Hollie Schramm, DVM

Growing up on a dairy farm, Hollie Schramm, DVM ’07, learned early on what it felt like to be a veterinarian and the experience shaped her future career path.

“I was always trying to fix and treat animals on the farm and make them healthy,” Dr. Schramm said.

Since graduating from St. George’s University, Dr. Schramm has served as the herd veterinarian for over 10 years at the Virginia Tech Dairy Teaching and Research Farm. In addition, Dr. Schramm is a clinical assistant professor at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, a role for which she is responsible for assuring the welfare and health of production animals, safety of the food supply, and teaching veterinary students—including SGU clinical students—in the field, classroom, and in hands-on laboratories. She does clinical and didactic teaching, research, and outreach.

She shares what it’s like in her role as a both a teacher and a large animal veterinarian, and what students can expect to learn in their clinical experience at VA/MD.

St. George’s University: What kind of experience can students expect at VA/MD?

Dr. Schramm: In my role, I’m in charge of the overall management of the calves and cows. We do a lot of preventative medicine and reproductive work, working with sick cows, helping with general health and vaccination protocols, and different aspects of hygiene. As a clinical professor, I oversee veterinary students on the production management medicine rotation, where we primarily work with food animals, including beef and dairy cattle, sheep, goats, camelids, and pigs.

SGU: What do you hope is the biggest takeaway for clinical students?

Dr. Schramm: We want to provide our students with as much hands-on experience, so that they’re ready on the first day of veterinary practice. My motto is really “see one, do one, teach one.” We have a range of clinical skills laboratories, from foot trimming to surgical techniques. I also teach a class called Food Animal Clinical Techniques where the students learn low stress cattle handling, everything from putting on halters to basic injections and beef quality assurance. If you ask the students, they will tell you that they get the most hands-on experience in the production management rotation.

SGU: How much is research a part of your job?

Dr. Schramm: I do approximately 15 percent research as part of my job responsibilities. Many of the research studies I collaborate on are related to ruminant nutrition, but range from pain management in ruminants to prevention and treatment of mastitis to calf behavior and welfare. We have a few studies related to the pathophysiology of milk production, including how many times we milk the cow per day and whether that has a positive or negative effect on production and what controls this at the cellular level.  These studies are very informative for the dairy industry. We know that it’s important for the future of the world and for sustainable agriculture.

SGU: What drew you to production medicine in the first place?

Dr. Schramm: It’s just in my blood. I grew up on a large farm in Michigan. We had a small dairy herd of about 60 cows, and we also had everything from sheep and goats to hundreds of rabbits. We had all kinds of critters honestly. I was always trying to fix and treat animals on the farm and make them healthy.

I also really enjoyed the management and nutritional sides of animal health, which led me to veterinary school. It has been great doing what I love and making a difference in the field for both the veterinary students as well as the producers. Food animal veterinarians are key in food safety and are important for everybody in America and the world.

SGU: Why did you choose SGU and what was your experience like?

Dr. Schramm: Growing up, I traveled abroad a lot, and honestly, I never applied to any US schools. I just decided I wanted to continue my journey traveling and saw SGU as a great opportunity to learn veterinary medicine on an island.

I had an awesome experience at SGU. I absolutely loved the island. We had wonderful professors, and we all knew them on a personal level, which was very nice. I enjoyed being able to interact with them and ask them questions. They made time for us, which I think is something a little bit different from other universities.

SGU: You’re giving back now as a clinical professor. How can a student be successful during their clinical year?

Dr. Schramm: Believing in yourself is very important. Veterinary students can sometimes be apprehensive about saying or doing the wrong thing, or worried about what someone is going to say to them. But that’s what we as professors are here for—to teach and to answer your questions. I would tell anyone to go into clinics with a great attitude, to communicate well with your clients and colleagues, and to have fun.

Chanda Miles, DVM

As a board-certified dentist and oral surgeon, Dr. Chanda Miles, DVM ’06, has treated all types of animals for their oral health—including tigers, an Asian small-clawed otter, an American River otter, chimpanzees, a Silverback gorilla, gibbons, opossums, skunks, and chinchillas, not to mention cats and dogs.

Dr. Miles credits St. George’s University for helping her become comfortable with surgical procedures. At SGU, “we were able to perform a large amount and variety of general surgeries that helped me shape my love for surgery and later form my decision to pursue dentistry and oral surgery,” Dr. Miles said.

Earlier this year, Dr. Miles and a colleague co-opened Veterinary Dentistry Specialists in Katy, Texas to answer the high demand for pet oral care in the greater Houston area.

Dr. Miles didn’t set out to be a veterinary dentist at first. While working as a new veterinarian, she was tasked with overseeing several dentistry procedures a day but found herself frequently asking for help from colleagues since she had little dentistry training. She wanted to learn more and decided to attend an intense three-day weekend course to learn “everything that I could about dentistry for animals,” Dr. Miles recalled.

“It was then that I realized I had a passion for dentistry and oral surgery. It was calming and came easy to me,” she said. To refine her skills, she pursued a residency in the specialty at the University of Wisconsin in Madison—and the rest, as they say, was history.

Dr. Miles spoke to SGU News about why she is passionate about dentistry, new technology in the field that improves her patient care, and what advice she would give to new veterinary students just starting out.

St. George’s University: What types of patients do you see and what are some examples of the procedures that you perform?  

Dr. Miles: I work with primarily cats and dogs, but we can treat exotic patients if they are in need.  I love working with large cats such as tigers, leopards, etc.

I treat all kinds of conditions: I perform procedures in periodontics, endodontics (root canals), oral surgery (extractions, jaw fracture repair, surgical resections, prosthodontics (crowns), orthodontics, and oral medicine.

SGU: Why are you passionate about the vet dentistry field?  

Dr. Miles: It gives me instant gratification of accomplishing something good for the patient who benefits remarkably from it. When patients have a healthy, comfortable mouth they can have an excellent quality of life. It isn’t a discipline that is taught readily in vet school so I’m also passionate about teaching it appropriately to general practitioners as well.

SGU: Tell us about your new clinic.  

Dr. Miles: VDS is a stand-alone specialty dentistry and oral surgery practice with a full-time board-certified anesthesiologist. We offer advanced imaging (cone beam CT) and are equipped with modern anesthesia monitoring equipment.

My colleague, Dr. Carlos Rice, opened the first VDS in Mt. Laurel, NJ and then a second one with another colleague in Chadds Ford, PA. Dr. Rice and I decided that opening one in the greater Houston area (where I live) would be a great addition to the VDS family. There is a big demand for dentistry in Houston’s pet population.

SGU: What is the most challenging part of the job? 

Dr. Miles: On a day-to-day basis it’s keeping the flow of the day manageable.  One patient can throw a curve ball in the whole day with unexpected pathology that needs treatment. Because we provide outpatient care, it’s important to treat our patients with completeness, but also make sure they have enough recovery time to be discharged adequately.

My other big challenge that I face at times is treating complicated maxillofacial traumas in young dogs.  These can be very difficult to treat when they have both deciduous and permanent dentition at the same time and are still growing.

SGU: What new technology or procedures have developed to help you do your job?

Dr. Miles: Cone beam CT has been a game changer for me. This is an imaging modality that allows me to render 3D images of my patient’s skull for complete evaluation of maxillofacial trauma. It also gives me precise images for small things such as early endodontic lesions. The imaging is crystal clear and helps me understand the extent of pathology in many facets.

What made you pursue veterinary medicine? 

Dr. Miles: It sounds cliché, but I’ve always wanted to be a veterinarian since I was little.  At the minimum I knew I wanted to pursue something in the medical field.

SGU: How has your training at SGU helped you succeed, specifically in your specialized career?

Dr. Miles: Having spent time at two separate universities for my clinical year and residency, I was around many specialists that were teaching students and the SGU professors were far more compassionate in their teaching and encouragement to us.

One of the key takeaways in my training at SGU was surgical preparation. We were able to perform a large amount and variety of general surgeries that helped me shape my love for surgery and later form my decision to pursue dentistry and oral surgery.

SGU: What was your clinical year like at Kansas State University? What takeaway would you pass on to students?

Dr. Miles: I absolutely loved Kansas State! Every clinician and student was so incredibly nice at this school. I learned so much on each and every rotation.

The biggest takeaway from my clinical year that I would pass on to students would be to participate in every rounds session and conversation that you have. The clinicians want you to be engaged.

SGU: What would you say to an aspiring vet student considering going to SGU? 

Dr. Miles: Do it! It’s an experience of a lifetime and you will get an education like nowhere else in the US!  SGU provided me with so much more than my degree and I loved that the school offered flexible matriculation. I didn’t want to wait another year to apply to vet school.

Andrew Kushnir, DVM

St. George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine graduate Dr. Andrew Kushnir may have some star power.

Since graduating in 2019, he has made media appearances on multiple veterinary-themed podcasts, social media, and cable programs, including Vanderpump Dogs on the Peacock Channel. But Kushnir, who describes his life simply as “in scrubs,” is not seeking attention. He loves to talk about his work with wildlife animals both big and small.

With his DVM degree in hand, Dr. Kushnir settled in the San Diego area where he has since completed two internships before joining the staff of Project Wildlife, which is dedicated to treating the area’s diverse population of endangered species. A love for medicine runs in the family, too, as both of Dr. Kushnir’s siblings, Christina and Matthew, graduated from SGU’s School of Medicine.

SGU News spoke to Dr. Kushnir to learn how he fell in love with animals and what drove his desire to work with this population as a profession.

St. George’s University: How did you get involved with Project Wildlife?

Dr. Andrew Kushnir:  I never really saw myself as the kind of veterinarian you’d find at a local small animal practice. I always wanted to be working with the most vulnerable animal populations such as wildlife, animals on the street, or in a shelter setting. Essentially, those who have no one really advocating for their health and well-being.  After graduating from SGU, I went on to complete a Shelter Medicine internship followed by a Wildlife Medicine internship, both at San Diego Humane Society. Currently as a staff veterinarian at Project Wildlife in San Diego, we see 14,000 wildlife patients each year.

SGU: What is a typical day like for you at Project Wildlife?

Dr. Kushnir: A typical day at the wildlife center really depends on the season. During the spring and summer when wildlife is born, there is a non-stop flood of animals arriving for care. Examining over 100 new animals a day is not uncommon and their medical presentation can range from healthy babies to debilitated and injured adults. I could be examining a group of nine healthy young opossums one minute, and then scrubbing into orthopedic surgery to fix a fractured humerus in a great horned owl the next minute. During the ‘busy season,’ the days are incredibly long but incredible fulfilling, knowing we’ve been able to give these critters a second chance at life.

SGU: Is it true that California has a unique wildlife population unlike any in the US, especially in the San Diego area?

Dr. Kushnir:  We do. We care for over 300 different species of animals found throughout Southern California, ranging from hummingbirds and raccoons to mountain lions and black bears. We see essentially any wild animal living its life out beneath the open sky in California.

SGU: What appeals to you most about working with animals in this way?

Dr. Kushnir:  I love work with wildlife and getting to experience first-hand just the incredible amount of diversity in this world. Seeing over 300 different species of birds, reptiles, and mammals each year both keeps me on my toes in the hospital and keeps me excited about what I’ll see next.

SGU: You find time to do quite a lot of volunteer work as well. Can you share some of the organizations that you donate your time to?

Dr. Kushnir: I regularly volunteer with Baja Spay/Neuter Foundation, an organization determined to reduce the stray dog and cat population in Baja California, Mexico. I am currently collaborating with RRRCORA (a center for rescue, rehabilitation, and release of native reptiles and amphibians in Central Florida) regarding disease and toxicosis surveillance. I spent this past November and December volunteering at a wildlife hospital in Costa Rica, where I discovered a fascination and love for sloths! I am also currently the sole veterinarian on the FIGS Healthcare Advisory Board.

SGU: You work in a highly specialized area. How did your education at SGU’s School of Veterinary Medicine prepare you for your career?

Dr. Kushnir:  The transition from being a veterinary student to veterinary professional is challenging for everyone, but the experience of attending SGU and living in Grenada really prepared future professionals like myself on how to adapt to change. I think the life experience of living in Grenada was equally as important as the course material learned in veterinary school.

Elizabeth Flatt

What’s it like to work as a veterinarian serving rural farmland communities in New Zealand? Just ask Elizabeth Flatt, BSc, DVM ’20, who grew up in Georgia and is now an associate veterinarian at VetSouth in Gore, New Zealand.

St. George’s University: Why did you choose to move to New Zealand?

Dr. Flatt: I asked Google! I remember being in my clinical year at Mississippi State University, sitting at a local coffee shop, trying to decide what I was going to do next. Veterinary medicine is so versatile, and as a new grad you are especially malleable. So, I focused on location and extracurricular activities. I wanted to live abroad—specifically somewhere where I could kitesurf and snowboard within a two-hour drive. Google said New Zealand.

It was great timing! I arrived pre-COVID, and this has been the place to be. Thanks, Google!

SGU: What types of animals do you treat there?

Dr. Flatt: VetSouth is a mixed-animal practice that is a part of the VetNZ Ltd., where the philosophy is all about looking after our team, providing premium animal welfare, and making rural communities better by giving back to the regions that support us. This also means that many of our veterinarians are shareholders, ensuring the focus stays local, and our animals, clients, and people are prioritized. I have been with this company for 18 months now and they remain true to their philosophy.

The large animal work is primarily cattle, sheep, horses, and even deer. We also treat pigs and camelids on occasion.

The small animal work is primarily working dogs. Huntaways and heading dogs seem to be Kiwi farmers’ breeds of choice. They are New Zealand-originated breeds. They are especially needed in hill country where not even four-wheelers or horses can easily maneuver. That said, in the last decade, pets such as dogs, cats, exotics, and chickens have increasingly made a presence here—sadly, no snakes as there are none in New Zealand.

SGU: As an associate veterinarian, what are some of the key responsibilities that you have?

Dr. Flatt: In Gore, there are four strictly “smallie” vets, with me as the only full-time small animal veterinarian. The closest specialist referral center is nearly seven hours away in Christchurch. So, oftentimes, you and your team are the only option. Fortunately, we have a wide variety of diagnostic and surgical capabilities. We have CR and DR x-rays, ultrasound, scopes, in-house blood machines, etc.

My main areas of specialty include ultrasound procedures, reproductive assistance, soft tissue surgery, and internal and emergency medicine. I have been receiving referrals from surrounding clinics to perform various ultrasound and ultrasound-guided procedures. Also, I do a significant amount of artificial insemination around the Southland and Otago regions to help with breeding.

SGU: Best day so far at the clinic?

Dr. Flatt: It was around 7:30pm when the emergency text came through: “Cat stuck in grill.” A cat got struck by a vehicle and became lodged in the grill of the car. There was a penetrating chest wound that had to get surgically closed. It was merely a puncture from the outside. From the inside, however, the whole intercostal space was shredded top to bottom. I had to wire the adjacent ribs together and place a chest drain. The best part is that the surgery was a success and the cat lives on. The coolest part is that I felt a beating heart.

SGU: What excites you about practicing veterinary medicine?

Dr. Flatt: The absolute best is being able to fix a patient and get them back home and into action. The second-best part is providing those unfixable patients with a quality of life for their remaining time. This, ultimately, makes you an integral part of their family and business. I love being able to serve people in such ways.

SGU: What is an issue in the field of veterinary medicine that is important to you?

Dr. Flatt: Improving work-life balance. Being an American, I work until I burn out. New Zealanders are huge on work-life balance. We have built-in “tea breaks” twice a day and a one-hour lunch break. Sure, we may not always get those breaks, but this is a priority implemented by VetSouth and our managers. I admire this and wish more of the international veterinary industry prioritized this.

SGU: Three key qualities to be a good veterinarian?

Dr. Flatt: Critical thinking, people skills, and adaptability.

SGU: What are your plans for the future? 

Dr. Flatt: In the immediate future: I am here until at least July 2023. Over the long term, I would love to open my own specialty veterinary clinic and further my seedstock operation.

SGU: How did SGU prepare you for a career as a veterinarian?

Dr. Flatt: SGU provided me with a solid foundation of veterinary medicine. It is impossible to teach a student everything about veterinary medicine. Every case is unique. Veterinarians must rely on their foundation to develop a plan on how to best approach each case.

SGU: Best piece of advice for SVM students?

Dr. Flatt: Take time to enjoy the present. As a student we often get so fixated on what’s to come that we neglect to appreciate what’s around us now.

Kendra Baker, DVM

Dr. Kendra Baker, a 2015 graduate of St. George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine, describes what it’s like treating an array of aquatic animals, of all shapes and sizes, as a veterinary fellow at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD.

“One characteristic [zoo/aquarium veterinarians] all share is the ability to innovate,” Dr. Baker said. “You might have one of the few remaining endangered species in your collection that’s doing something that has never been seen before. And you have to figure it out and treat it. But you have to use tools that weren’t made with this specific animal in mind.”

Published August 2020

Leah Wulforst, DVM

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.”

ARE VACCINES ALWAYS THE ANSWER?

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.

TO KNOXVILLE AND BACK AGAIN

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.”

 

 

Shannon Cerveny, DVM

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 convergence of human, animal, and ecosystem health—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.”

 

Published June 2020

 

Katie Woodard, DVM

Raised 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.

Published December 2019

Heath Soignier, DVM, CVMST

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.”

 

Published December 2019

Autumn Unck, DVM

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.

BEING A VET DURING COVID-19

 

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.

PATHWAY TO VET MEDICINE

 

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.”

 

Published June 2020