USDA Field Veterinarian Finds Dream Career Through Ensuring Animal Welfare

Autumn Unck, DVM '15

As a veterinary medical officer with the Animal Care unit of the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, St. George’s University graduate Autumn Unck, DVM ’15, has a wide range of responsibilities that affect both humans and animals. And she loves what she does.

“My job is so diverse—every day is different—and that really helps satisfy my passion for public service,” Dr. Unck said. “That’s what got me into this. I have a passion for animals, public service, and giving back. The job incorporates everything I love.”

The Animal Care unit employs around 200 civil servants located around the US, including veterinary medical officers and specialists who have expertise with marine mammals, exotic cats, and primates. The unit conducts inspections of approximately 8,000 licensed or registered facilities annually under the Animal Welfare Act and each year it inspects over 1,500 horses at shows and other events for compliance with the Horse Protection Act.

As a field veterinarian, Dr. Unck performs inspections and assessments of the overall treatment of animals at various research facilities, zoos, licensed breeding facilities, and educational exhibitors, among other places, in her territory of Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri. She is also responsible for evaluating the qualifications of facility professionals and to review protocols to ensure proper use and care of animals in research facilities.

“When it comes to research facilities and zoos—some of that is very controversial in the public’s eyes because they don’t understand what’s going on there. By being present and speaking to the teams that work there, I know these facilities have phenomenal vets and caretakers,” Dr. Unck said. “The biggest misconception is that the animals aren’t being taken care of. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We are really an advocate of making sure that that public is educated when it comes to these facilities.”

Dr. Unck’s other responsibilities include assisting with the implementation of the Horse Protection Act, by ensuring that horse shows safeguard against unfair competition. She is also part of the team that travels across the country to help out when there is a natural disaster or disease outbreak, such as the Newcastle Disease outbreak in 2016 in several counties in Southern California.

Following a natural disaster or outbreak, “being able to step in and provide some type of comfort or relief [to farmers], by letting them know that someone cares in their time of need” is particularly gratifying, she said.



Dr. Unck acknowledged that while travel for her job has been temporarily curtailed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, maintaining relationships, such as with the regulated facilities and horse owners/exhibitors is imperative.

“We are constantly checking in to see if they have the support they need, or if they have questions or concerns,” she said.



Dr. Unck grew in up Southern California and fell in love with animals at an early age. She clearly remembers visiting San Diego’s Sea World, at which she was invited to pet the famous killer whale, Shamu. “To see the huge massive animal diving and being entertaining, yet so delicate and graceful in front of me—at one point he looked at me and we locked eyes and that’s when I became hooked,” said Dr. Unck, who is the proud fur mom of three rescue dogs, and a donkey she brought back from the Caribbean.

Yet before setting her career sights on vet medicine, Dr. Unck said she considered entering the military or public service. “I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do. I was graduating from undergrad and vet school when the US was sending people overseas,” she said.

Although Dr. Unck ultimately ended up in a career she enjoys, her path there was a bit winding. She transferred to SGU after initially starting her veterinary education at a different Caribbean school. It proved to be a positive move. Dr. Unck fondly recalls her interactions with SGU instructors and noted the advantages to leaving the US, including the ability to gain exposure to different experiences they wouldn’t normally have. Despite Grenada’s small size, she had the chance to work closely with a variety of animals and farmers, particularly when it came to receiving experience in large animal medicine.

Dr. Unck was also sure to get involved in a myriad of student-led clubs and organizations and to put in time at the University’s Large Animal Research Facility.

“Going to SGU was best of both worlds,” she said. “With veterinary schools in the states, you just stay at one school throughout your education. I had amazing didactic lessons in Grenada and then another year of clinical education at Cornell University.”

Finding a career opportunity within the USDA serves her desire to go into public service.

“I’m helping the helpless. Animals can’t tell you what’s wrong and many animal caretakers are not trained veterinarians, so they reach out to us for help,” she said. “It’s an awesome and humbling position to be in and I wouldn’t change it for the world. SGU made that happen.”


–Laurie Chartorynsky

SGU Vet Joins the Fight to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19 at Children’s Zoo

Shannon Cerveny, DVM '07

Veterinarian Shannon Cerveny has watched over animals at Michigan’s Saginaw Children’s Zoo throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Photos courtesy Shannon Cerveny

As physicians, nurses, and other health professionals have treated human patients in need during the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of One Health One Medicine—the philosophy that human, animal, and ecosystem health are intertwined—has become more visible now than ever, thrusting veterinarians such as Shannon Cerveny neé Shaw, DVM ’07, onto the front lines of the global health crisis.

“When the outbreak started, our first priority at the zoo was to concentrate on the health and safety of our collection of animals, our staff, and our guests,” said Dr. Cerveny, a veterinarian at Saginaw Children’s Zoo in Michigan. “It was critical that we quickly establish protocols to keep everyone safe.”

Returning to her home state of Michigan only four months before the COVID outbreak, Dr. Cerveny was quickly propelled into action as the first-ever full-time veterinarian at the zoo. Her new job entailed not only caring for the animals within the zoo’s collection, but included providing emergency medical and surgical care, developing preventive medicine protocols, evaluating animals in quarantine, assessing potential research and conservation involvement, and also providing input to the zoo’s occupational health program.

“With the discovery that COVID-19 was present in exotic felids at another zoological institution, I think it heightened the concern level of many zoo veterinarians, as we hoped to ameliorate any potential risks to our own animals and staff,” stated Dr. Cerveny. “Currently, we don’t have any felids at our zoo except for one lovely office cat. However, we do have nonhuman primates and mustelids that are also considered at-risk species. That’s one of the reasons why, although I am working from home when possible, I am still coming in to provide medical care to the animals, with the help of our veterinary technician.”

In addition to COVID being a health crisis, it has also quickly become an economic one. According to Dr. Cerveny, her zoo is currently not open to the public and therefore, it isn’t generating any revenue from ticket sales and concessions. Even though she believes the Saginaw Children’s Zoo to be in a good place financially, she knows that many other zoos are struggling to stay afloat.

“At the beginning of the outbreak, it was essential that as the zoo management staff, we create biosecurity protocols to keep everyone safe while coming to work and caring for the animals,” commented Dr. Cerveny. “Today, we are also continuously developing and refining those protocols to ensure the safety of both our staff and our guests when we can safely re-open.”

Dr. Shannon Cerveny – The Early Years

Before even deciding to become a veterinarian, Dr. Cerveny knew she was destined for a career working at a zoo. Having always had a passion for helping to care for and conserve endangered species, her very first zoo job was an internship as a penguin zookeeper at the Detroit Zoo.

“I love knowing that the work zoos are doing is having such a positive impact on global biodiversity,” shared Dr. Cerveny. “I also love to travel, and my career has taken me to some amazing places, including the Galapagos Islands to work with endangered Galapagos penguins.”

Dr. Cerveny grew up in the lake town of Port Huron, MI, graduating from the Honors College at Michigan State University with a degree in zoology in 2002. She then applied and was accepted into the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program at SGU. She completed her clinical year at North Carolina State University.

As a student, Dr. Cerveny recalls having several life-changing experiences, including traveling to Uganda in 2005 with several other SGU veterinary classmates to work on a research project with wild lions. After returning to the US with her veterinary medical degree safely in tow, Dr. Cerveny later held positions as a veterinarian at the St. Louis Zoo and San Antonio Zoo. She also did an internship and her residency in zoological medicine at Louisiana State University and the Oklahoma City Zoo respectively.

Today, she serves as the first full-time veterinarian at the Saginaw Children’s Zoo in Michigan. With the discovery of a link between wildlife trafficking and the current health crisis, Dr. Cerveny and her fellow veterinarians are answering the call to join in the fight for the benefit of human and animal kind.

“When I started at the zoo, we were just beginning to ramp up our preventive medicine program,” stated Dr. Cerveny, “but we had to scale that back when the Michigan order for ‘essential only’ veterinary procedures came through. We were also in the process of purchasing some much-needed diagnostic and laboratory equipment and I was just starting to become involved with some local Michigan conservation projects. I can’t wait to get back on track with all of it, and we are anxious to continue developing our veterinary program.”

–Ray-Donna Peters

SVM 2020 Grads Encouraged to Continue Learning to Keep Pace with The Changing World

Neil Olson, Dean, School of Veterinary Medicine

The School of Veterinary Medicine celebrated its 17th annual commencement on Saturday, June 6, with 180 students from nine countries and 39 US states graduating from the school. For the first time in history, the ceremony was held virtually, due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

“This is a very special day, particularly for the young women and men who have completed four years of rigorous veterinary medical education, in addition to several years of understudies and who in a few minutes will embark upon their professional careers as the world’s newest veterinarians,” said Dr. Neil Olson, dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine.

With the addition of these new graduates, the SVM will have produced nearly 1,800 Doctors of Veterinary Medicine since the first graduating class in 2003.

“This ceremony is a symbol of confidence that you are now equipped (to enter) into the world,” Dr. Olson said. “You must continue learning to keep pace with the changing world around us. Your academic qualification will help to open opportunities, but beyond that you must demonstrate your ability to learn and grow in the fields you choose. You will be stretched in many different directions throughout your career and you must rely on your core values to guide you.”

“Without question the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates the enormous need for veterinarians engaged in One Health public health, epidemiology, and biomedical research,” he added.

During the ceremony, Dr. Charles Modica, the University’s chancellor and co-founder, conferred the degrees of the graduands, while Dr. Lauren Nikki Wise, associate professor in large animal medicine and surgery, lead the students in saying the Veterinarian’s Oath.

Ready for Anything

David Shcherbelis, DVM '20

David Shcherbelis, the keynote student speaker for the class of 2020, noted in his prepared remarks that the veterinary school experience has taught him and his classmates to persevere through challenging times. He plans to become an equine veterinarian, after just completing a six-month equine internship at Piedmont Equine Associates in Madison, GA, where he focused on theriogenology, sports medicine, and general practice.

“Today is a symbolic day, a day that we crossed the professional threshold,” he said in his address. “Finally, after all these years and the schooling we’ve done, people will refer to us as doctors. It’s the first day of our future.… All of us share a love for animals and a desire to be the best vet we can be.”

Dr. Shcherbelis celebrated the day with his fiancé and parents at his parent’s home in South Carolina.

“It can’t be understated … SGU taught me to push through,” he said in a follow-up interview. “I feel as though there is nothing I can’t do after coming from St. George’s,” encouraging future and current vet students to always keep pushing to better themselves.

Celebrating Across the World

Constance Nicholl, DVM '20

“St. George’s was some of the best years of my life,” said Constance Nicholl, DVM ’20, who returned to her home in Ireland to finish her clinical year at the University of Dublin. Dr. Nicholl is currently studying to take the UK-licensing exam through The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in August. She then plans to pursue a career in small animal medicine, specializing in orthopedic and soft-tissue surgery.

Once she is certified in her specialties of choice, Dr. Nicholl also plans to travel abroad to use her skills in different countries and thanks SGU for opening those doors of opportunity.

“For me, I’ve not only learned about veterinary medicine that applies to the United Kingdom and Europe, but I’ve also had the opportunity to learn about vet medicine in the US through St. George’s. It means that I can work anywhere I want in the world. So, having those opportunities is amazing,” she said.

Never Say No To Opportunity

Nia Rametta, DVM '20

“My biggest piece of advice is to never say no—take every single opportunity—because you never know where the opportunity is going to lead to,” said Nia Rametta, DVM ’20. “I am so fortunate for literally the whole SGU experience.”

One of her most treasured memories, besides moving to the island of Grenada, was traveling to Vienna, Austria with the International Veterinary Students Association (IVSA). The group toured the country’s veterinary school and she was able to take in the sights of the city. “That was an awesome opportunity,” she said.

Dr. Rametta, who originally hails from Pennsylvania, will be moving south to work as a small animal general practitioner at Banfield Pet Hospital in Largo, FL. She hopes to pursue an emergency medicine specialty, believing SGU has equipped her with not only critical vet medicine knowledge but the ability to handle any situation she comes across.

“I had so many opportunities for hands-on learning and that was a huge deal,” Dr. Rametta said. “That’s how I learn—I learn by doing. So, working hands-on from day one, I was able to work with live animals and learn the basics. That has helped me immensely during my clinical year at Auburn University because I felt more comfortable and confident of procedures being asked of me. I felt very prepared to be able to do hands-on procedures.”

Dr. Rametta spent graduation with her family, two cats, and adopted dog from Grenada.

Taking a Leap of Faith

Camille Richie, DVM ’20, grew up in Marco Island, FL, with the Everglades National Park and the Gulf Coast as her backyards. With her mother as a marine biologist and her father a ship’s captain, she has a passion for fishing and all things related to aquatic water life.

While going to SGU was a “huge leap of faith,” she said, “it was honestly, the best choice I could have made.”

“Moving to a different country really kind of set me up for getting out of my comfort zone and just kind of thinking through things differently than if I stayed in the US. Grenada really helped me grow as a person,” said Dr. Richie, who went to the University of Florida, Gainesville, for her undergraduate degree.

One of her most memorable experiences while at SGU was to help form the school’s World Aquatic Veterinary Medicine Association (WAVMA) chapter. As vice president of the chapter, she was in charge of organizing lionfish culls with local dive shops.

Along with boyfriend and chapter president Chris McMonagle, DVM ’21 (expected), they worked together to get the club off the ground, providing educational workshops about aquatic veterinary medicine, and bringing together students who had similar interests. The group also organized culls of lionfish, an invasive fish in the Caribbean.

“WAVMA was super important in my time at SGU because it helped me decide on the career path I want to follow, which is aquatic veterinary medicine,” said Dr. Richie, who also became dive-certified while in Grenada.

Dr. Richie will be starting a job at Banfield Hospital in Ocala, FL, at first focusing on small animal and exotics, and eventually working towards a specialization in marine mammal rehabilitation and aquatic veterinary medicine.

“For new students, that DVM degree seems like a long, long way away if you’re just starting Term 1, but trust me, it goes by so fast,” she said. “I can’t believe I’m already here and people are calling me ‘Doc’ now. I’m just super excited to start what I’m supposed to do in life.”

SGU’s web page celebrating the class of 2020 School of Veterinary Medicine graduates captured students’ moments of celebration—on social media, with photos, and through stories. Visit the page online.

— Laurie Chartorynsky

Sixth-Term Students Get Proper Sendoff in SVM Virtual Awards Ceremony

On Saturday, May 16, the School of Veterinary Medicine held its semiannual awards ceremony, welcoming students across all terms to a virtual event celebrating the highest-achieving veterinary students and faculty members.

The ceremony has long been a customary sendoff of sorts for Term 6 students, a final farewell before they advance to their fourth-year clinical studies. However, with students participating in distance education curriculum as a result of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the SVM held the ceremony online.

“We are so proud of the strides that these students have made toward their careers and the way they have responded to challenges that have arisen,” said Dr. Neil Olson, dean of the SVM. “It was only right that we came together to acknowledge their achievements and wish them the best of luck as they enter their clinical year.”

To honor the exiting class, Dr. Olson, Dr. Anne Marie Corrigan, associate dean of academics and professor; Dr. Tara Paterson, associate professor and president of the school’s alumni association; and Dr. Inga Karasek, assistant professor, addressed the online crowd, which averaged about 150 attendees. In addition to a wide range of traditional awards acknowledging the best students in all classes, student organizations were welcome to nominate one outstanding sixth-term student for an award.

“Term 6 is really an important time for faculty and students,” said Dr. Paterson, a 2003 SGU graduate herself. “It’s always a little sad because we form these strong connections with our students, but at the same time, it’s exciting to see them move on. They’re one step closer to becoming a veterinarian.”

In addition, the SVM acknowledged two retiring faculty members—Drs. Diana Stone and Ulrike Zieger—with SVM Recognition of Service Awards. Dr. Stone has been a professor in the Department of Pathobiology since 2006, with a stint as its chair from 2014-2017, while Dr. Zieger has served the Department of Anatomy, Physiology, and Pharmacology in several capacities since 2000, including most recently as a professor of veterinary physiology and coordinator of the DVM/MSc Wildlife Conservation Medicine program.

They, like all SVM faculty members, have formed a strong bond with each class of students who calls Grenada home for the first three years of study, a bond that lasts into their time as practicing veterinarians.

“One of the advantages of being at SGU that we have a relatively small faculty, and it’s a very family-oriented type of feel when you’re a member of the vet school,” Dr. Paterson said. “It’s a tight-knit community. The students obviously make very close connections with each other, and they also make connections with the faculty.

“Term 6 is exciting and terrifying at the same time,” she continued. “They’ve finally finished their three years of studies in Grenada and are moving on to their clinical year. For a faculty member, it’s almost like a mama bird watching a baby bird fly away from the nest.”

  • 180 students graduated from the School of Veterinary Medicine on Saturday, June 6.

  • The Class of 2020 joins a network of more than 1,800 veterinarians who have earned their degree at St. George’s University

  • The PAWS Team

  • Outstanding Colleague Awards: Term 1 – Perry Jacob

  • Outstanding Colleague Awards: Term 2 – Ireny Barsoum

  • Outstanding Colleague Awards: Term 4 – Maria Coppola

  • Outstanding Colleague Awards: Term 5 – Jennifer Kirk

  • Zoetis Revolution Awards: Small Animal Surgery – Kelsey Atamanchuk

  • Zoetis Revolution Awards: Small Animal Internal Medicine – Teresa Monroe

  • Zoetis Revolution Awards: Student Research – Arielle Bierman

  • Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative: WVLDI Warrior – Kaylene Passione

  • Feral Cat Project: Most Valuable Trapper – Erin Pedone

  • SGA: SGU SVM Outstanding Staff – Liz Peach

  • SGU SVM Outstanding Faculty: Dr. Arno Werners (Terms 1-3) and Dr. Talia Guttin (Terms 4-6)



Outstanding Colleague Awards

Term 1: Perry Jacobs

Term 2: Ireny Barsoum

Term 3: Adriana Kalaska

Term 4: Maria Coppola

Term 5: Jennifer Kirk

Term 6: Carley Jones, Jaclyn Gremley


Adrienne Lotton Memorial Award: Carley Jones


Zoetis Revolution Awards

Small Animal Internal Medicine: Teresa Munro

Small Animal Surgery: Kelsey Atamanchuk

Equine Medicine: Kari Schultz

Large Animal Internal Medicine: Tiffany McElroy

Scholarship of Service: Carley Jones

Student Research: Arielle Bierman


SVM Alumni Scholarship award: Brittnee Frizzol

SVM Alumni Award: Michael Gonzales

GPGH Hercules Award: Marissa Turner


PAWS Recognition – 6th Term Facilitators

Kailah Buchanan, Collin Hummel, Sibel Catto, Amanda James, AJ Fruges, Cate Wadman, Maria Barandica, Carley Jones, Kelly Larabee


SCAVMA: Student Chapter of the AVMA

SAVMA Award: Carley Jones, Sloane Hoffman, Ashley Schimshock


Feral Cat Project                                                    

Most Valuable Trapper: Erin Pedone


Veterinary Public Health Committee                   

One Health One Medicine Community Leader Award: Mariana Reyes


SGUSVM Large Animal Society                             

Most Valuable LAS Member: Katie Murray


IVSA: International Veterinary Student Association             

Officer Extraordinaire: Kayla Mochizuki


SVM Wellness Committee                                    

Wellness MVP Award: Rebekah DesMarteau, Alexis Garbarino


SCACVIM: Student Chapter of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine      

Internal Medicine MVP Award: Jaclyn Turturro


SVECCS: Student Chapter of the Emergency and Critical Care Society         

Outstanding 6th Termer: Marissa Turner


SCASV: Student Chapter of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians          

Shelter Scholar: Lauren Kiebler


SCACVP: Student Chapter of the American College of Veterinary Pathologists      

The MVP (Most Valuable Pathologist): Maria Barahona


EWS: Exotics and Wildlife Society                        

Most Valuable Primate Award: Kaitlynn Samborsky


WVLDI: Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative   

WVLDI Warrior: Kaylene Passione


VBMA: Veterinary Business Management Association        

Impact Award: Rachel Painter


Green Consortium                                                 

Green Medal Award: Deborah Murphy


SGA: Student Government Association                

George B. Daniel Award: Jaclyn Gremley

SGU SVM Outstanding Faculty Term 1-3: Dr. Arno Werners

SGU SVM Outstanding Faculty Term 4-6: Dr. Talia Guttin

SGU SVM Outstanding Staff: Elizabeth Peach

Diana Stone Public Health Award: May Yu Wang


SGUSVM Recognition of Service
Diana Stone, Ulrike Zieger


From Orphaned Alpacas to Puppy Care: Knoxville Veterinarian Dishes on What It’s Like to Own a Vet Clinic

Leah Wulforst, DVM '05

As a companion animal veterinarian in Knoxville, TN, Leah Wulforst, DVM ’05, has seen her fair share of emotional pet owners who have been forced to make tough decisions about their pet’s health. And it’s her responsibility to assist in coming to the right conclusion.

One memorable case involved a young dog named Lexi, who was brought to Dr. Wulforst showing symptoms of a fever, decreased appetite, and discomfort in its left eye. Despite medication, Lexi’s health worsened and within 48 hours she developed glaucoma. A urine test revealed that she had blastomycosis, a type of fungal infection dogs can get from inhaling spores from the ground.

After a heartfelt discussion with the pet’s owners, Lexi’s left eye was removed, and when similar symptoms emerged in her right eye, it had to be removed as well. Lexi continued the fight against blastomycosis with the help of medication for almost a year. The owners were aware that removal of her eyes was only the first step to treatment, and there was no guarantee that she could clear the infection, but they decided to move forward, step by step.

While Lexi had a poor prognosis then and her condition required expensive medication, today she is vibrant, happy, and free of infection.

“At some point, all owners of a pet are going to have to make a difficult decision regarding the pet’s well-being,” Dr. Wulforst said. “As veterinarians, we hope that we can make these decisions easier.”

Today, Dr. Wulforst is the owner of Riverside Veterinary Clinic in Knoxville, making a name for herself in the close-knit community. Dr. Wulforst made Knoxville News Sentinel’s 40 under 40 Class of 2017; she also was featured in People magazine and a local news story when her office took in an orphaned alpaca.

She treats a variety of household pets and the occasional backyard animal including goats, chickens, and pheasants, setting aside a portion of her day for any surgical appointments or emergencies. Dr. Wulforst also works closely with several local cat and dog rescue groups.

“What I love about being a vet is seeing the client’s face when the pet gets better, how relieved they are, and how appreciative they are,” she said. “It’s that look on their face that I really enjoy.”

She added: “I also enjoy the challenge of it. [Veterinary medicine] is always evolving and I am always learning. From research to disease processes, we’re finding out so much more information from genetic testing and cancer testing. As long as you keep reading and researching, you are always going to improve.”

Dr. Wulforst opened her clinic in 2017 after she realized she wanted to set her own protocols for her patients and dictate their quality of care.

“I want to make sure I keep striving to do what’s best for the client and for the patient,” she said. “Clients want definitive answers, but sometimes that takes a lot of money or is just not possible. I want to be able to have all options placed in front of them and help them decide what’s going to work for them and their budget, and what will be the best care for their pet.”


One example is household pets don’t always need annual vaccines. Some can be given every few years, based on individual exposure levels, which should be discussed with the client, she said.

“It’s very important as a puppy, for example, to get baseline vaccines that can protect them against diseases such as parvo,” she said. “But the other thing we know is that some vaccines last a lot longer than we think—in fact anything we inject into our body, like extended release antibiotics, can stimulate the immune system or create injection-site sarcomas. So, it’s important to get baseline protections and from there many times we can check titers, specifically for distemper, parvo, and even rabies, depending on state laws.”

Dr. Wulforst is also optimistic about using certain alternative medicine in vet practice, including supplements that help joint support, turmeric as an anti-inflammatory and for mild pain relief, cold laser therapy to stimulate blood circulation and help arthritis, and even specific probiotics to reduce anxiety and other behavioral disorders in pets. “I do feel there has to be evidence-based research to show proof on how it works and that it’s safe,” she said.


After graduating SGU, Dr. Wulforst moved to the Knoxville area with her husband to start her professional career in nearby Seymour, TN. Yet in 2007, they relocated to Long Island, NY (where Dr. Wulforst grew up) to be closer to family. Seeking a slower-paced lifestyle, the couple returned to Knoxville in 2013 with their son, where she worked briefly for an area veterinarian before striking out on her own.

Dr. Wulforst hasn’t forgotten how her SGU roots helped her become the vet she is today. She was among one of the early graduating classes of SGU’s School of Veterinary Medicine, which opened in 1999.

“I loved the change in scenery and since it was a [relatively] new program I felt like there was a lot more flexibility,” she said, referencing the program’s adaptability to course topics and tracks.

Additionally, she is very thankful for the direct mentorship and individual attention she received from faculty and hands-on learning while in Grenada. “I definitely felt the hands-on experience I got at St. George’s was so much more than I have seen from some of the students coming out of the universities in the US,” she said.

Yet being a business owner is not without its challenges. While she plans on adding another full-time veterinarian as well as a part-time vet in the next few months to accommodate her growing caseload, finding employees who are a good fit with her philosophy is the hardest part of a running a business.

“A lot of this was a learning process,” which includes being closed on the weekends, she said. “My goal is to have a good work-life balance for myself and my staff.”

–Laurie Chartorynsky


SGU Vet Students Secure Highly Specialized Postgrad Positions in 2020

Vet students at St. George's University

St. George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine students and graduates took the next step in their careers as aspiring veterinarians, matching into highly competitive postgraduate positions throughout the United States and Canada. Early 2020 reports confirm that DVM students secured 25 internships and 11 first-year residencies, with more results likely to come in throughout the spring.

This summer, SVM alums will begin postgraduate training in a variety of clinical specialty areas such as orthopedics, cardiology, ophthalmology, anesthesiology, immunology, diagnostic imaging, and pathology, matching into positions at veterinary hospitals such as the University of Florida, North Carolina State University, and the University of California, San Diego, as well as veterinary centers in Alberta and Saskatoon, in Canada.

“We congratulate our students who are on to the next chapter in their careers in veterinary medicine,” said Dr. Neil Olson, dean of SGU’s School of Veterinary Medicine. “Throughout their basic science and clinical years, they endured a rigorous course load and absorbed a wealth of information. We are pleased that the curriculum has adequately prepared them to meet the highest of practicing standards and are delighted that their efforts have been rewarded.”

After graduating, students may obtain an internship, a one-year clinical training program used to prepare a veterinarian for high-quality service in practice, or even a residency, which is a two- to three-year program. Students must receive a passing grade on the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE) in order to achieve certification by any of the veterinary medical specialty boards. The 360 multiple-choice-question test is required for licensure to practice veterinary medicine in both the US and Canada. St. George’s University’s veterinary medical students posted a 95 percent pass rate on the exam in 2017-2018 according to the International Council for Veterinary Assessment (ICVA).

“We couldn’t be prouder of our students. They’ve made it through a very strenuous program with great drive and determination,” praised Dr. Anne Corrigan, associate dean of academics in the SVM. “At St. George’s, we believe it’s important that our students have a strong foundation of knowledge, hands-on clinical skills, and confidence when they set off for their careers as veterinarians. As faculty, we believe that we have provided our students with the knowledge and skills to succeed in advanced training programs. We have the utmost respect for our students and are proud to call them our colleagues.”

Adding to its many accomplishments, St. George’s University’s School of Veterinary Medicine’s Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program recently received full accreditation from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), the organization that sets the standards of veterinary care in the United Kingdom, through 2024. The School of Veterinary Medicine is now one of the few schools in the world accredited by both the American Veterinary Medical Association Council on Education (AVMA COE) in the US and Canada, as well as the RCVS in the UK.

SGU’s DVM graduates are now fully eligible to seek licensure in the US and Canada without further steps other than successfully passing the NAVLE. DVM graduates who have also completed the Global Veterinary Health Track will also be eligible to register as members of the RCVS and practice in the UK without further examination.

Now in its 21st year, the School of Veterinary Medicine has graduated nearly 1,700 students who have gone on to practice in 49 states in the United States and 16 other countries around the world. The School also maintains partnerships with 31 universities and clinical facilities in the US, UK, Canada, Ireland, and Australia, where fourth-year students spend a year of clinical training at an affiliated veterinary school.

–Ray-Donna Peters

Future Veterinarians Encouraged to Move Mountains at Spring 2020 White Coat Ceremony

As parents, Jan and Sean Kane always knew that their daughter Sara was destined to accomplish great things. Yet, when the day arrived for her to profess her commitment to the study and practice of veterinary medicine, they were surprised as well as proud. Visiting Grenada for the first time, the couple left their home in Washington State to attend the Spring 2020 SVM White Coat Ceremony, sitting front and center to share in their daughter’s special moment.

“I can’t even express in words how proud I am of Sara right now,” shared Jan. “It has been an amazing three years leading up to this moment and it couldn’t get any better.”

“The campus is gorgeous,” added Sean. “And I know you’re not supposed to be jealous of your kid, but this is definitely an awesome place to spend the next few years.”

According to the Kanes, much of the credit for their daughter’s decision to enter into the veterinary medical profession must go to her grandmother, Dr. Eileen Rowan, a practicing veterinarian for more than 30 years. In addition to giving some gentle prodding, Dr. Rowan took her granddaughter to an animal hospital one day for a behind-the-scenes look into a vet’s world, and since then she’s never looked back.

“I’m so overjoyed that my granddaughter is going to be following in my footsteps,” said Dr. Rowan. “Going up on that stage and coating her, I had to concentrate very hard not to cry. Growing up, Sara’s always loved animals, but she had never considered pursuing a career in veterinary medicine. I’m glad I gave her that push she needed because she’s very talented. She has a real gift that she didn’t even know she had.”

During the ceremony, Dr. Rowan joined her husband on stage, SGU’s own dean of admission, Robert Ryan, to share in the privilege of coating their granddaughter along with five SGU graduates who returned for this spring’s SOM and SVM White Coat Ceremonies.

“I must say that this was one of the best experiences of my life since being at St. George’s,” said Mr. Ryan. “I’ve been here for 25 years and I absolutely love this island. I also love the faculty, staff, and most importantly, my interactions with the students. And now to see my granddaughter become a student here is just phenomenal. After completing three years in the preveterinary medical program to now witness her entry into the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program, as well as have the honor of coating her along with my wife is just amazing. It’s one of the happiest days of my life.”

“Originally I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” admitted Sara. “But I’ve always been that kid who brought home stray animals and I was constantly interested in my pets’ health. I thank my grandmother for getting me into gear. She told me to give it a try, and the second I did, I fell in love. Later, when I saw my first surgery, that’s exactly when I knew I needed to be a veterinarian. It was my calling.”

Ms. Kane began her journey toward joining the ranks of nearly 1,700 graduates of the School of Veterinary Medicine who have gone on to practice in 49 states in the United States and 16 other countries around the world. The SVM also maintains partnerships with 31 universities and clinical facilities in the US, UK, Canada, Ireland, and Australia, where fourth-year students spend a year of clinical training at an affiliated veterinary school.


According to alumnus and master of ceremonies, Thomas Hanson, MD ‘11, getting into veterinary medical school was easy, the hard part was getting out.

“Now that you’ve gotten into vet school, what do you do with this mountain that’s before you?” asked Dr. Hanson. “My favorite Chinese proverb says, ‘those who move mountains start by carrying away small stones.’”

The first stone Dr. Hanson described was dedication, reminding the veterinarians-in-training that they already carried that one; otherwise they wouldn’t have enrolled. Next came organization, which had two stones—the first meant to get organized for class and study, and the second meant to get involved in joining various organizations and clubs. Another small stone to carry was their fellow classmates. He suggested getting to know them because they would always be there for them. Teachers was the next stone he mentioned, commending the SGU faculty which was made up of world-class professors from across the globe. Another small stone to be carried was open-mindedness. Dr. Hanson reminded them that vet school, like any other university, was challenging. The final small stone was recreation. He encouraged them to take full advantage of living on an island and to get out there and enjoy it.

“Four years are going to pass in the blink of an eye,” stated Dr. Hanson. “This group will then reconvene in New York and you’ll look at that first handful of small stones that you’ve carried; determination, organization, classmates, teachers, open-mindedness, and recreation and realize that the letters of those first stones spell out what you’ve grown to become—a DOCTOR.”

This year’s keynote speaker, Dr. Sara Baillie, emeritus professor at the University of Bristol in the UK, gave a lively presentation detailing her passion for developing new approaches in clinical skills teaching. Dr. Baillie also has a PhD in computer science, developing and validating virtual reality simulators for training veterinary students and is responsible for opening the clinical skills center at Bristol.

“I’ve had a wonderful career with so many opportunities,” said Dr. Baillie. “I absolutely loved being a clinician and I really enjoyed working with people and animals. Then I was able to go on and become an educational researcher and through that I can actually affect change and improve the ways we teach you. At the heart of me, I’ve always loved being a teacher and working with students and I know the faculty that will be teaching you here are very much of that same mindset.”

She finished her speech with a quote from Aleen Cust, the first female veterinarian who graduated in 1897: “My wish for you is that you may all feel as I do after a lifetime—that the profession you’ve chosen is the best profession in the world.”

Now in its 20th year, the School of Veterinary Medicine continues to add to its list of accolades with its Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program recently receiving full accreditation from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS). SGU’s DVM graduates who have completed the Global Veterinary Health Track will now be eligible to register as members of the RCVS and practice in the UK without further examination.

As a result of the accreditation, St. George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine is now one of the few schools in the world to be accredited by both the American Veterinary Medical Association Council on Education (AVMA COE) in the United States and Canada, as well as the RCVS in the UK.

– Ray-Donna Peters

SGU Year in Review: A Look Back at the New Stories that Defined Us in 2019

2019 was a monumental year for students, faculty, and alumni of St. George’s University. SGU became the second-largest source of doctors for the entire US workforce. We placed 979 graduates into US and Canadian residencies—our highest number to date.

But that’s not all.

The School of Veterinary Medicine received full accreditation by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), and is now one of the few schools in the world that is accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association in the United States and RCVS in the UK. The School of Arts and Sciences welcomed its first Caribbean national as dean.

SGU profiled many graduates who are making waves in human and animal healthcare industries—showcasing the diversity and reach of our global alumni—and how becoming a doctor (or veterinarian) has changed their lives and the lives of their patients.

These are the stories that underscore SGU’s strengths and define us as a University as we aim to enhance student success and grow the number of healthcare professionals around the world. Read on to see the top news stories of 2019 on

Match Day 2019

On Match Day 2019, hundreds of SGU students secured first-year residency positions in the United States. Students matched into highly competitive positions in fields such as anesthesiology, child neurology, diagnostic radiology, emergency medicine, family medicine, internal medicine, internal medicine/emergency medicine, internal medicine/pediatrics, neurology, obstetrics and gynecology, pathology, pediatrics, physical medicine and rehabilitation, psychiatry, surgery, urology, vascular surgery. They joined residency programs in 42 US states and the District of Columbia over the summer.

In addition, SGU students and graduates obtained first-year residency positions through the Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS).

Profound Impact: SGU Educated Second-Most Licensed Physicians in US In 2018

For more than 40 years, St. George’s University has provided highly qualified physicians to the United States, and never before has its impact been more evident. According to a report published in the Journal of Medical Regulation, SGU educated the second-most licensed physicians in the United States in 2018.

SGU Commencement 2019

In June, the School of Medicine’s newest class of physicians convened together one last time in New York City for SGU’s annual commencement ceremonies. Family and friends gathered at Lincoln Center to watch the graduates join an alumni network of more than 17,000 physicians who have gone on to practice in all 50 United States and in over 50 countries worldwide.

In addition, animals of all shapes and sizes gained caretakers and advocates when the SGU School of Veterinary Medicine granted Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degrees to 83 new veterinarians in New York City. New veterinarians joined an alumni network of 1,670 veterinarians who built a foundation for their careers at SGU.

In Grenada, graduates from 31 countries were among the 2019 class that included more than 230 students from the School of Arts and Sciences, and 110 from the School of Graduate Studies, with one PhD graduate in attendance.

DVM Program Gains Full Accreditation from Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons

Adding to its growing list of achievements, the St. George’s University’s School of Veterinary Medicine’s Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program received full accreditation from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), the organization that sets the standards of veterinary care in the United Kingdom, through 2024.

Grenada-Born SGU Alum Returns Home to Care for His Nation’s Heart

As a practicing cardiologist, Diego Humphrey, MD ’84, a native Grenadian, serves the retired men and women of the US Armed Forces at the Jack C. Montgomery Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Muskogee, OK. Yet Dr. Humphrey, who never forgot his roots, returns each year to donate his time and expertise to the SGU-Physician Humanitarian Network.

Commonwealth Conference Focuses On Student Success

More than 350 educators from Grenada and around the world descended on SGU for the Council for Education in the Commonwealth (CEC) 2019 annual conference. The 2019 conference marked the first time that the CEC’s annual event had been held in the Caribbean region.

Mother’s Cancer Battle Motivates SGU Grad to Become Breast Surgeon

Joseph Di Como, MD '14

A doctor delivered the news—cancer, an aggressive form. Joseph Di Como’s mother, a cornerstone of the family, would have to undergo surgery and many months of treatment. Her struggle changed the course of his life forever. More than 15 years later, now a doctor, Joseph Di Como, MD ’14, is providing important care and instilling hope in patients as a breast surgical oncology fellow at Brown University, Women and Infants’ Hospital of Rhode Island.

Major Canadian Hospital Joins SGU’s Burgeoning Clinical Network

Adding to more than 70 clinical training locations across North America and the United Kingdom, St. George’s University finalized an agreement with Pembroke Regional Hospital in Ontario, Canada that will offer fourth-year students a range of disciplines to choose from for their clinical electives.

Eugene Becomes First Caribbean National to Lead SAS

As the new Dean of St. George’s University’s School of Arts and Sciences (SAS), Dr. Lucy Eugene is deeply committed to its growth. A native of Trinidad and Tobago, she is the first Caribbean national to become the school’s dean.

Equine Veterinarian Shares Path to Horse Country

When S. Heath Soignier, DVM ’12, CVMST, isn’t visiting his equine patients, one can usually find him practicing new holistic veterinary medicine techniques on his quarter horse, Margarita.

“To me horses and dogs are two of the best animals: if you trust them completely, they are most willing to reciprocate that trust. Not a lot of animals are like that,” Dr. Soignier said. “I love that I get to work with horses all day long.”

—Laurie Chartorynsky

Equine Veterinarian Shares Path to Horse Country


SGUSVM alumnus and equine practitioner Dr. Heath Soignier.

When S. Heath Soignier, DVM ’12, CVMST, isn’t visiting his equine patients, one can usually find him practicing new holistic veterinary medicine techniques on his quarter horse, Margarita.

“To me, horses and dogs are two of the best animals: if you trust them completely, they are most willing to reciprocate that trust. Not a lot of animals are like that,” Dr. Soignier said. “I love that I get to work with horses all day long.”

Growing up on a small farm in Bosco, LA, Dr. Soignier always had an affinity for animals, aspiring to be a mixed animal veterinarian. Yet his career path led him another way—and one nearly 700 miles from his hometown.

“During my third year at St. George’s University, I visited Lexington with some classmates,” he said. “You hear of the Kentucky Derby and how it’s the horse capital of the world, but it’s so different to experience it. My plans [after graduation] were to go back home and work in a mixed animal practice there, but I came here for a week and kind of fell in love with the place.”

Following graduation, Dr. Soignier accepted a one-year internship position at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, KY and was offered to stay on after his internship was completed. Today he is an ambulatory associate at Rood and Riddle, which is a full-service equine hospital with satellite offices in Saratoga, NY and Wellington, FL. The hospital treats all different breeds of equine, including racehorses, quarter horses, mini-ponies, and donkeys.

“Our surgeons even treated a baby giraffe,” he said. “It’s not just thoroughbreds.”

As an ambulatory associate, much of Dr. Soignier’s time is spent on the road, visiting local farms. “Fall is a much slower time compared to the spring, which is foaling and breeding season for thoroughbreds. I handle a lot of reproductive cases, dentistry, even veterinary spinal manipulative therapy (chiropractic) for my patients,” he said. “It’s a bit more of a demanding schedule and it can be a bit stressful in that regard, but I love it.”

“Horses can’t tell you what hurts—it’s our job to figure that out,” he added. “You have to be patient, but horses can really teach you about life and themselves. It’s very rewarding.”

From equipment to improving procedure techniques, even incorporating holistic methods of healing, Dr. Soignier is always looking at ways to impact a horse’s life in a positive way. For example, “within our practice we have digital radiograph machines that can take X-rays in the field. They’re wireless, which allows easier maneuverability and to be able to do that in the field with high-quality images is especially helpful,” Dr. Soignier said.

When not seeing patients, Dr. Soignier enjoys spending time with his wife and fellow SGU graduate Catherine Hercula-Soignier, DVM ’12, and his two young daughters on their 10-acre farm in Georgetown, KY. He is also an avid sports enthusiast and outdoorsman.

“I think the best thing about St. George’s is your classmates become your family,” and in Dr. Soignier’s case quite literally. “I joke that I left Grenada with a degree, a wife, and three dogs.”

Dr. Soignier’s wife is chief of staff at Banfield Pet Hospital, a small animal cooperate practice. He loves that he can ask for her opinion on particularly challenging cases.

“If you had told me 10 years ago this is where I would be, I would say you were crazy,” he acknowledged. “But I worked hard to get where I am today. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

–Laurie Chartorynsky

SGU Diagnostics Vet Protects the Health of Food Animals

Katie Woodard, DVM ’14Raised in Houston, Texas, Katie Woodard, DVM ’14, grew up raising show pigs for Future Farmers of America (FFA). Not only was it a big part of her childhood, the experience later fueled her interest in swine medicine, and eventually spurred her on toward a career in veterinary medicine.

Today, Dr. Woodard resides in rural Iowa with her husband and three children, working as a veterinary specialist at the Iowa State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (ISU VDL). At one of the largest food animal diagnostic labs in the country, her job is to support food animal veterinarians in the field and provide quality service to the food animal agriculture industry.

“Growing up as I did, I never developed much interest in the small animal side of veterinary medicine,” said Dr. Woodard. “And I knew, even then, that I wanted to be involved in safeguarding the health of food animals, a role perhaps I was always destined for.”

Working at the VDL for the past five years, Dr. Woodard’s case load consists of about 85 percent swine—a reflection of the large swine industry located in Iowa and across the Midwest. On any given day, the diagnostics lab processes between 400 and 500 cases, making for a dynamic and ever-changing work environment. In her current role, she is responsible for all client outreach and education, where she assists her clients with disseminating information coming out of the lab, IT innovations, and retrieving diagnostic data from the lab.

“Our clients are veterinarians, and my job is all about making the diagnostic lab/client interaction as streamlined and straightforward as possible,” Dr. Woodard said. “My position helps to bridge that communication between lab and real life.”

Additionally, each summer she takes on a veterinary student intern to work on a project related to the lab and/or the swine industry. This could include anything from collecting samples in the field to developing better testing protocols or testing different swab types in the lab to make more informed recommendations to her clients in the field.

Continuing her tradition of educating future veterinarians, Dr. Woodard has also chosen to give back to her alma mater. Now, a visiting professor at SGU, she teaches the swine portion of the three-year veterinary students’ curriculum in the School of Veterinary Medicine. In addition, she has interviewed students applying to the veterinary school for several years.

“St. George’s University was actually the only veterinary school I applied to,” stated Dr. Woodard. “Having worked at the Louisiana State University School Of Veterinary Medicine as a technician for two years, I was already familiar with the traditional US model, and wanted to see what other options were out there for schooling. This, combined with my impatience to get started, led me to choose SGU since it offered rolling admissions, a much-needed change of scenery, and a more hands-on approach to learning.”

According to Dr. Woodard, she looks forward to continuing to play her part in the training of young veterinary students and considers it a privilege to be able to introduce them to the work of swine medicine and all the industry has to offer. With her future interests turning toward biosecurity and transportation and the impact those practices have on the health of food animals, she still maintains her commitment to the education of food-animal-oriented veterinary students.

–Ray-Donna Peters