Brookfield Zoo invests in imaging with full-time radiologist

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Brookfield Zoo is the only zoo in the United States to have a full-time, board-certified veterinary radiologist. Last year, Dr. Marina Ivančić joined the Chicago Zoological Society, which operates the zoo, to provide expertise at Brookfield and offer a consulting service for other zoos.

Dr. Ivančić
Dr. Marina Ivančić, veterinary radiologist for the Chicago Zoological Society (Courtesy of the Chicago Zoological Society)

Diagnostic imaging is an area that the Chicago Zoological Society is particularly proud of, said Dr. Mike Adkesson, vice president of clinical medicine. He said, "It’s really a very unique program that’s aimed at advancing the quality of medicine available for all zoo animals."

Dr. Ivančić’s path to veterinary radiology started when she got interested in working with dolphins during her undergraduate studies. She was a trainer and did research on dolphins, including diagnostic imaging research, before completing her veterinary degree and then earning board certification with the American College of Veterinary Radiology.

She said she got interested in imaging because it is a huge part of the care of marine mammals. She traveled around doing radiology with marine mammals before joining Brookfield in June 2016.

Why add a full-time radiologist? She said, "Having a radiologist on site here allows us to provide the highest level of medicine that we can practice as zoo veterinarians." The zoo is able to use advanced imaging modalities. It is one of only three zoos in North America to have a CT scanner on site. Brookfield also has fluoroscopy and ultrasonography equipment on site and transports animals off-site for magnetic resonance imaging.

Dr. Ivančić interprets images for zoos around the world. She said the consulting service helps zoos practice high-level medicine, conduct studies, and establish norms.

Dr. Ivančić’s day starts with rounds with the veterinary team. Procedures run from morning to early afternoon. She tries to be available during procedures so she can run over and interpret images. Are they normal? If not, what can the team do?

She spends the rest of the day on a number of tasks. She looks at images from Brookfield animals, then cases from other facilities. She will call a facility immediately if necessary, and she generates a report. She also participates in teaching and research.

"If you’re working with animals that are rare and different and that we don’t know as much about, it’s part of your mandate to put in the scientific literature what you’re learning about them," she said.

She still travels, recently traveling to Scotland with another Chicago Zoological Society veterinarian to work with giant pandas. She also travels to give lectures and workshops and to teach veterinarians at other facilities.

Every day, Dr. Ivančić finds her job to be both enormously challenging and a huge privilege. She said, "There is never a day that I don’t see something that I’ve never seen."

Related JAVMA content:

Zoo veterinarians, behind the scenes and in the field (July 15, 2017)