The ACVO Diplomate Spotlight honors 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.
“Stories We Tell” (by Sarah Polley)
That’s the title of one of the many moving and powerfully-directed documentaries I went to see at the most recent Columbia, Missouri True/False documentary film festival. I can remember thinking that the title of this particular film reminded me of an evaluation I received from an attendee at the William Magrane ACVO Basic Science Course (BSC) regarding my ability to keep an audience awake with “my excellent stories”. Since I cover the pathophysiology and treatment of dry eye at the BSC, it’s perhaps understandable why I feel the need to make an extra effort to keep audience members awake with a little storytelling when I lecture. In truth, my close friends know that I value diversity in all forms: cultural, social, artistic, theatrical, environmental, musical, vegetable, animal, mineral, and this personal characteristic undoubtedly flavors my teaching style.
My own story is arguably somewhat unconventional. I was raised on multiple continents including North America (Canada), Europe (Belgium), and Africa (Senegal and Zaire) and only returned permanently to the United States to attend college. Although I was an avid equestrian from an early age I never considered becoming a veterinarian until relatively late in high school because, let’s be honest, I always thought horse people could be a little bit crazy. In fact, I was never allowed to have any pets other than the odd hamster growing up because my parents, who raised 4 children overseas while employed by the U.S. Foreign Service, knew that hamsters only lived about 2½ years. We were “at post” 3 – 4 years, so providing a tincture of judicious planning, all they had to do was wash out the hamster cage, pack up, and move our family on to the next country. I was 17 years old when I finally got my first dog, a beloved terrier who was with me until just after my residency ended; in many ways, we “grew up” together.
I received a Bachelor of Science from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York in 1991 and my DVM degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1996. Following graduation from veterinary school, I then completed a small animal rotating internship at the Animal Medical Center in New York City in 1997. Although I began my internship with a strong desire to pursue orthopedic surgery, it was during that time, miraculously and fortuitously, that I elected to specialize in veterinary ophthalmology at the urging of two inebriated AMC mentors who were dolling out career advice one night over a bottle of 18-year-old Macallan whiskey. After a year in private practice in mid-town Manhattan, I returned to UW and completed an ocular pathology fellowship in 1999 (path fellow #2!) and then went on to University of Missouri to complete a Master’s degree and residency in veterinary ophthalmology in 2002. If you had asked me 20 years ago where I thought I’d finally settle down, Columbia would never have been on my radar screen; it is a wonderful university town surrounded by beautiful countryside and I’m thrilled to finally have found “my home” after so much time. I am currently a tenured faculty member of the department of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery at the University of Missouri and serve as Section Head of our MU comparative ophthalmology service. Since becoming an ACVO diplomate in 2002, I have enjoyed years of service as a member of the ACVO Residency, Nominating, Governance, Maintenance of Certification, Vision for Animals Foundation Grants, and Basic Science Steering committees, the Veterinary Ophthalmology’s editorial board, and since 2011, the ACVO Board of Regents.
Winter is often a time for reflection. I would like to express my sincere and heartfelt gratitude to the many teachers, mentors, residents, students, colleagues, and friends both near and far; without their unwavering encouragement, wisdom, support, candid evaluation, and patience, I would never be so fortunate to be where I am, doing what I do today. In the words of Orson Scott Card, “every person is defined by the communities she belongs to.” I feel richly blessed to be a member of the ACVO and share our passion for vision science. I wish you a joyous holiday season and a wonderful New Year.