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Heart of the matter

Monday, 5 November 2018  
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VetScript Editor's pick: November 2018

Expat British veterinarian Jacqui Huxley is one step closer to offering a referral cardiology service in New Zealand. Ahead of a well-deserved summer break, she tells Jacqui Gibson about her plans to establish a mobile cardiology service and why the heart appealed.


Jacqui Huxley, who only moved here in May, is making plans to offer a mobile cardiology service to New Zealand veterinary clinics within the next few months. She’s also looking forward to enjoying a long, hot Kiwi summer.

“It’s taken many, many hours of serious study to get board certified. I’m ready for the beach and the chance to settle in,” says Jacqui, who migrated to Palmerston North from the UK with husband Jon and their two children Callen (4) and Rhianne (3).

Jacqui is a veterinarian with seven years’ experience in mixed practice and nearly a decade in veterinary cardiology. In Nottingham, she ran an independent referral practice called Apex Cardiology offering ambulatory (or mobile) cardiology services. Prior to that, she worked at a hospital in Derby called Pride Veterinary Centre, and was a resident in cardiology at the University of Nottingham.

Born in Britain but raised in the Middle East until the age of 11, Jacqui successfully completed her board certification exams with the UK-based Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) in August. As VetScript went to press, she had applied to the Australasian Veterinary Boards Council for her specialist registration here.

“Yes, I suppose it was a bit of an Olympic effort,” she says with a laugh. “And I can’t really tell you why I felt the need to be board certified. I suppose it’s a ‘vet thing’, that perfectionist tendency.

In all seriousness, though, it is great to have achieved at the top level of my field. It’s really satisfying to have this depth of knowledge, and to have such a huge amount of case work under my belt.”

To apply for board certification, Jacqui first had to meet the acceptance criteria for academic research and case work and pass two written exams. She then took part in two days of hands-on, practical examination overseen by RCVS examiners in Liverpool. (There was just one other candidate; sadly, he didn’t pass.)

“I flew back to the UK just for the exam, arriving at Heathrow on a Saturday, sitting the exam the following Thursday and Friday, then flying back home to New Zealand on Friday night.”

The exam included three main components, says Jacqui, who gained her BVSc from the University of Bristol in 2003. The first was a live event called the ‘steeplechase’, in which candidates had a set amount of time to complete a task such as an electrocardiography assessment before being ‘buzzed’ to another table to complete another timed task, such as a post-mortem. The next component was live case work with five animals: a horse, a cow, a cat and two dogs. The final component was answering an intense round of quick fire questions from an examiner.

“It was such a relief to get on the plane home; I watched one trashy film after another... It was just so good to have the exam over and done with, and to enjoy a break from studying,” says Jacqui, who has a certificate and diploma in veterinary cardiology and has nearly completed a master’s degree in veterinary medicine.

Her research interests include episodic collapse in dogs and congestive heart failure in cats (she is exploring both topics for her master’s degree). She was officially notified that she’d passed the exams two days after arriving home. After all that pressure, it’s now time to unpack the house, discover more about her new home and set up her New Zealand-based business.

Top of the must-see list is Taranaki for a weekend trip. During the summer the Huxleys plan to visit the Bay of Islands and Waitomo Caves. Jacqui says the family relocated to Manawatū because of husband Jon’s new role as head of Massey University’s School of Veterinary Science.

“It’s a big, exciting change for us all, and we’re loving it. We’re exploring the countryside. The kids have been swimming at Foxton and Himatangi in the freezing cold. Every day they sound more like little Kiwi kids.”

She’s yet to work out what her new cardiology service will look like, figuring it will depend on how things are done in New Zealand. “At home I’d visit practices weekly, monthly or on call. Typically I’d see each client for an hour to give me time to put them at ease and explain what I was doing.”

Most commonly, Jacqui treats small breed dogs with mitral valve disease, large dogs with dilated cardiomyopathy and cats with cardiomyopathy. “I do my tests on site, then write up a report from home. Ninety percent of the time the report is through and I’m back on the phone to discuss my findings and next steps within 48 hours.”

Jacqui has a portable, high-tech cardiology machine known as a Vivid iq, used for ultrasounds. Her total kit also includes a portable ECG machine, an ambulatory ECG monitor and a blood pressure machine. She says New Zealand has fewer insured pets than the UK, so the market for specialist cardiology skills like hers may be smaller overall and more city based. She anticipates travelling more, and perhaps combining her cardiology service with teaching, training and mentoring.

“In general, I’m sure I’ll do much the same thing in New Zealand as I’ve done at home, which is assessing and advising on the day-to-day medical management of progressive conditions – though I’m sure I’ll come across a few curve balls.”

Assessing the heart condition of a pet Chinchilla is probably the most unusual case she’s seen. The most satisfying? Jacqui picks the time she helped to cure a puppy’s loud heart murmur. She picked up the condition, while her supervisor solved it with keyhole surgery.

The only veterinarian in a family of four children, Jacqui says she never questioned what she wanted to do for a living. But the chance to become expert in a single area has been the most rewarding aspect of her career to date.

“I looked at the other specialities – dentistry, dermatology and so on – but the heart is something none of us can live without. It’s this simple fact that clinched it for me.”