Gareth Arthurs moved from practice to academia, becoming a lecturer in small animal surgery at the Royal Veterinary College. Here he describes how and why he made the move and what he has gained from it
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FIRST, I need to give some background. I graduated from Cambridge in 1996, and after the obligatory final-year holiday, I started work in general practice. I enjoyed it, but right from the beginning I was keen to continue learning and developing myself professionally.
I soon registered for the certificate in veterinary radiology; I studied while working in general practice, and as I learned more my interests developed. My work became predominantly small animal, and I did less and less large animal work.
After I passed the certificate in 1999, I moved to a small animal practice that had a heavy surgical caseload, including orthopaedic referrals. This stimulated my interest in surgery, so I studied for the certificate in small animal surgery. By then I had two certificates and a good job, but I wasn't done with learning! I set my goal to achieve a surgical diploma and become a surgical specialist.
After a short period in private referral practice, I returned to Cambridge vet school as a staff clinician (between 2004 and 2006), and I passed the RCVS diploma in small animal surgery (orthopaedics) in 2007.
This personal background is important to my subsequent decision-making, because it illustrates that I've always had a drive for personal learning and a particular affection for veterinary schools and the unique learning/teaching opportunities that they offer.
Shortly after gaining my diploma, I was working as an orthopaedic surgeon in private practice with the intention of staying at the practice long-term, but I had a different vision for the future from my colleagues so we parted company. At the same time, a vacancy became available at the Royal Veterinary College. I don't have a traditional academic background with a history of research or a PhD, but the advertised position – lecturer in small animal surgery – suited me well as it was primarily a clinical position. At Cambridge, I had really enjoyed being immersed in the academic environment with the opportunity for and stimulation of constant learning. The opportunity to re-experience this environment was immediately appealing.
I calculated that moving to university would be a good career move in terms of developing myself professionally because a university position carries some kudos. It is a good way of developing one's professional profile, and opens unique opportunities, such as research and access to cutting-edgetechnology.
The biggest problem with choosing to move from private practice to university was the pay cut – my salary reduced by about half, and although I'm not a particularly materialistic person, this took a bit of adjusting to. However, with a young family, I knew that I was unlikely to be able to afford to move from private practice to university in the future because of the financial pressures. It was a ‘now or never’ moment.
Having worked at the RVC for nearly three years, how are things going? Has the move back to university been worth it? Yes, it most definitely has. I really enjoy my job.
The students are as stimulating; the pleasure in seeing them learn and being able to teach them something and pass on knowledge and skills is undiminished. I love the challenge of the clinical work, in particular working with the residents and interns, playing my part in their development and education as budding young surgeons.
My faculty colleagues are great to work with – they're inspiring, friendly, accommodating, know the meaning of teamwork, and have a diverse range of interests with a common goal.
The nurses are brilliant; they work to the highest standards, and they rank among the best that I have worked with. Although my job description does not have a research emphasis, I have developed a number of small research projects that represent a completely different but refreshing challenge. The job has also presented many extra opportunities that I may not otherwise have had – for example, invitations to speak, lecture, write articles, be on committees and other such activities.
Is the job perfect and brilliant? Are there absolutely no problems? Of course not: no job is perfect. The biggest frustration is that there is so much to do and not enough time. The clinical and teaching workload is so busy that there is very little free time. My original intention was to complete much more research than I've been able to. One-third of my time is ‘off clinics’, which is not ‘free’ time, as it is consumed by extra duties, such as tutoring students, writing and marking exam questions, writing or presenting lectures, organising CPD courses, or attending meetings. The longer you're in the job, the more extra jobs and responsibilities you accumulate, and, before you know it, you suddenly have more responsibilities than you feel able to cope with! This doesn't sit particularly comfortably with me as I like to complete a task as soon as possible, but now I have long ‘to-do’ lists and precious little time in which to do them.
It seems to me that the general view is that a university job is a relatively cushy number, but in my experience is this is not true. I'm currently working harder than I have before, including taking work home.
Considering a switch?
My advice to anybody who's considering a switch – if you're so inclined and can afford to – is do it now. The opportunities that a university position can offer are unrivalled and plentiful. You don't have to do it forever, and if you don't like it, there's likely to be a good job in private practice you can return to!
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