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Norwich School Blog

ON Takeover: Ed Ives - Life as a Veterinary Neurosurgeon

As part of ON Takeover week, we are taking a look at where Norwich School took some of our Old Norvicensians...

In the latest ON Magazine, which takes a look at ONs in the world of work, we hear from Ed Ives (91-01) who shares with us where life after Norwich School has taken him.  

What are you doing now for work? 

I currently work as the Head of Neurology and Neurosurgery at a specialist veterinary hospital in Hampshire, UK.

Explain where you work in 50 to 100 words. 

The hospital provides high level surgical and medical care for dogs and cats that are referred to us from veterinary general practitioners around the South of England. We have many specialists covering a wide range of disciplines, from soft tissue surgery and orthopaedics to cardiology and dermatology, supported by an amazing team of nurses. It also provides training programmes for the next generation of veterinary specialists. 

What is your greatest professional achievement? 

‘Greatest’ is a difficult one to self-proclaim! The most satisfying have definitely been passing my European Diploma exams in 2015 to become a neurology specialist and, more recently, co-authoring a textbook that aims to demystify the subject of veterinary neurology for students and general practitioners.

What is your motivation? 

A core motivation has always been a love of learning new things and keeping my mind stimulated. I see new conditions, or novel presentations of familiar diseases, on an almost daily basis and this keeps the job interesting. I am obviously also motivated to provide the best care I can for the animals under my care; the importance of these pets to their owners is incredible and should never be underestimated. I also think that motivations can change throughout your career, and I find myself increasingly motivated by teaching and lecturing, perhaps trying to pass down the fantastic teaching I have received by so many in the past.

What are your greatest challenges? 

A huge challenge in the veterinary profession, and one that is a source of frequent stress, is trying to balance the care that an animal may need, with owner expectations and the inevitable costs of tests and treatment in a sector without ‘NHS-style’ public funding. This makes detailed and compassionate client communication absolutely vital. From a personal perspective, I often find it challenging to achieve a healthy work-life balance. I frequently dwell on difficult cases or situations at work and this has had an impact on my mental health at times.

Tells us what changes and challenges you have faced to working in a Covid-19 World: 

Whilst incomparable to the monumental challenges faced by doctors and the National Health Service, the pandemic has had a significant impact on how vets can continue to safely provide care for animals around the country. This has included attempts to minimise client and staff interactions where possible, wearing PPE around the hospital, dealing with staff shortages as a result of illness, self-isolation and child care demands, whilst continuing to provide 24-hour care. At our practice, face-to-face consults have been replaced by telephone or online appointments, which complicates effective client communication even further. It has been a very strange time to work, but we can only do our best and I feel extremely lucky to have a job that I can continue to do when so many people’s livelihoods have been affected around the country.

If you could go back in time, what would you tell yourself starting out? 

I don’t think I would give much away, as the mistakes we make are often our most important lessons, but probably to always keep an open mind, have fun and don’t take yourself too seriously! 

How have you got to where you are today? 

I only decided to apply for veterinary medicine when I was in sixth form, and this was driven more by a passion for animals and zoology than with any expectation of it as a clinical job. In retrospect, I think this has helped me throughout my subsequent career compared to those who set their sights on being a vet when they were very young. It can be a difficult job at times and there were fewer dreams to break. I spent a happy six years studying veterinary medicine at Cambridge, where I had the opportunity to do an intercalated third year in Zoology. My fascination with the nervous system, and the potentially catastrophic consequences of damage to it, grew during my final year and this was the focus of my elective project. Following graduation, I worked for five years at a lovely, supportive general practice in north Essex. A colleague, who is now a great friend, was training to be a veterinary neurologist at the time and this fuelled my passion for the subject. I therefore returned to Cambridge in 2012 to do a three-year clinical training scholarship in neurology and neurosurgery. After the dreaded exams that followed, I moved down to Hampshire where I have worked as a neurology specialist for the last six years.

What is your most memorable work experience? 

In terms of true ‘work experience’ during my university days, I was incredibly lucky to spend time with a game-capture vet in South Africa, and at a wildlife sanctuary in Canada looking after orphaned bears, moose, racoons, and even an African lion that started its life in a flat in Toronto. From my time as a clinical vet, both treating a Cheetah and chasing a dog that had slipped it’s lead in the practice car park for 3 miles across Braintree are two fairly memorable events!

Who have you been inspired by? 

A great number of people. My friend and co-author Paul Freeman who is a great teacher and has an enviable pragmatism and constant positive attitude. A wonderfully enthusiastic veterinary neuropathologist (A.C. Palmer) who, amongst other things, once kept a flock of goats on the roof of a well-known London hospital and still cycled in for my tutorials in a suit and tie when well into his eighties. My parents, for their support, kindness and the opportunities that they have given me and my brother. I know the sacrifices they made in their own lives to send me to somewhere like Norwich School and I will be forever grateful.    

What couldn’t you work without? 

Our brilliant team of nurses. I would also struggle to work without an MRI scanner, but this sometimes has to be the case if it decides to break down!

How do you think Norwich School helped you to get where you are now? 

It provided a supportive and encouraging environment and the opportunity to achieve so much, be that in sport, music or academically. 

What makes Norwich School special to you? 

The friends I made, the teachers, the atmosphere of The Close, and the breadth of curricular and extra-curricular opportunities. I wish I could still play sport every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon! 

What is your favourite Norwich School memory? 

It’s impossible to pick only one. My over-riding memory is of a simpler time, seeing my friends every day and being constantly stimulated and challenged. Throwing snowballs, that had been kept in the freezer from the previous winter, at poor unsuspecting fourth formers from the window of the Prefect’s room on a hot June day still makes me smile.  

What hobbies/interests do you have outside of work? 

I used to do quite a lot of running but I never seem to find the time these days (perhaps that should be a New Year’s resolution). I’ve always been a very keen angler, and I realise the potential for hypocrisy in someone who spends their working life helping animals, but for me it has always been about escaping into nature and a form of mindfulness.

What might someone be surprised to know about you? 

I was bitten on the back of my leg by an immature black bear that was annoyed I’d only taken him water rather than food!

Would you be willing to offer career advice or work experience/leadership skills to the Norwich School community? 

Absolutely, it would be a pleasure.