Faculty of Veterinary Medicine
Dec. 18, 2020
UCalgary vet med alumni become faculty's first emergency medicine and critical care specialists
For most graduates of the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine’s (UCVM) Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program, the next step after convocation is to begin their careers as general practitioners. They work across Alberta, in small animal clinics, mixed rural practices, or with horses or production animals.
Photo above: Tereza Stastny and her resident partner troubleshoot a mechanical ventilator during her residency at Michigan State. Photo by Tereza Stastny
But some, says Dr. Søren Boysen, a professor of veterinary emergency and critical care at UCVM, choose a different route and go on to become specialists.
“Veterinary specialists, like specialists in human medicine, take on additional training after graduation to become experts in a specific field of veterinary medicine,” says Boysen. “Specializations include things like surgery, neurology, internal medicine, oncology, dermatology, radiology, ophthalmology, pathology, and of course emergency and critical care, which is my specialization.”
It’s incredibly hard work. Veterinarians who specialize usually first complete a one-year clinical internship. Then, they must be accepted into a competitive three-year residency training program at a veterinary college or specialty hospital that offers training in their field of interest, which could be anywhere in North America or Europe. Once their training is done, candidates must pass a gruelling two-day, 16-hour board certification exam.
Recently, Drs.Tereza Stastny and Justin Duval, alumni of UCVM’S Class of 2016, completed the rigorous requirements to become specialists in emergency and critical care, earning the designation of Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care. They are the first ‘criticalists’ in UCVM’s history. They’re also good friends.
Friends got each other through tough times
Stastny says their experiences were incredibly different. Duval completed a more theoretical program, interning in Wisconsin, and completing his residency at UC Davis in California. Stastny completed a more hands-on, high-volume program at Texas A&M and then Michigan State.
“We’re close friends but residency is time-consuming,” says Stastny. “We texted a lot throughout our programs, and then met again when we attended a cardiopulmonary boot camp at Cornell last year. We stayed in touch frequently during our board exam preparation, because it was two months of straight studying and quite stressful at times. Justin was a friend in vet school, so we understood each other when we were in difficult spots during our specialization training.”
An all-consuming program
For Stastny, her program, which focused on hands-on, practical experience, was incredibly demanding.
“I started my internship at Texas A&M, where I saw about five to six cases a day. When I started my residency at Michigan State, I saw upwards of 14 to 17 cases a day as the primary doctor.”
She says the experience was overwhelming, but it taught her how to manage her time, clients, and patients, while seeing a vast range of cases. The hours were long and gruelling. A typical day saw her wake up at 6 a.m. and start work at 7 a.m. She’d assess her patients in the first hour and by the time she’d squared them all away, it would be a 12- to 15-hour day.
“You feel very confident coming out of that environment,” Stastny says. “It allows you to see almost everything you are going to see in private practice. It was mentally, emotionally, and physically quite taxing, and I do think improvements can be made towards better mental health/life balance, but I would do it over again if I had the choice.”
Mentors at UCVM helped students find their path
Stastny says she didn’t know specialization was an option until her third year, when Boysen and Dr. Serge Chalhoub, DVM, a senior instructor and internal medicine specialist at UCVM, gave a seminar.
Faculty of Veterinary Medicine
“They were so enthusiastic that it was the first time I seriously considered it,” she says. “During clinics I got a taste of what critical care, neurology, and some other specializations were like, and it was then I realized that learning the level of detail required of a specialty would be right for me.”
There were two big reasons she settled on critical care: “I like the fast pace and the adrenaline of having to be on your toes when a critical patient comes in. It keeps me engaged and I like it, though it’s definitely not for everyone!”
She was also heavily influenced by Boysen. “He is good role model; always kind and enthusiastic, and he’s passionate about what he does. He’s the role model I want to be for others.”
According to Chalhoub, there’s been an average of 3.4 graduates each year who have gone on to become specialists. That’s on par with other, more established institutions in Canada, which is an achievement for a young school, whose first class graduated in 2012.
Some much-needed time off
Now board certified, Stastny is taking some much-needed time off before starting her career as a small animal critical care specialist at Arizona Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care Center in the Phoenix metropolitan area. She’s living in Portugal for three months, soaking up some sun while working at a surf school. A slower pace for sure, but a profession not without its share of adrenaline.