December Spotlight Veterinarian- Dr. Sarah Boston, DVM, DVSc, Dipl ACVS, ACVS Founding Fellow of Surgical Oncology
Dr. Boston is a 1996 graduate of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, SK, Canada. She is a Surgical Oncologist from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine and she has an amazing story of perseverance and resilience. She is not only a distinguished professor and surgeon but she is also a cancer survivor and author. Her accomplishments in both her professional and personal lives are inspirational and I encourage you to learn more about this incredible person.
Idiopathic Issues: What is your Current Position?
Sarah Boston: Associate Professor of Veterinary Surgical Oncology Jean Imparato Professor of Canine Oncology Service Chief, Oncology College of Veterinary Medicine University of Florida
II: What does your job entail?
SB: Because I am a faculty member, my time is split between research, teaching, lecturing and working on the clinic floor. During my on clinics time, which is 50% of the time, I am a surgical oncologist within the oncology service at the University of Florida. Our oncology service is integrated so medical oncology, surgical oncology and radiation oncology work together as a team to come up with an integrated plan for our patients. My role is to do cancer surgeries on our patients to assist with diagnosis and treatment.
II: What are the best things about your job?
SB: I love the advanced surgical oncology cases and that sometimes we can cure cancer with surgery. I also really love teaching veterinary students, residents and our surgical oncology fellow, as well as traveling to conferences to speak about this exciting field of veterinary medicine. It is also really amazing to be a part of this field because it is relatively new as a subspecialty and it has been a really exciting time to be a veterinary surgical oncologist.
II: What are some challenges you face in your position?
SB: Going on and off clinics is generally great, because it allows for a lot of variety in my work. One challenge is that this schedule can make it difficult to find a routine outside of work. The traveling that is involved in my lecture schedule is also a blessing and a curse. I feel very lucky to have travelled to all of the places that my career allows me to go, but sometimes I want to stay home and hang out with my husband and dog. Another somewhat related challenge is that academics move around a lot and this has been fun in a lot of ways, but sometimes I am homesick for my family and friends back home. On the clinic floor, one of the big challenges is the financial cost of cancer treatment in pets. This is one of the realities of veterinary medicine, but it is difficult. It is not possible to do excellent quality medicine on the cheap, but I know that this makes high quality treatment out of reach for a lot of pet owners. I would strongly recommend that pet owners get pet insurance to take this stress out of the already stressful decision-making when you have a pet that is sick.
II: What is your most memorable patient or moment in veterinary medicine?
SB: It is hard to pick one patient because they are all memorable and I love them all! Two moments in my career that have been really amazing were being the President of the Veterinary Society of Surgical Oncology from 2012-2014 and having the opportunity to write a publish a book.
II: What are some challenges/changes you see for the veterinary profession?
SB: I think that the biggest challenge for our profession is finding work-life balance. All jobs in veterinary medicine are very demanding from a time perspective. Also, I think that our culture promotes working too much and sometimes is not forgiving of professionals who create boundaries to protect their time or themselves. Another major challenge is that we have a small percentage of clients that can be very demanding and sometimes even abusive. We need to do a better job as a profession defining boundaries of how veterinarians should be treated by clients. Most of the other health care professionals will draw a clear boundary and dismiss clients if they are abusive. We tend to keep apologizing and trying to make dysfunctional professional relationships work. This is a major source of stress and burnout for members of our profession.
II: What advice would you offer for someone who is interested in your specialty/area of interest?
SB: I would say go for it! It is a wonderful area of veterinary medicine. The veterinary surgical oncology group is relatively small and a very dynamic and supportive group to work with. You also get to make friends all over the world who love cancer surgery as much as you do!
II: What are some of your hobbies outside of veterinary medicine?
SB: I love road cycling and yoga. My main hobby right now is creative writing.
II: What is your dream species or project to work on?
SB: I thought about being a wildlife vet when I was in vet school, but my dream species is the dog. Not exotic, but they are amazing to work with and I think they are the best patients. One of the projects that is very much on my mind right now is developing and designing a prosthesis for dogs that have had amputations that would work for them and possibly could also work for people that have had their legs amputated. I also want to continue to write more articles and books that promote the profession and help the public to understand what we do. My fantasy project is a reality TV show on veterinary surgical oncology.
II: What advice would you give to a vet student that you wish you had when you were a student?
SB: I think it is really important to investigate all areas of veterinary medicine and realize that there is a lot more to the profession than general practice. General practice is a wonderful vocation, but it is not for everyone. When I was a student, I had very little understanding of the whole system of internships and residencies and I wish I knew more about how this all worked earlier. There are also some really interesting options in research in veterinary medicine. Try to investigate all options and find what is going to work for you professionally and personally. I also think that it is important to pay attention to your marks to some extent. You don’t need to be the top of your class, but aiming for top quarter or higher will be really helpful if you decide to go to graduate school or you decide that you want to do a residency. Make sure you keep up with some of the things that you enjoy outside of veterinary medicine. Veterinary medicine will take up 100% of your time if you let it.
II: How would you like to see technology affect veterinary medicine?
SB: I think it already has helped with this, but I think access to information and help with cases is a huge benefit for vets in practice. One example of this is the advent of digital radiography and the ability to have a board-certified radiologist read your films via telemedicine. This is an amazing resource. I would love to see more telemedicine consulting services to help doctors in practice with their cases. I think that this would help clinicians to do more for their patients and to keep up with lifelong learning. Also, having access to drug handbooks, textbooks and journal articles through your phone is pretty amazing. I wish I had had this when I was in general practice.
II: How has your specialty influenced your life outside of work?
SB: As well as treating cancer in animals, I am also a thyroid cancer survivor. Going through my diagnosis and treatment, I was very struck by the differences in the veterinary and human health care systems. In general, I think that vets spend more time with our patients and clients, give more information, give more choices, show more compassion and are more expedient with the care offered to our patients compared to physicians. This can make a big difference if you either have cancer or think you do. When I found the mass in my neck, I was so frustrated waiting for my ultrasound appointment that I used my husband’s ultrasound machine to ultrasound my own neck. (He is a large animal veterinarian). My memoir, Lucky Dog: How Being a Veterinarian Saved my Life is about my treatment for thyroid cancer and some of the animals that I have treated. Despite the heavy subject matter, the book is funny (if I do say so myself). If you are going to be a veterinarian, you need to have a good sense of humor.
Need an Edge Studying for the NAVLE?
You're of course going to need to study a ton to nail the test, but there are a lot of tips and tricks that will help you make the most of your study time and we've packaged those up in a free guide.
Some of the Top 15 Tips include:
- Familiarize Yourself with the Test Format
- Tackle the Weak Subjects Early
- Start Sooner and Ease Into It
- ...and 12 more!