Dr Sarah Goldsmid—a cut above

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Dr Sarah Goldsmid
Photos: Nick Cubbin

Dr Sarah Goldsmid is a specialist veterinary surgeon who is enjoying the most exciting time in her career. By Kerryn Ramsey

It was January of 1999 when small animal surgical specialist Dr Sarah Goldsmid, her husband and a couple of other specialists founded the Animal Referral Hospital (ARH) in Strathfield, NSW. The hospital had 10 enthusiastic staff and plenty of promise. Today, the ARH is located at seven sites in five states and has a staff of 550. Each year, about 25,000 cases are seen at just the Homebush branch where Dr Goldsmid deals with 1000 cases herself.

“A couple of years ago, ARH partnered with Greencross in a joint venture,” says Dr Goldsmid. “I’m still a shareholder and plan to be there for the long haul but we’ve recently restructured so that all of the ARH and Greencross specialty and emergency groups throughout Australia are linked together. ARH plus the Greencross practices have created the largest national group of emergency and specialist veterinary care. The plan is for continued growth.

Streamlined residency

Dr Goldsmid graduated from the University of Sydney in 1986 and then moved to the Blue Mountains where she worked in private practice in Springwood for about 18 months. A decision to visit a colleague at Sydney uni would have a far-reaching impact on her career.

“While at the uni, I bumped into Professor Chris Bellenger,” she recalls. “He asked me if I would like to do a surgical residency. It was a new program so I applied and was accepted pretty much straight away.”

Dr Sarah Goldsmid

Dr Goldsmid’s residency in small animal surgery took three years to complete. She trained under a variety of specialists recognised by the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists. 

“The residency gives you training in theory and clinical practice,” says Dr Goldsmid. “You not only learn how to do procedures but why you’re doing them. A major part of the process is undertaking research and publishing papers. Then there is a large list of requirements that have to be met before you can sit the examinations. During the time of my residency, I also completed a research project, obtained my master’s degree and, to make it even more fun, I got married and had two kids.”

Variety is the spice

Finishing her residency, obtaining her master’s degree and gaining membership to the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists didn’t qualify Dr Goldsmid as a specialist. She still had to sit a number of fellowship examinations but prior to that she worked as senior registrar at the University of Sydney.

You need to be artistic to think like a surgeon when you’re reconstructing a big wound or closing a big defect after you’ve cut out a cancer.

Dr Sarah Goldsmid, founder, Animal Referral Hospital

“I stayed on as registrar for a period of time and worked at both the Sydney campus and the Camden campus,” says Dr Goldsmid. “This was during the time I was having children. I was concentrating on small animal surgery and really loving it. In America, it is normal for surgeons to specialise further and become, say, orthopaedic surgeons. In Australia, it’s much more common for specialists to undertake a wide variety of surgery. My working week consists of a number of different types of surgery including orthopaedic, spinal, soft tissue, cancer, reconstructive and cardiovascular. I can turn my hand to anything because that’s how I was trained.”

Having passed her fellowship examinations and now a fully-fledged small animal surgical specialist, Dr Goldsmid loved the variety of cases she was seeing. While the vast majority of her work is on dogs and cats, sometimes an exotic animal will come under her care.

“There are specialists in exotic medicine and we sometimes help them out if the surgery is a little more complicated than normal,” says Dr Goldsmid. “When they need to plate a fracture or something similar, then we usually get involved. The ARH also liaises with zoos, so we will sometimes treat a cheetah, koala or wombat.”

The Apple Isle

Dr Goldsmid is also a regular visitor to Tasmania as her parents and sister live down there. During one visit in 1993, a local vet rang and asked her to do three surgeries. Dr Goldsmid quickly organised her Tasmanian registration by phone and completed the surgeries. She began visiting Hobart every two months to undertake several days of surgery. Dr Goldsmid was filling a real need as there wasn’t a small animal surgical specialist in the entire state.

These trips to Tasmania would continue for the next 20 years, even during the time she was setting up the first Animal Referral Hospital in Strathfield. “I’d fly in and see 20 consults on one day, do 10 surgeries the next day, five the day after that, and then fly back home,” she recalls. “It was pretty crazy.”

Joy of surgery

When she was younger, Dr Goldsmid was very much into arts, crafts and sewing. She was always making things and really enjoyed the hands-on process leading to a final product. In some ways, she sees her love of surgery as an extension of that.

“You need to be artistic to think like a surgeon when you’re reconstructing a big wound or closing a big defect after you’ve cut out a cancer,” says Dr Goldsmid. “It helps to be able to think in three dimensions and envision the reconstruction in your head—it’s exactly how an artist or a sculptor would think.”

You need to be artistic to think like a surgeon when you’re reconstructing a big wound or closing a big defect after you’ve cut out a cancer.

Dr Sarah Goldsmid, founder, Animal Referral Hospital

Being a small animal surgery specialist sees Dr Goldsmid being involved in all areas of surgery including soft tissue, orthopaedics, neurosurgery and oncology. While each area has its own challenges and rewards, there is one type of case that she particularly loves.

“I like surgeries where you see a dramatic difference afterwards,” she says. “I really enjoy acute spinal cases even though they can be very difficult. Dachshunds are rewarding because they’ll often come in paralysed. I complete the surgery, relieve the pressure on the spine, and that dog walks out a few days later. It’s a special feeling, seeing them go from paralysed to mobile.“

Specialist qualities

The idea of becoming a specialist is an attractive option for many veterinarians and Dr Goldsmid encourages them to explore the possibility. However, she believes it’s important that they go into it with their eyes open.

Dr Sarah Goldsmid

“Whatever specialist path you want to pursue, it’s really important to enjoy it,” says Dr Goldsmid. “If you become a specialist just to make a lot of money then you’re not going to have a very fulfilling career. You also need to be resilient because it can be very stressful occupation. When you’re in the middle of a procedure, the animal’s life is literally in your hands. If something goes wrong and the animal dies, you have to deal with that and with the emotions of the owner.”

Animal Referral Hospital

ARH is also committed to giving younger vets opportunities to become specialists and Dr Goldsmid is very focused on teaching and encouraging the next generation. They run residency programs and internships, and she spends a lot of time speaking at seminars and webinars. 

Since starting in 1999, ARH has been at the forefront of new technologies. They were the first animal hospital to have an in-house CT scanner and at present operate a 64 slice CT scanner that is the fastest in veterinary practice in Australia. They were also the first animal practice with an MRI and now own a 1.5 Tesla High Field MRI. 

“Recently, we’ve started offering stereotactic radiation for cancer patients,” said Dr Goldsmid. “We can complete radiation treatment in three sessions rather than the usual 20. We’re also involved in a lot of clinical research, looking at better ways to treat pets. The results could potentially benefit people as we’re involved with the Brain and Mind Centre at Sydney University who are doing a dementia study. We use dogs as a model for people and inject stem cells into the part of the brain that’s involved in memory. There have been some promising results early in that study. 

“Along with being involved in the potential future of a cure for dementia, we’re also investigating treatment options for brain tumours and new ways of treating cancer. I think this is the most exciting time of my career.”

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