Dr Emi Barker – Referral Clinician in Small Animal Medicine, Langford Vets

What or who inspired you to become a vet?

I cannot really remember who inspired me to become a vet – just that I knew from an early age. Both my parents were teachers (in Maths and Science) and encouraged exploration of the natural world. I recall the first vet I saw in practice saying that if she could do it all over again she wouldn’t, but I clearly didn’t listen!

What is your current job? Do you hold clinics as well as carrying out research?

I am a Specialist in Small Animal Medicine at Langford Vets, Small Animal Referral Hospital. I combine clinics with a small amount of research and teaching.

What drew you to your field of study and what motivates you to continue?

Halfway through my veterinary training at Bristol Vet School I intercalated in Veterinary Pathology at the Royal Veterinary College. My research project was about respiratory mycoplasmas, which introduced me to the newly reclassified haemotropic mycoplasmas and a young researcher named Séverine Tasker. Fast forward a few years and I became Séverine’s PhD student. A residency in Small Animal Medicine at Bristol Vet School followed. During my clinical speciality training I have continued to research feline infectious disease, which continued after I gained my speciality status. I like to hope that I am making a difference to many cats across the world, as well as the ones I see in clinics.

Discuss the impact your research has had on the profession. How have those in general or referral practice benefited from your research?

During my PhD I designed PCRs that are still in use as diagnostic assays for clinical cases. I also researched the utility of several diagnostic tests for different infections, and provided data regarding the prevalence of those infections within various populations. This enables vets in both general and referral practice to know which infectious agents are most likely, and how best to test for them. My most recent research looks at the prevalence of respiratory pathogens within the general UK feline population, and whether their presence is associated with any identifiable risk factors. This is useful as it will give an indication of the prevalence of carrier cats, which can be used to help facilitate interpretation of results from the highly sensitive PCRs used in both general and referral practice.

Has your research served as the foundation for other studies or developments in the field, and what will happen after your study is complete?

If we find associations between lifestyle factors and the prevalence of respiratory pathogens we can consider studies that look at interventions to reduce their carriage.

Tell us a little about your own experience. What does your research mean to you personally and what have you gained from it?

I really enjoy adding to the evidence base that we use to guide the care of our pets, rather than just relying on perceived wisdom. I also love discussing advances in veterinary care with colleagues at conferences and other CPD events, including learning from their research, to advance my clinical work.

What is your favourite aspect of the work you do, and what has been your most important/surprising finding?

I find working with pet guardians, to guide them through the investigation and treatment of their pet, very rewarding. This is why I really enjoy combining clinical work with research.

What does PetSavers offer the profession in your opinion?

PetSavers is an amazing charity, which funds research to answer clinical questions for the benefit of pets that we care for. They are great at encouraging applications from early career researchers and for veterinary student projects.

Away from the practice and bench, how do you spend your spare time?

I have a 3-year-old son, which means I have little spare time to myself! If I get a chance I spend time working in my garden.

What advice would you give to vets considering carrying out clinical research for the first time?

Clinical research can be very rewarding, but it can also be frustrating and take a long time from start to finish. I recommend writing down any clinical questions that bug you in topics that interest you. These are likely to be of interest to others and indicate an area where more research is required. The best questions are those that are simple and cover a clinical condition where you (individually or as a practice) see a reasonable number of cases. There are lots of resources available online (https://www.bsavalibrary.com/researchers), and you can also contact clinician-researchers in the relevant field at your local veterinary school or alma mater.