Fellows of the Future?

RCVS Fellowship Day 2018

Research by younger members of the profession was an under-recognised, underappreciated and underutilised resource, said Dick Sibley FRCVS, introducing a new feature to RCVS Fellowship Day. ‘Fellows of the Future?’ was a competition to encourage and nurture quality research contributions from undergraduate, postgraduate and new graduate veterinary students who were working within the vet schools, on EMS, or within industry or practice or a combination of the two.

Veterinary students at Fellowship Day 2018Six finalists had been selected from a large pool of entries and had been invited to RCVS Fellowship Day to give a five-minute presentation on their research. They faced a panel of judges, comprising Professor Jim Al-Khalili, keynote speaker at RCVS Fellowship Day, Amanda Boag, RCVS President, Christine Middlemiss, UK Chief Veterinary Officer, and Professor Nick Bacon, chair of the RCVS Fellowship Board.

First up was Louise Corah, from the University of Nottingham, who gave an insight into her PhD research on small animal consultations. She described how she was working to define what constitutes a ‘good’ consultation and how it might be measured. Working with focus groups of vets and other practice staff, as well as clients, she had determined a number of common themes in the consultation process – the role of the vet, relationships, trust and decision-making – before exploring these in more detail, looking at how they related to each other, why they were important and how they might be used to improve the consultation experience for all involved.

Owen Fletcher, a fourth-year veterinary student at the University of Liverpool, gave the second presentation, describing how he had followed eight horses kept at a livery over the course of a winter to explore their levels of activity. Using a GPS device and telemetric monitoring, he had found that the horses spent much of the day standing and inactive in their stables. They showed a three-fold increase in their activity levels when in a field, but over 75% of their time at pasture was still spent standing and inactive, and much of the activity that they did undertake was done at a walking pace. During exercise, they also spent much of their time walking; very little of their activity was more strenuous. He suggested that the sedentary nature of liveried horses could be having an impact on the increasing levels of obesity being seen in the domestic horse population.

The third Fellows of the Future finalist was Robert Hyde, a PhD student at the University of Nottingham. During a residency at the university, he had explored the issue of antimicrobial resistance in British dairy cattle and sheep, investigating the drivers behind high levels of antimicrobial use in agriculture. He had found that the majority of dairy farms were using low levels of antimicrobials, but some farms were high users and he had set out to identify why. He had found that the use of antibiotic footbaths for herd-level treatment of lameness, and the use of oral antibiotic powders for the group treatment of calves, made it more likely that a farm would fall into the high-use category. He had created an antimicrobial use calculator tool and a benchmarking tool to help vets track and compare on-farm antimicrobial use. He was now beginning a PhD and using machine learning techniques to create an evidence-based calf health plan, with the aim of reducing disease incidence and thus antimicrobial use.

‘Phantom scratching’ in canine syringomyelia was the subject of the fourth presentation, given by Zoe Nalborczyk, a final-year student at the University of Surrey. She had examined magnetic resonance images from Cavalier King Charles Spaniels showing this particular manifestation of syringomyelia in order to pinpoint the neuroanatomical area that was stimulated in association with phantom scratching, and explore what might be causing the stimulation. Unlike spaniels with syringomyelia that did not show phantom scratching, scratching spaniels appeared to have large, dorsolateral syrinxes in their spinal cords, which extended to the superficial dorsal horn of the cervical segments of the spinal cord. The findings suggested that it was the involvement of the superficial dorsal horn that was leading to phantom scratching. Ultimately, the hope was that, by better understanding what was causing phantom scratching, it might be possible to determine which dogs might develop the condition and to use drugs targeting the affected areas of the spinal cord in order to manage the condition.

Louise Scanlon, who is intercalating a Masters degree in research between her fourth and final years at Nottingham Veterinary School, gave the next presentation. She discussed her study of the human-companion animal bond between homeless people and their dogs, and the implications this had for canine health and welfare. She had discovered that 75% of accommodation providers for homeless people said that they had homeless pet owners seeking their services, but only 36% of organisations accepted pets. The welfare of dogs belonging to homeless people was generally good, but prophylactic health care was often poorly accessed by homeless dog owners. Many homeless people described their dog as being a vital part of their lives and many said they would rather remain on the streets than give up their pet. The difficulty experienced by homeless dog owners in accessing services and accommodation that would accept their pet made it clear that there was a need to recognise the importance of the human-companion animal bond, change the existing stigma towards homeless pet ownership, and progress in making services more accessible to them.

The final presentation was given by Nicola Seechurn, a fourth-year undergraduate at the University of Liverpool. For her project, she had investigated the resting sites of Culicoides biting midges, which act as vectors for bluetongue and Schmallenberg viruses and other arboviruses. She said that, with increasing global warming and global trade, vectorborne diseases will have a greater impact on human and animal health. Therefore, understanding the preferred resting sites for midges that transmit viruses affecting animal health could be valuable in targeting control measures. She had placed midge traps at various points around the Leahurst campus and had trapped the greatest number of parous female Culicoides (which were at the stage of their lifecycle where they could transmit disease) at two locations closest to livestock and vegetation. There were hawthorn trees at both sites, suggesting that there may be an association between this species of tree and a preferred resting site for the midge.

The judges chose Robert Hyde as the winner of the inaugural ‘Fellows of the Future?’ competition, saying that he had given an outstanding presentation and clearly had a significant grasp of his subject. He received two tickets, travel and accommodation for Vet19, which will be organised by RCVS Knowledge in June 2019 to explore the future of evidence-based veterinary medicine. They also gave a special commendation to Louise Scanlon, saying that her project had the potential to make a large social contribution. She received a ticket to Vet19.