Twenty years ago, Aidan McAlinden, MVB, MSc, CertSAS, DipECVS, MRCVS, graduated as a veterinary surgeon from University College Dublin (UCD). After a couple of years in general practice, he got itchy feet and felt he needed another challenge, so he sought opportunities to develop his career. He recalls discovering an Improve International brochure and researching the training courses to gain a postgraduate qualification.
As his career comes full circle by joining the Improve International Group as academic and content director, we looked more closely at Aidan’s journey, asking him to share his insights for the veterinary professionals of today.
Why did you choose to specialise in surgery?
After going through the steep learning curve all new graduates follow, I was drawn to surgery because I really enjoyed the days I was scheduled in theatre.
Surgery demands a great combination of knowledge, technical skills and attention to detail and can often restore complete health and function. It also has a disproportionate number of dramatic and emergency cases, and being able to help pets and their dedicated owners during their worst times is immensely rewarding.
Surgery was always in demand, and it was a way for me to develop my skills and really invest in my future. I wanted to be on “the cutting edge”, so to speak, and surgery gave me the direction I needed.
What has your CPD journey been like throughout your career?
Back when I started, there were fewer options for CPD and postgraduate training. I started undertaking short practical training courses on soft tissue and orthopaedic surgery and returned from each course super-enthused and wanting to do more. However, I was investing a large amount of time and finances in my personal development and wanted something tangible to show for it.
At that time, the RCVS Certificate in Small Animal Surgery was the sole option you could complete while working in general practice. I enrolled in this, spent my days off seeing practice with a specialist surgeon and started building my case log with my incredibly supportive practice. I will never forget the support and encouragement of my then-boss and practice owner, Mrs Maeve Lunny – she was ahead of her time, having trained to RCVS diploma-level herself, and knew the benefits this would bring to our clients and the practice team alike.
I was fortunate in the fact that my certificate helped me secure an ECVS residency training position back at my alma mater, UCD, in 2005. I became immersed in four years of intensive training with amazing mentors and colleagues, which ultimately culminated in achieving the ECVS Diploma in Small Animal Surgery and gaining my specialist status.
My time at the university also introduced me to teaching and education, which quickly became a particularly important part of my career and personal values. It gave me the opportunity to combine clinical practice and teaching from that point on, and the rest is history.
These days, I am delighted there are many more opportunities available to vets wishing to progress their career
I am acutely aware that I was fortunate to get one of the small number of training pathways available at that time. These days, I am delighted there are many more opportunities available to vets wishing to progress their career, such as the ISVPS General Practitioner and Advanced Certificates in a range of disciplines. Through digital and blended approaches, the content is accessible, super-engaging, contemporary and flexible, and opens you up to a massive diversity of career paths as an alternative to specialisation.
What is your favourite type of surgery and why?
For me, it has to be surgical oncology. It requires a multitude of skills and demands a multidisciplinary collaboration, with input from colleagues in medicine, imaging, anaesthesia, medical oncology and nursing, to ensure the best possible outcomes.
With cancer predominantly being a disease of old age, most of these pets have been a treasured member of the family for a long time and difficult decisions are often faced. I enjoy the challenge of communicating information effectively with owners and helping them tackle ethical decisions.
I recently completed a part-time master’s degree in clinical oncology, so this discipline ties in well with the research work I have been involved with. By continuing to invest in my own education and training, I get enormous satisfaction from using these skills and knowledge.
How has the CPD your team members have undertaken complemented your own work in practice?
Teamwork is everything. Surgeons are often the ones who speak with the clients; therefore, we get the thanks afterwards, but I remind them that this isn’t a one-person mission. I couldn’t do what I do if it wasn’t for the team behind the scenes.
Surgeons are often the ones who speak with the clients; therefore, we get the thanks afterwards, but I remind them that this isn’t a one-person mission. I couldn’t do what I do if it wasn’t for the team behind the scenes
For example, when our nurses have completed CPD in anaesthesia, we can take on more critically ill patients and ensure they are optimally stabilised, monitored and managed during complex surgery and over the post-operative period. Additionally, those that have received advanced training in nerve blocks ensure patients have optimal analgesia during and after surgery, which improves overall outcomes. Plus, it often allows us to perform procedures previously deemed too painful to perform. It generates success and job satisfaction for everyone.
I love to see the team training together and sharing what they have learned, which empowers everyone with the latest knowledge.
What do you think are the most important skills for a surgeon?
Number one is having practical and technical skills. This is essential if a surgical procedure is to be executed correctly and an optimal outcome consistently achieved. Next is decision making. Surgeons spend most of the day making decisions and planning, including deciding whether an operation is needed, if there are other options, which technique is best, what other treatments or rehabilitation might be required and what the expected prognosis is.
Lastly, it’s being reflective. We talk a lot about reflection on our CPD programmes, and it’s because surgeons need to do a critical appraisal of every single case. These constructive debriefs are a massive part of training and development. We must recognise what has gone well so we can do it more, and what has not gone so well to foster constant improvement. As vets, we tend to be over-critical of ourselves, so I think it’s important to take time to reflect in a balanced way.
Finally, what does postgraduate education mean to you?
As I mentioned earlier, I knew immediately that undergraduate and postgraduate teaching was going to be a big part of my career. By joining the Improve International Group as academic director, I can help shape and curate our educational programmes so that they offer the very best learning experience possible for our delegates.
I am most excited about working on our small animal surgery, advanced soft tissue and orthopaedic courses. These are some of the most hands-on practical training courses, and our training facilities in Sheffield, Madrid and Frankfurt are truly state of the art.
I am not ready to put away my scalpel, and I’m delighted that I can continue to operate a theatre list each week while delivering practical training on our courses.
There will always be the demand for surgical procedures, and I am honoured to be able to give back and help dedicated vets develop their knowledge, skills and confidence to perform them and find fulfilling careers.
|If you want to find out more about Improve Veterinary Education’s postgraduate programmes, visit their website.|