Avian Veterinarians: Not Just Clinical Practitioners.
As many of us know, the field of avian veterinary medicine far exceeds just treating people's beloved pet birds or wild birds. Sometimes, it is hard to fathom the multitude of career opportunities that may be available, even within just this specialty. These other opportunities, whether they remain within veterinary medicine or within another subject area, still have a significant impact on the animals we treat as practitioners.
I have enlisted the help of several veterinarians that work within in the avian medicine community in a variety of capacities to speak about their experiences and career paths. Some still treat patients, while others solely work in the avian community in other ways. All of these veterinarians have had an impact on how we treat our patients and on how our clients interact with both us, as the veterinarians, and their pets. The participants include: Bob Dahlhausen, DVM, MS, Avian & Exotics Animal Medical Center, Inc, Veterinary Molecular Diagnostics, Inc., Milford, OH, USA; Christal Pollock, DVM, Dipl ABVP (Avian), Lafeber Company, Cornell, IL, USA; Drury Reavill, DVM, Dipl ABVP (Avian; Reptile and Amphibian Practice), Dipl ACVP, Zoo/Exotic Pathology Service, Carmichael, CA, USA; Lucy Spelman, DVM, Dipl ACZM, Ocean State Veterinary Specialists, East Greenwich, RI, USA; Darrel Styles, DVM, PhD, USDA APHIS Veterinary Services, Riverdale, MD, USA; and Marike Visser, DVM, PhD, Zoetis, Kalamazoo, MI, USA.
This will just give you a small picture of the many opportunities that influence the field of avian medicine outside of clinical practice. I hope the words of these remarkable veterinarians will encourage those thinking of leaving clinical practice to take that leap. I also hope that their words will spark an interest in those who enjoy clinical practice to look for other avenues to impact the avian community and in how people perceive pet birds, as well as wildlife.
Amanda Marino, DVM Associate Editor
Question: What do you do outside of practicing clinical avian medicine?
I provide molecular diagnostic testing for avian and exotic animal veterinarians through Veterinary Molecular Diagnostics, Inc (VMD). This is unique, as we were the first to offer testing for avian Polyomavirus and psittacine beak and feather disease (PBFD) in 1990. This was the first commercial application of molecular diagnostics to have occurred in avian veterinary medicine.
I am a veterinary consultant for Lafeber Company, which means I wear many hats. It is not unusual for completely unplanned and unexpected projects to pop up, but my primary responsibility is to manage LafeberVet, which provides educational content on exotic animal medicine for veterinary health professionals and licensed wildlife rehabilitators. I write content and solicit submissions from others, arrange critical reviews, edit all content, and host webinars. I also contribute to other Lafeber Company websites like Emeraid.com, and I manage LafeberVet's Twitter feed. I manage the Lafeber Company Student Program (currently active in 20--soon to be 21--US institutions), and I also manage the TJ Lafeber Avian Practitioner of the Year selection committee. I am in charge of email newsletters for
Emeraid.com and LafeberVet, as well as many conference follow-up campaigns. In past years, I have also helped with the development of a variety of products, as well as the creation of conference fliers and website ads.
At this point in my career, I am no longer in clinical avian practice. Since 1998, I have owned and operated Zoo/Exotic Pathology Service, focusing on the anatomic pathology of exotic animals.
I teach biology and science communication to visual artists at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). There are several scientists who teach there in the Liberal Arts Department; we are all interested in finding ways to make science more visual, as well as to increase science literacy. I have also been exploring new ways to engage people in conservation by bringing artists and scientists together. I have been teaching at RISD for 8 years and have developed seven courses so far, including 2 travel courses (South Africa and Guyana), 1 science/studio art course hybrid, and 4 lecture/lab courses--comparative anatomy, evolutionary biology, human-animal interactions, and living systems. I was so inspired by the artwork my students were making and by their interest in saving endangered species that I started a nonprofit, Creature Conserve, to encourage more art/science collaboration. Our mission is to bring artists and scientists together to foster sustained and informed support for animal conservation.
I am a senior staff veterinarian with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Veterinary Services Division. My work largely focuses on the identification, assessment, and acquisition of veterinary medical countermeasures for the response to transboundary diseases of livestock. Such countermeasures include vaccines, diagnostics, biotherapeutics, and pharmaceutical agents used to combat or control livestock diseases. I also serve as a technical analyst for virologie diseases of livestock and other animals for our program.
I work at Zoetis, helping to develop new therapeutics in companion animals.
Question: How did you choose to pursue this alternative career in avian medicine?
I began avian/zoo animal practice in the early 1980s when a large number of birds were imported for the pet trade. Along with these birds came many different infectious diseases. Avian medicine was in its infancy, and many of these infections were not well characterized. As a clinician, I wanted to understand what was causing them, how we could identify infected individuals, and how best to manage them. I started the Midwest Avian Research Expo, which raised funds to support research in avian infectious disease. The availability of molecular testing for Polyomavirus and PBFD was a result of this support.
It wasn't part of a master plan for me. I lucked into the position thanks to a connection of my mentor, Dr Susan Orosz, who put me in contact with Dr Ted Lafeber.
Pursuing pathology seemed a natural extension from much of my activities when I was in clinical practice. When one deals with exotics, particularly avian species, death is common, and sometimes the answers are only obtained at necropsy. When clients gave permission, I typically did many of the necropsies on patients that had not survived their disease process. I was fortunate at the time to be employed by CalAvian Labs, and so I had access to submitting samples for histopathology in order to understand how the presentation of the bird, as well as to any clinical pathology that was run, matched with what was determined as the cause of the illness and death. After obtaining ABVP (American Board of Veterinary Practitioners) avian board certification in 1993, the next step seemed either to become financially more involved with a veterinary hospital (owner, part-owner) or to switch focus. I elected switch and to pursue anatomic pathology; I enjoy interacting with fellow veterinarians more than with the public.
I became interested in teaching science to nonmajors after spending 3 years in Central Africa working with mountain gorillas. There is nothing more magical than spending time with a family group of wild free-living gorillas, and yet this is something only a handful of people ever get to do. Protecting the gorillas--saving species from extinction--is something we know how to do, but we struggle to pay for conservation. What will motivate us to take action? We need to feel connected. How do we get people who love animals and nature but live in an urban area to develop a sense of connection? Seeing the animals in the wild on an ecotour is one way; seeing them up close in a zoo or aquarium is another. Breeding and keeping them to be our companions is one more. But none of this is enough. My time with the gorillas filled me with a sense of urgency. Over the course of my 30-year career, even the once common Amazon parrot is in trouble. There is no medicine for extinction.
Over the years, I have also learned that conservation is a problem-solving process that requires collaboration and participation; it is a solution to a problem caused by all humanity. We are all responsible, and we need to work together to make a change. I see my teaching as part of my conservation action.
After completing my DVM, it became quickly evident that I was not well suited for clinical practice, so I eventually pursued my PhD in microbiology and, after completion, was recruited by USDA APHIS to assist with mitigating the Eurasian lineage highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 epiornitic in Asia.
I had previously completed a summer internship at Zoetis and loved the exposure to so many new ideas. In addition, Zoetis offers a very supportive work environment and encourages innovation.
Question: Did this pathway require any additional training besides your veterinary degree?
The molecular techniques we use today were not known in the 1980s. I learned these by actively following the growth and development of this discipline through reading appropriate research journals and periodicals, attending conferences, and applying these techniques in the laboratory setting. I currently follow a large number of research journals and association proceedings to keep up to date and to develop new assays. An advanced degree in microbiology or molecular biology is highly desirable for a person wishing to enter this discipline.
My ABVP Avian Medicine diplomate status is very helpful, if not necessary, for my position. I have also learned quite a bit about advertising as an on-the-job necessity. In the early days, when I began to work with him, Dr Lafeber even assigned reading on this topic.
Yes, there was additional training involved! Once I had decided to leave clinical practice, I elected to start my pathology residency via the alternate route training program. It took me approximately
3 years to obtain training from various services (IDEXX Laboratory in West Sacramento and UC Davis for didactic coursework). In addition, I spent many months at facilities that dealt primarily with exotic animals, including Northwest ZooPath with Dr Mike Garner, Texas A&M Schubot Center with Drs David Graham and David Phalen, as well as numerous courses through the AFIP (Armed Forces Institute of Pathology), primarily with Dr Bruce Williams. I also studied lab animal pathology sets that are available at many of the lab animal facilities in Chicago, Houston, and Washington, DC. My didactic courses were with anatomic pathology residents at UC Davis, and I joined the pathology residents in their mock exams and study groups. Once I had obtained the minimum years of study and my sponsor felt I was ready, I was able to sit for the pathology board exams and passed!
I do not have any formal training as an educator, but our profession gives us plenty of experience explaining what is wrong and how to fix it. We are also always learning new things. In addition, I have held several positions in which education outreach has been critical--including as a zoo director and as the field manager for the mountain gorillas.
Yes, my PhD training has been especially valuable in supporting the mission of our program. Veterinary medicine is becoming increasingly technical, from the development of novel vaccine platforms to the genetic modification of livestock by techniques such as CRISPR(clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats)-Cas9. It is important to understand and assess the impact of these new scientific developments and hopefully to benefit from such novel technologies in order to improve livestock production and veterinary medical countermeasures.
I completed a PhD and a residency in clinical pharmacology. However, Zoetis offers opportunities to veterinarians with a variety of backgrounds.
Question: How does your work still impact avian medicine?
VMD continues to provide expanding disease testing services to most avian/exotic animal veterinarians and zoos in the USA. We have an active research program and partner with practitioners on research projects to better our understanding of these conditions and for improved clinical care. Avian ganglioneuritis is an area of active research for us at this time.
Veterinary health professionals from all over the world register to LafeberVet and use our accessible content to help birds and other exotic animal patients. Our student program also sponsors events and speakers that promote avian medicine and other zoological medicine topics in veterinary schools, so we are helping to inspire the next generation of avian veterinarians.
As the owner of Zoo/Exotic Pathology Service since 1998, I would like to believe that I have assisted clinicians around the world in determining not only the cause of death but also the cause of illness and disease in many avian species. I continue to collaborate with other groups looking to further our avian medicine knowledge, such as Dr Ashley Zehnder's tumor group (ESCRA [Exotic Species Cancer Research Alliance], http:// www.escra.org). I am also a co-investigator on the effects of oil on seabirds after the Deepwater Horizon spill. In addition, I look for trends and/or unique diseases in avian species from case submissions and bring these back to practitioners via conferences, journal articles, and/or book chapters. For the past 18 years, I have helped bring avian pathology to practitioners and fellow exotic animal pathologists through the organization of the AAV (Association of Avian Veterinarians) pathology and research session at our annual conferences.
I think of my teaching--and my nonprofit work--as a form of art/science collaboration, in which I am sharing my scientific knowledge of all animals, including the birds of the world, with visual artists. My hope is that this work will ultimately motivate more people to take better care of animals in general--in our homes, in zoos, and in the so-called wild--and to invest in conservation programs required to protect biodiversity. Science can provide the guidelines for how to save rare species and live in balance with urban wildlife, but we need understanding and motivation to follow them. By reconnecting art and science, my hope is we can make saving species more inclusive, enjoyable, meaningful, and relevant.
I have also found that many art students chose birds more often than any other group of animals to study. They are fascinated by the range of species and by their many special features, including their ability to fly, their intelligence, and their range of behaviors and sounds. Vultures, for example, are a favorite; they will be a focal species on my upcoming trip to South Africa with 14 visual artists.
The scope of my work encompasses the health of all domestic animals, captive nondomestic species, and indigenous wildlife species. However, one of my fortes is the viral ecology and dynamics of avian influenza, where I continue to try and understand the movement of virus between wild and domestic avian compartments. I have done a considerable amount of work developing response and mitigation strategies, as well as veterinary medical countermeasures, for avian influenza. And, I work closely with our zoological exhibitors to improve avian influenza preparedness and still perform outreach within the avicultural community when possible.
Currently, my work focuses on companion animal medicine. I try to remain active through AAV, although this year has been tough between moving and defending/studying for board exams. I'm hoping that once everything returns to normal, I can become more active.
Question: What recommendations would you make to someone who would like to pursue a career in these other aspects of avian medicine?
I highly recommend advanced veterinary training in the areas of pathology, virology, microbiology, and/or molecular biology to anyone interested in this area.
I have some postgraduate training in zoo nutrition, but a formal degree could potentially prove useful. Also, my job constantly necessitates "bugging" other people for feedback or to serve as webinar presenters, reviewers, or authors, and I know my job (and life) would benefit from exceptional networking skills.
As a friend once told me at one frustrating point in my studies, "all roads lead to Rome." Follow your heart.
If you want to branch out and do something new, go for it, but do some digging first. Talk to others. Explore what is out there. It always helps to find likeminded people and share your ideas. Be realistic, too, about what you can accomplish and how your veterinary training relates to what you want to do. Ultimately, we are trained as applied scientists, and there are many other ways to apply our science. The challenge is finding the right balance.
Most of the veterinary medical officers I work with are involved in maintaining the health of domestic livestock and the sanitary regulation/ trade of animals and their commodities. However, I sought to support our mission through my technical skills and to serve as a subject matter expert in several areas. I would recommend that anyone seeking a similar position secure an advanced degree in microbiology (virology, bacteriology), molecular biology, bioinformatics, or genetics. The world of production animal medicine is only becoming more complex (as are its diseases) and requires new skills sets to meet the challenges.
Don't be scared to make a move into another field! It is still possible to remain active within the community while pursuing other opportunities.
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|Title Annotation:||Round Table Discussion|
|Publication:||Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2018|
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