What was your first pet?
My mum’s pet really, a black (female) cat called Eric. I still have the scar from a scratch I got from Eric, on the back of my hand (amongst plenty of others!).
What are your favourite animals?
Cats, simply all of them. Currently we have five; three rescue moggies, all with tales to tell, and two Ragdolls, who are the funniest cats I’ve ever known.
What is your funniest vet moment?
At a STEM school visit, the children were allowed to ask me any questions they liked about hearts. My favourite one, although at the time it took me by surprise, was “could a human being fit inside the heart of a blue whale?” Don’t children think of the best questions? I had to check on Google later to see if I’d got the answer right…..yes.
What is the most memorable or unusual animal you have treated?
Pathologists generally don’t “treat” anything, but I did once help to post mortem a lioness, who had died unexpectedly and her keepers were worried she’d been maliciously poisoned. It turned out she had an underlying, undiagnosed heart condition, one which is also common in pet cats (and seen in people), so we could at least reassure them there was no poisoning. But it was interesting to see that cats both big and small can have similar diseases.
What is your ultimate veterinary dream?
To keep doing (and enjoying) what I am doing; the mix is so stimulating, and will keep me on my toes. I am also looking forward to helping train more pathology specialists in the future!
Melanie Dobromylskyj talks about how her alternative career path has resulted in her becoming a specialist in veterinary pathology.
I think my family were completely baffled by my decision to become a vet; we had no vets, doctors or even scientists (except for a lonely physicist) in the family at that stage, although we’d always had multiple cats. My poor mum used to make me change my clothes outside in the yard when I came home from “work experience”, due to the smell, and I suspect she was quietly hoping I would change my mind. I seem to remember her suggesting I became a nice, clean pharmacist at one point.
I secured a place at vet school only at my second attempt, following a busy but fun gap year driving round the Norfolk countryside working at vets, on farms, stable yards, lambing and doing voluntary work at a local rescue kennels amongst other things. Once at vet school, I was distracted somewhat by the chance to experience scientific research first hand, first at a summer school, then as part of an “extra” degree; this helped fuel a passion for immunology, continuous learning and discovery, as well as the more traditional clinical subjects such as medicine.
After the vet degree, I didn’t feel general practice was quite the right place for me, so I undertook an internship at a small animal referral centre, where I had the chance to experience lots of different clinical specialities whilst working under expert supervision – lots more learning! I really enjoyed the clinical work and I learnt so much during that year which I still use today, but by the end of it research was calling me once again. So next I undertook a PhD in immunology, which was very laboratory-based. I loved the research, the thrill of discovering new facts, of being the first ever person to find something out, but now I really missed the animals, medicine and the clinics!
I think being torn between clinical work and lab-based/research work is really why I have ultimately ended up as a pathologist, and one who primarily works in small animal diagnostic services. As a speciality, pathology offers so much diversity, and for me it has meant I can combine my interests in small animal clinical subjects as well as my passion for science, research and learning new things. I like to think that pathology is the bridge between the clinics and the research world, and that pathologists can be the guide between the two. Even the way I did my specialist pathology training was unusual, it being split between a commercial diagnostic laboratory and more conventional academia/vet school-based programmes.
Now as a qualified specialist, most of my day is spent examining biopsy or tissue samples under the microscope, samples taken from dogs, cats, the occasional rabbit, guinea pig, rat or hamster, sent to me from clinicians for analysis. My time is spent applying my knowledge to reach a diagnosis, writing reports for and communicating with vets in both first opinion and also in referral practices, helping them with challenging cases. It’s a form of problem solving, which I love.
And that tissue sample could be from any organ or any type of disease; it could be a skin tumour from a rabbit, liver disease in an ill dog, an infection in a cat’s skin…..it could be something very common or something never diagnosed before – I see new (to me at least) things all the time and this keeps me forever learning! There is also the chance to teach, to collaborate with other specialists, to become involved in research projects. I’ve recently become a “manager” and also a STEM ambassador, which involves me visiting schools, talking about what I do both as a vet and a pathologist, and teaching the children some very “hands-on” science.
Find Melanie’s profile here
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