Blazing her own trail

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Day in, day out

To gain a better understanding of what it’s like to be an intern, JAVMA went straight to the source and spent one day each with three interns in academic, exotic, and equine practice.

It’s not yet noon and Dr. Lindsey Woods has just finished her second rabbit neutering. She pours the last dregs of coffee.

“It’s a rough Monday when you run out of coffee,” she said. “This stuff is terrible, but I’m going to drink it like a champ.”

Dr. Woods and client Amy
Dr. Lindsey Woods talks with Amy Thurmond, owner of Lulu, a 6-year-old guinea pig. Dr. Woods found a mass under Lulu’s jaw caused by a tooth abscess and recommended surgery.

Dr. Woods typically performs surgeries on Wednesday mornings. But today, Monday, April 8, is different. Her supervisor, Dr. Angela Lennox, has been gone since March 31 to Edinburgh, Scotland, for a conference and will return April 10.

It’s been a “madhouse, complete circus” since Dr. Lennox has been gone, Dr. Woods said. But for now at the Avian & Exotic Animal Clinic, just outside Indianapolis, it is slightly less hectic.

“We’ll get to each lunch today!” Dr. Woods exclaims.

She types at a fast clip after surgery to document her surgical findings and postoperative plan. She works from 8 am. to 6 p.m. most days. When her shift ends, she says, “I’m pretty much on call unless I ask about (taking off work), which is totally fine with me. Most times we can tell owners what will get them through the night if it’s not a true emergency. We have exam and emergency fees; sometimes that’s a deterrent for exotic (animal) owners.”

A typical day at the clinic means she’ll see a client, write a record, maybe take care of an emergency or a patient that was dropped off, and then move onto another patient.

“I get plenty of sleep at night. I’m not here till 10 or 11 writing records,” she said. Dr. Woods receives additional compensation when she does come in for emergencies at night and for taking intensive care patients home.

When Dr. Lennox isn’t busy, she’ll give a lecture or provide a teaching opportunity for Dr. Woods, such as reviewing a bird’s blood smears, on a Friday—Dr. Woods’ “day off.”

“If she’s swamped, I’ll come in and help. She asks me to, but it’s not a requirement, but I do like being here, even though it’s work,” Dr. Woods said.

Take me to the zoo

Baxter, a 20-year-old cockatiel, fidgets as Dr. Woods wields tweezers to unclog his nasal passage. Owner Joan Novak mentions that Dr. Woods should take a look at the redness on his face, too. And, oh by the way, would she trim his nails and feathers while she’s at it? Dr. Woods obliges. She tells Novak that Baxter might have respiratory issues, so she’ll start him on antibiotics but will also take fecal and oral swab specimens and a blood sample to see if anything is abnormal.

Dr. Woods has primary responsibility on wildlife cases but also gets her share of walk-in and regular clients.

“This has been the best possible thing as far as getting out of school and being completely submerged up to your ears in cases,” Dr. Woods said.

“Caseload at this clinic is extremely high. I’ve gotten surgical experience here that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else because of the wildlife bone surgeries,” including one on a great horned owl that had a humeral fracture and was released in March.

Dr. Lennox takes the complicated surgeries, but she has allowed Dr. Woods to do an adrenalectomy on a rescued ferret, for example.

“Anything that’s an advanced surgical technique she’s either scrubbed in standing there or sitting at a desk ready to jump in if need be, and that’s comforting,” Dr. Woods said.

Dr. Woods continued, “She doesn’t go out of town often, and when she does, I almost look forward to it, because I know I’m going to run into things I don’t know how to handle, and it pushes me to buck up and go for it.”

Dr. Woods is originally from Arkansas. She attended Oklahoma State University College of Veterinary Medicine, graduating in 2012.

Initially, she was ambivalent about doing an internship right out of veterinary college. Could she apply even more effort scholastically after four years of veterinary study? And if so, did she want to do an academic or private practice program?

“I would have killed to do a zoo internship, but there weren’t many available in the (Veterinary Internship and Residency Matching Program), and, even the ones that were available, I wasn’t eligible for,” Dr. Woods said.

“They’re happy to teach a fourth-year student and take a volunteer, but when it comes to paying a veterinarian to work there, it’s really hard for them to justify paying a newbie vet when they need someone with experience, which is completely understandable. But it’s really tough to get experience unless you have it.”

Dr. Woods found this exotic animal private practice internship because her mentor at Oklahoma State, Dr. Cornelia Ketz-Riley, knew Dr. Lennox, who was looking for a replacement after an associate left. Dr. Lennox had missed the match, but Dr. Ketz-Riley told her about Dr. Woods, who was looking for new options after a zoo position didn’t materialize.

“I was finally to the point where I said I’ll blaze my own trail. I don’t have to be with my family. I want to be where the job is right now and ... where I can focus on my career and nothing else and no one else, so here I go,” Dr. Woods said.

“I could not have asked for a better mentor, better clinic, location, everything. I could have asked for better pay, but that wouldn’t have gone over well.” She earns around $25,000 in her internship.

Climbing the ladder

Zeus, a ball python, slithers over Dr. Woods’ forearms as she examines him in the early afternoon light. His owners, Ashley Paddock and her son, Will, look on from the bench across the room. Zeus has scale rot on his abdomen from a bacterial infection. Dr. Woods suggests new bedding and antibiotics.

On June 17, Dr. Woods started her second internship, at Oklahoma State, this one focusing on zoo and exotic work. She is anticipating working with places such as the Oklahoma City and Tulsa zoos but will be based at the veterinary college’s teaching hospital.

She’d like eventually to be board-certified by the American College of Zoological Medicine. Her dream job would be working as a staff veterinarian at a large Association of Zoos and Aquariums–accredited zoo.

“Beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to the zoo world. Someone has to retire or die for you to get a job,” she said.

For now, she’s working her way up the ladder.

Dr. Woods is working on getting a manuscript published that reports on gastric issues in sugar gliders, which she’s been collaborating on with Dr. Lennox and a pathologist since July 2012. Dr. Woods is also working on a sedation research project, but she isn’t sure whether she’ll be a primary author on it.

Dr. Woods hopes so, because she knows that would help her chances of getting a residency, preferably one at a zoo or university.

When asked what she’d do if she weren’t to get a residency, Dr. Woods said she hasn’t considered that.

After a pause, she says she eventually wants a family, adding, “I want a life at some point.”

To view additional photos of the interns at work, go to for the online photo gallery titled “Day in, day out.”