Cecilia Stilwell: The road to specialism
Ever wondered what it really takes to become a veterinary specialist? Our new Internal Medicine Diplomate, Cecilia Stilwell, shares her journey from vet student to specialist…
What inspired you to become a specialist?
It all started during my Oncology rotation in my final year of vet school. I was fascinated by how much specialists can do for animals and enjoyed the ‘buzzy’ hospital atmosphere. As the week went on I started to think that I might consider a future career as a specialist. I was then happy to hear in my end of rotation appraisal that my supervisors had independently reached the same conclusion.
What did you do after vet school?
After a few months of much needed rest and relaxation from the intense learning at vet school in Glasgow, I started my first job at a wonderful, busy, small animal practice near Reading. I worked there for about 18 months and it was during this time that my interest in Internal Medicine really took off.
Where did your interest in Internal Medicine take you?
I then completed a 12-month rotating internship at Dick White Referrals, Cambridgeshire. It was a really strange experience at first. You have to adjust from being a vet who has a lot of responsibility working through a busy list of 10-15 minute consultations, to having less responsibility and mainly learning about the specialties through observation and assisting (I felt like I was a final year vet student again…but paid this time!). Once I had made the adjustment, I really enjoyed the internship. It was there that I started to develop skills in the ‘problem-orientated approach’ that is key to working up medical cases. I was also able to complete a postgraduate certificate in association with the University of Nottingham, which helped to provide structure to the internship and develop my skills in writing case reports and conducting research.
Tell us about your residency…
Shortly after my internship, I was fortunate to be able to return to Dick White Referrals where I completed a 3-year residency in Internal Medicine. I’m sure anyone who has undertaken a residency would agree, they are tough – long hours, high caseloads, a mountain of information to learn in what seems to be no time at all and not much time for a social life, but it was definitely worth it. I was able to work in a lovely and supportive medicine team, see a plethora of cases in a discipline I am truly passionate about and honed my practical skills, thanks to the high case load and intensive learning environment.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about specialising?
The first thing is to do a 12-month rotating internship in a multi-disciplinary referral hospital. This allows you to get a glimpse of life in a speciality setting, confirm if it is the right path for you and which area you would like to specialise in. It is also a requirement for most residency programmes.
What’s been your moment of glory on this journey?
There have been many highlights already, including having my first peer-reviewed article published, getting the residency and draining my first pericardial effusion. But ultimately the biggest highlight has been finishing my residency and passing the certifying examinations.
If you have a question, or require some advice on a case please complete our Medicine Advice Form which you can find here.