SAVMA President Tooley all about building community

Wisconsin third-year student wants to connect fellow veterinary students with resources
Zachary Tooley
Zachary Tooley

Zachary Tooley, the newest Student AVMA president, says his first passion in life wasn’t veterinary medicine, but wrestling. He began the sport in third grade and hadn’t thought much about college until toward the end of high school, and only then did he consider college so he could keep wrestling.

“Competing in wrestling took up a lot of my time and focus in undergrad. It taught me to work cooperatively on a team, seeing the amount of time and effort a lot of the upperclassmen had put in the program, along with the assistant coaches and head coaches,” Tooley said. “That was something that I think really influenced me … seeing individuals who were produced by that community were really a product of how invested people were in each other and how much they wanted others to succeed.”

Tooley grew up in Hortonville, Wisconsin, at an equine boarding and training facility that his parents owned. He always enjoyed biology, so while he enjoyed the opportunity to wrestle at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, he majored in the subject. He soon got involved in the preveterinary club and found his true calling—not in wrestling, but in veterinary medicine.

Not long after that, he started working at Central Animal Hospital in Onalaska, Wisconsin—owned by Dr. Douglas Kratt, now AVMA immediate past president, and his wife, Dr. Kimberly Kratt. There, Tooley first became exposed to small animal medicine.

Tooley didn’t get into veterinary college on his first try. That did, however, allow him time to gain experience with more veterinarians and start a master’s program at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. He also became an assistant coach with the wrestling program there.

Zachary Tooley holding a puppy
Zachary Tooley, Student AVMA president, holds a puppy in for a wellness check. (Photos courtesy of Tooley)

Once he got into the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, Tooley recalls seeing Dr. Kratt on a career day in his first year. He hadn’t seen his mentor for a few years. This time, Dr. Kratt was incoming AVMA president-elect.

“It was cool to see him step into a leadership position, especially seeing how much he tried to do for his community with support and outreach, and then take that to the next step to try to give back to the veterinary community,” Tooley said.

Another piece of the puzzle came together for Tooley when a friend started going through the ROTC program, which is how Tooley learned about the Army Veterinary Corps. Tooley applied for the Army Health Professional Scholarship Program. In the spring of his first year, he was commissioned into the Army Veterinary Corps as a second lieutenant. After veterinary school, Tooley will complete a rotating externship at one of the Army’s sites and then three years of active duty.

Another influential moment came when Tooley befriended Marie Bucko, who soon became SAVMA president. She encouraged him to pursue a leadership position with SAVMA, which he first did by becoming a member of the SAVMA House of Delegates.

“I feel like the doors kind of got blown wide open,” Tooley said. “I didn’t realize how much lateral movement there was in veterinary medicine. I didn’t know positions in public health were available or the specialties you can get into or the government side of things, like getting involved in the legislative side of veterinary medicine and helping shape some of the guidelines and policies that protect and grow the profession.”

Tooley later saw the government side of the profession up close when he attended the AVMA legislative fly-in in February 2020 in Washington, D.C., as well as the virtual fly-ins since then. He was able to go with Dr. Kratt to congressional offices and watch advocacy in action.

“I’ve seen how much that I’ve been blessed with because of the community that has invested in me and the leaders who make time for their community. That’s something I really want to try to emulate—to give back to the profession and leaders who have taken a chance on me,” Tooley said.

His goal as SAVMA president is to build excitement for in-person events and what SAVMA is able to accomplish for students in a post-COVID world. The 2022 SAVMA Symposium at the University of Minnesota (see story) showed firsthand the excitement of students to see each other again in real life.

Zachary Tooley in a wrestling match
Tooley competes during the 2015-16 collegiate wrestling season as an undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. He is now a third-year veterinary student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

He also hopes to provide more interconnectedness between SAVMA presidents and delegates as well as promote resources and activities that promote good mental health and its importance.

“It’s one of those things where I don’t have a set agenda of my own. I want to make sure the current and incoming board feel supported and meet their goals as much as possible and promote that teamwork environment,” Tooley said.

Finally, he wants to encourage others to realize their potential and fill leadership positions, just as his mentors did for him, because the profession needs those people to continue to move it forward.

“It’s already a great profession. It has areas for growth, but the way it sits now, it’s awesome to see the community and people coming into it. The outlook is so good for the future. It really is something we should be excited about,” Tooley said.