ACVO Member Spotlight

red deer

Dr. Gretchen Schmidt, DACVO

The Schmidt-Vainisi retirement home for red deer and Trakehner horses.

John Deer
The "Deer" Sam gave Gretchen for her birthday.

The ACVO Diplomate Spotlighthonors Active or Emeritus Diplomates in the profession who are leaders in their field, are in good standing with the ACVO and have an interesting story to share. Please submit your nomination for this feature to the ACVO office for consideration.

In the right place at the right the story of my career in veterinary ophthalmology…but first I had to get through veterinary school. It was not easy being an out of state female in the mid 1960's. The advice was always...’It can't be done.’ Purdue was a new school and I was in the right place at the right time. I was 1 of 5 in the class of 1969. I was exposed to Dr. Andre Lavignette at the time when he performed the first parotid duct transposition in a miniature schnauzer. Then, I wanted to pursue an internship but again, received a lot of letters of rejection because interns were required to stay in the hospital and I was a girl....could not be done. The University of Illinois called because Dr. Helper was going on sabbatical and his salary was to be used for 2 interns. I became one of them. Dr. Magrane did the ophthalmology that year by spending 3 days every month seeing cases and doing surgery. He needed a gopher (go for this, go for that) and there I was in the right place at the right time. I had to learn ophthalmology. Soon the mid-western exodus to Georgia began and I was among the people hired. They had no ophthalmologist so I was it! Two years out of school and I was responsible for all the eye cases. Those poor animals whose eyes I screwed up. No way to learn as there were very few residencies/mentors in those days, we depended on human ophthalmology courses. Somehow in 1973, I was able to sit for the second ACVO examination and with Seth Koch breathing down my neck I took the written exam on his back porch. Thanks to Ann Gratzek's father, the University of Georgia small animal section was able to purchase its first slit lamp biomicroscope while I was there.

There is an urban legend in academia that you make 3 major moves in your career. Thanks to Jen Welser's father I made my first move from UGA to MSU leaving UGA in the capable hands of Tom Kern. At MSU, I was part of a team which allowed off clinic time and I was exposed to basic research with an immunoparasitologist, Wes Leid. My mid-life crisis accounted for the move #2 with the choice of research or private practice. Sue West made that decision for me in 1981 when she left Chicago for warmer Florida. I was now part of Animal Eye Associates in Chicago and found out how little I knew about veterinary ophthalmology and how many cases you could see in a day without a herd of students following you. Again, I was in the right place at the right time. While in practice I created enough post-op retinal detachments for Sam Vainisi and Kirk Packo to become leaders in canine retinal surgery. Sam did take time off to go to New Zealand on a fishing trip and while there was enamored by red deer farming. So in 1994 we were the proud owners of 25 pregnant red deer and needed a place to put them. "We bought the Farm" and converted the milk house into a small eye clinic. Move #3. We both became expert commuters from Chicago to Green Bay taking turns being deer farmers and ophthalmologists. In 2002 thanks to ECFA we could be full time deer farmers. I became pretty good at assisting in breech births, cervical cervid TB testing, doing brain surgery for CWD samples, measuring antlers in 800 lb. stags, and delivering stags to hunting ranches all over the Midwest.

It was somewhere in the middle of this, our lawyer suggested Sam and I should get married so as to avoid legal messes later. Usually one needs a lawyer to become unmarried. Again I was in the right place at the right time and no more moving. I am back home in Wisconsin. Come visit us at the farm if you are ever in the area.