration, higher caseload and immersion in a chosen sphere of pathology.

However, a residency position within a veterinary school generally provides exposure to a wider range of species in an environment that is more accommodating to a trainee’s goals, since it has teaching and learning at its core.

A commercial diagnostic laboratory is unlikely to have sufficient time in its working day to dedicate to specific one-on-one training sessions or to allow significant study time; so most of a trainee’s learning and exam preparation are likely to be in their own time.

Residency programmes

In my opinion, residency programmes are one of the best ways to develop skills in comparative pathology, a discipline which serves as a springboard for a career as a veterinary pathologist, bearing in mind that such a career may encompass research, surveillance, academic and/or diagnostic pathology.

I am a little biased since I am responsible for the residency programme in veterinary anatomic pathology at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies.

In the anatomic pathology training programme at our institute, most of the training material originates from our own hospitals and referring practitioners in the form of necropsies and surgical biopsies.

However, it is complemented by internal training rounds, externships and externally run courses (for example, the European College of Veterinary Pathologists’ Summer School and the British Society of Veterinary Pathology’s training modules).

Most veterinary schools within the UK and Eire run a residency programme in anatomic pathology but, due to financial constraints, these may not be continually available. It is more likely that ad hoc positions will arise as funding allows.

Clinical pathology residency programmes are also run at many UK vet schools, including ours, as well as several private laboratories. Residents in our programme train in the theory and practice of haematology, biochemistry, cytology, general clinical pathology and laboratory management and are eligible to sit the FRCPath or European College of Veterinary Clinical Pathology (ECVCP) examinations.

Rotating internship

Those working for the ECVCP exam must have undertaken a one-year rotating internship or have two years in veterinary practice before starting the residency.

There is now substantial world-wide competition for formal training positions in veterinary pathology, mainly due to a shortage of such positions.

Some vets also choose to train abroad. As a result, the UK pool of pathologists consists of vets from all over the world who are typically Fellows of the Royal College of Pathologists (FRCPath), Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Pathologists (DipACVP), Diplomates of the European College of Veterinary Pathologists (DipECVP) or Diplomates of the European College of Veterinary Clinical Pathology (DipECVCP).

These examinations vary somewhat in their design but they have in common a requirement that each trainee is supervised for a minimum of three years by a qualified anatomic or clinical pathologist, whether in a residency position or as a junior working pathologist.

From 2013, the ECVP has an added requirement that newly registered anatomic pathology residents have one year’s relevant work experience prior to commencing on an ECVP training programme.

The ECVP and ECVCP require that all institutes offering residency training are registered with the College if there is an expectation that an institute’s residents will sit the respective qualifying examinations. In the case of the ECVCP, the laboratory must also be approved by the ECVCP Laboratory Standards Committee. This gives potential candidates confidence that certain training criteria and quality of facilities have been met.

All four Colleges have informative websites which are a good starting point for anyone considering a career in veterinary pathology (www.rcpath.org; www.acvp.org; www.ecvpath.org; www.esvcp.org).

Wide scope

In the UK, the British Society of Veterinary Pathology also provides helpful pointers and links, with information on training courses for those working towards a veterinary pathology qualification (www.bsvp.org).

This short article focuses on academia and diagnostic pathology but a career in veterinary pathology offers much wider scope. Veterinary pathologists are in short supply but the global opportunities are diverse. They include the pharmaceutical industry and contract research organisations that are responsible for drug development and safety; research institutes; and government surveillance laboratories.

Those interested in pursuing a career would be advised to make contact with potential employers and more than one veterinary school. It helps if you are willing to move geographically. A prior pathology qualification or a PhD is not vital but you should be prepared to demonstrate clear motivation for the discipline.

Finally, be determined and don’t give up at the first or second (or third) hurdle. We need pathologists. There is a continued global shortage but there is also a mismatch between funding and the profession’s requirements, which is why positions will not necessarily be there just when you want them.

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