We interview Jack MacHale, who studied at the RVC and has returned to the RVC to train as an exotic animal specialist. The RVC’s Exotics and Small Mammals Service, which was established in 2014, is the only specialist exotics service in central London and the only full-time exotics service at an English veterinary school. The team is led by Jo Hedley and includes exotics vets Vicki Baldrey and Nadene Stapleton and exotics nurses Abi Edis and Kelly Deane.
What made you decide to come to the RVC for your residency?
I graduated from the RVC in 2014 and I still count my years as an undergraduate among the best in my life. During my time as an undergraduate I had the opportunity to develop my interest in exotic animal medicine whilst on placements and doing further study. It was at this stage I realised it was my life goal to become and exotic animal specialist.
The most effective way of achieving this was to get onto a residency programme, so as soon as I knew the RVC was creating a residency position I applied. Due to the well-publicised intensive workload a residency requires, I knew that for me to accept a position it had to be the right programme and team for me.
I felt the interview went well and afterwards one of our exotic animal nurses, Abi, showed me around the practice and facilities. It is fair to say a lot had changed in the four years I had been away! The specialised ward space for small prey mammals, top of the range vivariums for reptiles and custom-built single airspace units for avian patients blew me away. It was at this stage I knew that if I was lucky enough to get offered the position, I would take it without hesitation.
What was your background prior to this?
My family had always revolved around Border collies, but I took every chance possible to handle and learn about exotic animals. Following graduation, I started working in Birmingham as a small animal and exotic vet for two years before moving to Brisbane where I worked as an avian vet for six months. I moved back to Birmingham from Australia to finish my Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice (CertAVP), with the aim of starting a residency programme when the right opportunity arose.
What interesting cases have you been involved with so far?
There have been so many! For me the cases that stand out are species we see uncommonly, such as Madagascan hissing cockroaches or straw-coloured fruit bats. I have had the opportunity to work with ZSL London Zoo on their captive breeding programme for mountain chicken frogs, which has been invaluable experience with a critically endangered species. I am currently writing up a case report for publication on a parasitic disease of the Mexican axolotl, which is exciting. One of my favourite patients has been Pongo the skunk, who was very relaxed – despite being in hospital for his castration!
What are the key challenges?
The main challenges I am finding is making sure I am keeping on top of my work outside of clinics. A great benefit of the residency at the RVC is that I am also working towards the Master’s in Veterinary Medicine (MVetMed), however, managing my European College, MVetMed and CertAVP deadlines around clinical work has tested my organisational skills. Fortunately my supervisor, Jo Hedley, and the rest of the team could not be more supportive and it has all been manageable so far!
How would you like to see your career progressing after your specialist training?
My time working in academia at the RVC during my residency has made me realise how much I love teaching and always aiming to reach the gold standard of healthcare for exotic patients. It still feels a long way from now but perhaps I would look to become a lecturer at a university. But first I suspect I will take some time to travel and use my training to find work with exotic species in different countries.