Three questions for … Virginia-Maryland VBMA leader Sara Waltz

This week’s “Three Questions for …” focuses on Sara Waltz of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine (class of 2016). Sara is the 2014 VBMA chapter marketing coordinator, and she is a founding member of one of the very first chapters of the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative.

The picture on our home page? She would be smiling were it not for the mask. The picture is of her first cat spay with World Vets in Nicaragua. What a great experience that must have been!

And on to my questions:

What drew you to veterinary medicine?

This is the dream. and I’m just living it. I always wanted to be a veterinarian. I think one of the first signs was in about first grade:  I drew an anatomically correct picture of two horses mating and thought nothing of it. My teacher was mortified and apparently contacted my parents demanding to know why I knew what that was. I still have this infamous drawing.

Since then, there have been many things that have solidified my confidence  in my choice of career. One of them was an amazing Lab named Marley. I have worked as an ICU nurse for many years,and Marley was one of the first major (and majorly cool) cases I saw. To abbreviate a long story, he was about 5 months old when he developed gastrointestinal pythiosis and had extensive resection done on his gastrointestinal tract including the removal of a very large part of his stomach and intestines.

In spite of his various tubes, extensive treatment, management, and surgeries, as well as long hospital stays, he maintained that Lab puppy personality even on his worst days. Both he and his owners became an inspirational part of my journey. They became regular visitors. often bringing treats even when Marley wasn’t there.

Even more touching than their sincere appreciation was their devotion to Marley. He lived for many years after this and came back to recheck with us several times.  I continue to reflect on so much of their story; the resilience, the dedication. It is not just the animals and the medicine that drive me: The owners make me even more passionate to help.

Sara WaltzDo you think new veterinarians will face different challenges than in previous generations and if so, what are you doing now to meet those challenges?

We are facing many challenges. There is of course the growing debt to income ratio many are facing, and that’s certainly something I frequently think of being an out-of-state student.

Recently in our veterinary community we have been working with the very real fear of burn-out and compassion fatigue.

It would be naïve to consider these different challenges than veterinarians have faced for generations. The challenge now is to find innovative ways to make a profit while still being able to love what we do. After all, this is the goal of these countless years of school is it not? As many others have mentioned, this has been a huge benefit of the VBMA. The VBMA encourages you to start thinking about your role in veterinary medicine in respect to financial stability and intelligence.

I think a different challenge new graduates are facing will be finding their role in “One Health.” This movement has, in many ways, really put veterinarians at the forefront of public health. Now more than ever, it will be important as veterinarians to be well-rounded in our knowledge as I believe our role is going to expand to a more epidemiologic view point.

We are already being sought after to discuss cross- species disease control and monitoring. While this has gone on for years, as more health professionals and scientists in both human and veterinary medicine become involved, we will inevitably take on a more dynamic role in society’s viewpoint.

What can we do now? Get involved and be a part of the progress and process. Local One Health clubs are becoming increasingly normal on veterinary campuses. Our campus recently held a “zombie apocalypse” disease outbreak for Halloween which involved the osteopathic medicine school, graduate students, and veterinary students.

Keep up with the national initiative as well and perhaps organize an event in your community. There are so many ways to get involved, and while right now it is still an “option,” soon it will be a requirement.  Starting early is the way we stay at the front line.

Can you tell us one thing about you that would surprise your future veterinary colleagues?

I can work a jack-hammer. After college, I spent the summer as an intern at Carolina Tiger Rescue in Pittsboro, N.C. While part of my job included cleaning enclosures, providing enrichment for the animals, and feeding, watering, and medicating the animals, another aspect of the job was to help maintain the compound.

One day I would be building a winter box for a Binturong, and the next day I might be working the jack-hammer on the pipeline! I definitely developed a unique skill set, and I had the opportunity to work with these incredible animals at the same time.

I’m not sure that many of my colleagues would immediately picture me as the girl cleaning up tiger poop, covered head-to-toe in mud, working with power tools  so I hope this will give them a laugh.


Thank you, Sara! You sure gave me a laugh!