I can see you now, staring at the clock and counting down the minutes until your physiology professor lets you out for lunch. Or maybe you’re standing in an exam room, trying to appear interested as a well-meaning older gentleman goes into great detail about his Yorkie’s quite normal bathroom habits.
Your eyes glaze over and you find yourself wondering,
Are there really any vets who actually get to spend their lives doing hands-on clinical work with wildlife, traveling around the world, and making meaningful contributions to public health, conservation, and economic development?
Well maybe it wasn’t those words exactly, but you know the feeling. Do these dream jobs really exist?
I’m excited to remind you in this episode of The Uncommon Veterinarian Podcast that yes, they do, and to share some practical insights about how you can make these dreams a reality.
Dr. Mike Cranfield: Co-Director of the Gorilla Doctors
I first met Mike Cranfield at a special presentation he made for student representatives at the North American Veterinary Conference several years ago. I remember listening with rapt attention as this handlebar mustached vet described his incredible work with the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project in central Africa, and I found myself thinking, Wow, I would love to be in his shoes one day. We crossed paths again at a zoo and wildlife medicine conference I attended a couple of years after finishing vet school.
My interest in the Gorilla Doctors and their work with mountain gorillas in central Africa has continued to grow over the last couple of years, and it has even found its way into the plot of my slowly growing novel. Stay tuned for more on that.
Although the whole conversation is worth listening to, I especially love this parting advice from Dr. Cranfield:
You have to apply yourself, and you have to be ready to open the doors of opportunity when they’re there. As you progress in your career more and more doors open and you have to be willing to walk through them and not give up. People say, “Well I really wanted to do that but I don’t think there are enough opportunities.” I don’t believe that. I think there are more and more opportunities coming. There’s so much room in conservation and One Health and all of those things that you can almost make a niche for yourself. So keep on going and find your own little niche, because there are enough out there.
Links We Mentioned
Gorilla Doctors: This is the organization that Dr. Cranfield works with. It was called the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project until it joined forces with the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center (below) in 2009. The main site has a ton of fascinating information about the program, while the blog, Facebook page, and Twitter account keep me updated on the daily activities of the vets working there in Africa. The YouTube channel also has a number of quality videos featuring the work of the Gorilla Doctors. All the photos in this article come from the organization.
Mountain Gorilla Tourist Interaction Video: This is the video I mentioned that went viral on YouTube and has probably helped encourage the strong demand for gorilla tourism in Uganda, Rwanda, and the DRC.
Toronto Zoo Residency Program: Dr. Cranfield explains that he worked in a large animal clinical practice until he was able to get this residency position. The Ontario Veterinary College now teams up with the Toronto Zoo to offer a three-year combined residency and Doctor of Veterinary Science (DVSc) program in Zoological Medicine and Pathology.
UC Davis Wildlife Health Center: This is where Dr. Cranfield and the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project are based. Take a look through the list of programs and staff when you’re in the mood to be inspired.
One Health Initiative: The One Health term is really being embraced in the veterinary community, but a lot of work still needs to be done to bring our human and environmental counterparts on board. UC Davis hosts the One Health Institute which has provided some important leadership in this.
Clinical specialists working with zoos: We discussed this as another option for practicing vets who want to get involved in the zoo and wildlife fields. Every zoo veterinarian has a list of specialists who they call whenever they’re facing a situation requiring expertise beyond their more generalized training. Steven Rosenthal is a veterinary cardiologist working in private practice who also serves as a cardiology consultant for the National Zoo and the Maryland Zoo. Veterinary ophthalmologist Seth Koch consults for the Chesapeake Wildlife Foundation and the National Zoo.
What You Will Learn in This Episode
- what you need to do now to prepare yourself for a career as a zoo or wildlife veterinarian
- why Dr. Cranfield is glad that he worked as a regular large animal vet for a couple of years after vet school, even though at the time he wanted to get into a residency program right away
- why it’s valuable for students to get international experience while they have easier opportunities to do so during school
- the financial realities that aspiring zoo and wildlife vets need to be aware of as they make career choices
- why Dr. Cranfield thinks that pursuing a PhD would be an excellent option for veterinarians interested in a career transition into the wildlife or zoo fields
- some alternative options for mid-career veterinarians who are interested in getting more involved with zoo/wildlife species or conservation
Are you ready to walk through the doors of opportunity and create a niche for yourself?
It won’t be easy, that’s true. But are the sacrifices worthwhile if you get to spend your life doing work that excites and fulfills you?
You can watch the video of our conversation right here, but keep scrolling down for the audio version which you can download for more convenient listening in the car, at the gym, or while you’re out walking the dogs.
The audio podcast also has a little bit higher production quality, with my best radio personality voice on the introduction and original music from my little brother Jonathan.
Thank you to everyone who has rated the podcast or left reviews for it on iTunes! I really appreciate your support.