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A residency in equine clinical epidemiology
  1. Laura Salonen

Abstract

As a competition horse owner and rider, vet Laura Salonen was keen to work in the equine sector, so she took up a residency in equine clinical epidemiology

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AFTER qualifying as vet from the University of Helsinki in 2003, I worked first in mixed practice, but soon moved towards seeing mainly equine patients, spending my summers involved with reproduction and neonatal care and the winters with emergencies, preventive healthcare and orthopaedics.

I enjoyed the clinical work, and worked towards the Finnish specialisation degree of equine medicine, but after a few years' experience I wanted to gain new skills. Neither equine surgery nor internal medicine felt like the right solution. I wanted to keep close to the wider horse population and help horse owners in keeping their horses performing, while avoiding disease, injury and extra veterinary costs. I am a competition rider and horse owner myself, so that served my own interests as well. However, the possibilities for working towards such a career were scarce.

While working as a clinician at Helsinki University's Equine Hospital, one of my colleagues, who knew of my interest in preventive and evidence-based medicine and research, forwarded me an advert for a Horse Trust-funded residency at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), London. Six months later, I was in London starting my three-year senior clinical training scholarship in equine clinical epidemiology. The aim of this scholarship is to provide thorough training in epidemiological methods through a combination of formal education (a Masters in veterinary epidemiology) and practical application of gained knowledge to study clinically relevant equine disease problems. The training programme also fits the requirements of a residency programme of the European College of Veterinary Public Health (ECVPH), so I signed up for that too.

Why I applied

My main drivers to apply for the position were the knowledge and skills that I could gain and the possibility to do clinically relevant research. On top of the stipend for my living costs, the scholarship funding from the Horse Trust covered the expenses of my Masters studies and the main clinical research project which focused on epidemiological aspects of equine obesity and associated clinical disorders that have a major impact on equine welfare. The fact that I could also aim to obtain ECVPH diplomate status through the programme was an added bonus.

The first year was filled with formal training, whereas the past two years have included applying the gained knowledge to various clinical research projects, in addition to my main research project.

My main research project was quite intensive and required the management of the whole process from study design and pilot studies to the logistics of data collection, analysis and writing publications. In other projects, my role in the team was to help with various aspects of study design, statistical analysis and interpretation of the results. I also participated in various undergraduate and postgraduate teaching activities within the epidemiology division at the RVC, which I really enjoyed.

Insight into other career opportunities

The residency also included external placements. In April of this year, I did a one-month externship at the animal health division of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. Most of my time there was spent finding and summarising information about African horse sickness and the possibilities of its control in western Africa. I also spent a few weeks at the University of Helsinki working on a project studying the transmission of human pathogenic Yersinia enterocolitica, to satisfy the food safety training requirements of the programme.

Although many aspects of my work are similar to doing a PhD, I think the residency is fulfilling my goals better than a PhD would have done. The formal training that I received through the MSc was something that I really needed in order to have the right tools to start studying various types of clinical problems, from chronic conditions to acute infectious diseases in any species. The residency gave me confidence to apply those skills through being involved in a number of clinical research projects, including my own. The placements also gave me an excellent insight into different career opportunities, including academia, other research institutions, government and the pharmaceutical industry.

When to do a residency?

I would say that, ideally, one would embark on a residency programme following a few years' experience of working in practice. For me this was essential, as it allowed me to identify the most common problems and information gaps in veterinary care, and gave me a basic understanding of the different aspects of veterinary work. It also allowed me to consider various career options and, therefore, made me feel certain that this one was the right option for me. The Horse Trust scholarship is one of very few opportunities worldwide to do a residency in equine epidemiology, so I feel very lucky to have got it and am very grateful to the Horse Trust for supporting me.

What next?

I will continue with the work I started on the transmission of human pathogenic Y enterocolitica at the University of Helsinki and broaden that work into a PhD. The population of interest will not be horses, but pigs and humans for a while, but I hope to continue with some clinical equine projects as well.

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