Life after the RVC....tell us your story
Do you make an interesting profile? Email us the answers to the questions below and you could be featured next!
Matthew Homfray BVetMed MRCVS (2004)
What’s your current job?
Managing 'Sunset Vet' in Bali, Indonesia (www.sunsetvetbali.com)
What was your career journey up until now?
After graduating I worked in small animal practice in London for 5 years, then wanted to do something entrepreneurial but felt my business skills needed to be sharpened first. So I did an MBA at Imperial College and subsequently spent a year as a management consultant to pharmaceutical companies. I still craved adventure though so decided to move to Bali to work on a rabies eradication project, and fell in love with the island. Once my involvement in the rabies project finished I decided to set up a vet clinic in Bali, which has now become Sunset Vet.
What advice would you give others wanting to go down your career path?
Firstly, many vet clinics are not run as effective businesses due to the principal lacking business skills. I would encourage any young vets hoping to start and grow their own business to consider further education from a business school, as an alternative to specialisation within veterinary medicine. Secondly, working in a developing country is exciting and brings huge opportunities but also has dangerous pitfalls if you jump in there enthusiastically without doing extensive research first.
What do you think are the most valuable skills that you gained from your time at RVC?
RVC produces very well trained vets - being one of the largest vet schools it has some of the best facilities in Europe. When I see all my old lecturers headlining CPD events in Asia as well as back in Europe I know I was lucky to learn from those people!
What do you wish you’d know when you graduated from RVC?
I wish I had a better awareness of the 'non traditional' career paths for vets.... not only immediately post graduation, but also what they might like to consider a couple of years down the line once they've cemented the knowledge and skills learned at vet school.
Michaela Vinales, FdSc Veterinary Nursing (2018)
What’s your current job?
Head Nurse and Acting Practice Manager at an independent practice in South Croydon, Surrey
How has the course you studied helped you get to where you are now and how has it given you the knowledge and skills to succeed in your job role?
In order to become a registered nurse, I had to make sure I did the veterinary nursing course. Without doing the course, I wouldn't have been able to fulfil my dream to work with animals and help those in need. I gained all the necessary knowledge and skills in order to become the best nurse I can be.
Why did you choose to study your course?
I chose to study the foundation course as it gives you the necessary qualification to become a registered nurse. I knew that after the 3 years, I was ready to start the adult working life.
Where has your career taken you to date?
Even though I have only been qualified a short time, during my first year of being qualified, I had already worked with a range of animals. I went out to South Africa for 3 months to work with the wildlife out there and continue my nursing skills, including monitoring anaesthesia, dealing with injuries and relocating animals such as rhinos, giraffe, elephant, lions and antelopes. Once I was back, I had two jobs lined up for me and I had to pick only one. I chose to go for a small independent practice, where I am now Head Nurse and Acting Practice Manager.
What advice would you give to students wanting to get into the same career path as you?
Go for it. Never give up. I am nowhere near an academic person and did struggle with exams and essays, but persistence will pay off. Keep trying and never give up on your dreams. Make sure you get enough work experience under your belt.
What advice would you give to your younger newly graduated self or other alumni about to embark on their careers?
You are entering a career of happiness, sadness, highs and lows but take each day as it comes. If you have a bad day, shake it off and think about all the good days you have had. And don't get disheartened if you lose an animal, it is not your fault.
What do you wish you’d known when you graduated from the RVC?
That there are a bunch of crazy clients out there and that you will be dealing with all sorts of people. No matter how much you prepare yourself mentally, when you experience any euthanises from an animal you have nursed for days, it will always be hard.
What is your favourite memory from your time at the RVC?
I loved spending time with my house mates. Relaxing outside of the green, listening to music and attempting to revise (but it never happened). I loved how all the staff on my course were willing to help no matter how many times you kept revisiting the same things.
What clubs and societies were you part of during your time at the RVC?
Unfortunately, due to the nursing course being so placement based, I wasn’t able to be part of many clubs. I did however go to the gym and make friends then, I also helped out with the beagle puppies that were on site, making sure they were walked daily and had socialisation.
Nicola Lewis, Professor in One Health Evolutionary Biology
What were your student days like?
I started at the RVC in 1991 and then undertook an intercalated BSc at Guy’s and St Thomas’s – inspired to try research by Jim Bee – and lived in Manor House with a couple of vets from my year – Claire Miller and Helen Wishart, who were intercalating at UCL, and a brave non-vet, Rachel. I spent the summer on expedition in Guyana in the middle of the jungle before coming back to Hawkshead for my clinical years. I was one of the first to complete a lecture-free final year and did my elective in Exotics at ZSL and Whipsnade – looking at campylobacter prevalence in Mara.
What did you do after you graduated?
I went into general practice in the UK and then in Hong Kong. We then moved to Brazil where my first daughter was born, and I started scientific grant writing for a conservation NGO trying to protect the papagaio cara-roxa – or purple-faced parrot (Amazona brasiliensis) in the Atlantic rainforest of Parana. I spent the rest of my career break riding Lusitano dressage horses for a local Haras and travelling round South America and even to the Falklands.
What prompted the move from practice to research?
I was a vet in mixed and small animal practice for several years after qualifying. During my BSc I was most interested in neurology. However, having lived and worked overseas, I became fascinated with diverse animal populations, the way we live with animals and the interface with infectious diseases. Each Saturday afternoon clinic in Hong Kong consisted of a continuous stream of diseases that we had only covered theoretically at university.
When did your interest in virology start?
In Brazil I knew I was moving back to the UK and wanted to specialise in infectious diseases. I was lucky that the Cambridge Infectious Diseases Consortium was about to launch, and I was one of several colleagues now at the RVC who were funded to undertake a PhD through this DEFRA-supported initiative to train more vets in infectious diseases. I focused on equine influenza for my PhD and then was given the opportunity to expand into other animal influenzas, starting with wild birds. We then had a pandemic in 2009 so I added swine influenza to my research. Many of the analytical methods we use are not pathogen-specific, so similar to veterinary medicine, you can employ a comparative approach. This is one of the strengths of vets in infectious disease research – we are used to working in multi-host systems and we have been exposed to them since starting training.
What made you decide to progress your career back at the RVC?
I was based at Cambridge’s Department of Zoology when the opportunity at the OIE/FAO International Reference Laboratory at APHA arose. After a year at APHA, an infectious disease collaborator told me about the RVC position, I applied and was fortunate to be successful. It was also a chance to cement stronger links between the RVC and APHA through joint research, funding and sharing of expertise. These links mean I now wear two hats where I’m at the RVC for most of my time and am also Deputy Director of the OIE/FAO IRL at APHA.
Of all your professional achievements, which are you most proud of?
That’s a difficult one! I get most satisfaction working with local researchers and scientists on their infectious disease challenges in animal systems. I think a great success has been managing 10 years of wild bird avian influenza research in the Caucasus, where we have not only sampled for flu virus but understood much more about the ecology and evolution of these viruses in the natural host. I have also gained even more respect for the complex diversity of host-pathogen interfaces that are out there.
The world is much more aware of zoonotic disease now because of COVID-19 – how do you think this awareness might change the shape of scientific research?
I think we need more than awareness – however welcome that is. We need sustained and wholesale embracing of a One Health approach to infectious diseases – not just those that are zoonotic – as food security issues can arise from non-zoonoses that are ‘just’ as devastating to animal populations. We need to explain more clearly why we need fundamental scientific understanding of the complex wild and domestic animal, and human interfaces, where zoonotic pathogens circulate. And, just as importantly, what we do with the knowledge we gain. This means cross-disciplinary One Health frameworks that are developed in partnership with local populations, not externally imposed. And that are robust enough to explore questions from ‘swab to policy and mitigation’. From the animal health side, we need enhanced and longitudinal engagement with our public health colleagues so that they recognise the challenges and threats – but also that these potential threats are appropriately risk assessed and not sensationalised.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the work you do?
No fieldwork or international training has hampered progress on many projects, and different lockdown strategies in different countries have made it challenging to keep assessing flu virus circulation. However, we have been resourceful and tried wherever possible to continue work – for example doing extra online training to help support local researchers.
As a woman leading scientific research, have you faced challenges?
There are relatively few women in leading scientific positions to look to as role models and at times there is quite a male-oriented work environment. However, this situation is not new, or unique to infectious disease research and was faced by inspirational women pioneers in the veterinary profession, such as Mary Brancker. There are also challenges managing family commitments relative to study (in my PhD days – which I started when my second child was six months old) and work, and in international travel.
What advice would you give new graduates starting out today?
Keep your mind open to all opportunities. In my experience there isn’t really a clear ‘career’ path, but your all-round professional training is second to none. There’s also no wrong or right route – just go with your instinct and be passionate about what you do. It’s also OK to change track, just be brave!