Ana Marques, veterinary specialist surgeon

I WAS always around animals as a young child. From an early age, I had this need to fix them if they were broken. Back then, although I knew I wanted to be a vet, I had no idea what the profession was like. All I knew was I loved animals and wanted to help them. I grew up in Porto and went to university there to study veterinary medicine.

I came to the UK in 2003 to do an internship in small animal surgery at a private practice in Manchester followed by a three-year residency programme at the University of Edinburgh. In 2008, I began working as a lecturer and did that until April this year when I joined Vets Now 24/7 Pet Emergency Hospital in Glasgow.

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I specialise in small animals: dogs and cats. The best part of the job is being able to help an animal that has been very sick to go home and have a much better quality of life. The worst part is when you can’t do anything to help. An animal can develop a complication or there may be the need for euthanasia. No matter how long you do this job, you don’t ever get immune to it. Grieving for an animal is the same as grieving for a family member. It is something I experienced with my own dog six months ago.

Around half my cases are referrals and the other half come through our emergency line where animals are in a life-or-death situation and need immediate attention. The latter are often the most difficult ones to help but also the most rewarding because you see instant results. I perform surgery on tissue and muscles when animals have been involved in road traffic accidents as well as treat cancer, heart conditions, wounds, breathing problems or urinary issues. I also perform interventional radiology work, a minimally invasive way of treating conditions using real-time X-rays.

Getting bitten or scratched can happen but we have methods to help avoid that. If an animal arrives distressed, we will give pain relief. We won’t try to examine an area that is extremely sore without sedation or general anaesthesia. The biggest occupational hazard is the potential for zoonotic diseases. For example, cats with tuberculous. Even though it is rare, that is a possibility. The other thing is multidrug-resistant infectious diseases. Some are not contagious to humans, but some are. On top of that it is important to minimise any exposure to radiation.

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There are days you feel like a hero and others it feels like you can’t do anything right. Because we can do far more complex procedures these days, we try to help much sicker animals than in the past. That can bring its own complications and sometimes unrealistic expectations. This is a humbling profession. You can have an amazing week and help 10 cases, then number 11 comes along and you can’t do anything. That brings you right back down to earth.