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Member Spotlight: Andrew T. Willis, DVM, DACVIM (LAIM)

Oct 17, 2022, 09:06 AM by The ACVIM
Andrew T. Willis, DVM, DACVIM (LAIM) (he/him/his)

What inspired you to become a Board-certified veterinary specialist?

When I was in veterinary school, during my first year, we did “mini-clinic” rotations whereby veterinary students spent one afternoon per week shadowing a fourth-year veterinary student. During my equine internal medicine rotation, there were several horses being hospitalized for cantharidin toxicosis, many of which had synchronous diaphragmatic flutter. The senior clinician (Todd C. Holbrook, DVM, DACVIM (LAIM), DACVSR) on clinics at the time walked me through the pathophysiology of the disease stall-side merely utilizing the tools we had at our disposal – eyes, ears, hands, and brain. I walked away from that experience inspired to provide that level of knowledge and care to each patient I would encounter during my career. 

Are there any resources or pieces of advice that helped you along the way?

I was abundantly fortunate to have started doing externships early during veterinary school. I made it a point to find private practices that employed internal medicine specialists. As such, I would say the best resource that I have had has been each of the internists with whom I externed, interned, and studied under during veterinary school and my residency training program.

Is there a story or experience that stands out in your mind that reaffirmed your decision to work in specialty veterinary medicine?

While many persons have a desire to pursue specialty training, few complete it for various reasons. I think the experience that reaffirmed my decision to work in specialty veterinary medicine was my internship. Being at a general practitioner level was simply not enough for me. While the internship provided superb training, I personally needed to delve into the details beyond that which the internship allowed me to do. I knew I needed to go to the next level to be where I wanted to be.

What is something you wish the general public knew about veterinary specialists?

In the equine industry, I wish they just simply knew that we exist and understood exactly what we actually do, as well as the value that we bring to the table. So many of our equine clients have a belief that just because you do something you are a specialist (Dr. X only does lameness examinations; therefore, he/she must be a lameness specialist); albeit this couldn’t be further from the truth – simply doing something does not by default make you a specialist. Specialists receive extensive training and undergo a level of rigor much beyond that of a standard licensed veterinarian, which brings a whole new level of knowledge and skillset to each case, adding value to the level and detail of care. However, with that added value, there comes an added cost. 

How is specialty veterinary medicine paving the way for advances in veterinary science? 

The majority of peer-reviewed literature will have an author on the paper that is a specialist. This research is eventually what correlates to changes in clinical practice. Specialists are the driving force for advancement in the veterinary sciences. 

When it comes to increasing diversity in veterinary specialty medicine, what kind of resources or changes would you like to see from the ACVIM and/or similar organizations?

I would like to see the organizations with whom I am most involved (ACVIM, AVMA, AAEP, TEVA), come to a consensus, as well as a subsequent bluntly stated actionable plan, regarding many of the issues facing equine practice as a whole, as well as equine specialty practice – shortage of practitioners, intern shortages, resident shortages, long work hours, low income (especially compared to other veterinary specialties and/or other doctoral programs), obscene client expectations, offsetting debt with a poor return on investment (high cost of education coupled with low income), high percentage of on call and emergency duties, reduction in attrition within the profession, and veterinary employment contract uniformity (what constitutes a fair employment contract; what is fair pay; what is enforceable; what items, such as non-compete, non-solicitation, failure to pay emergency fees, should be no longer allowable within the profession) just to name a few. 

What impact has the ACVIM had in shaping your career? 

The ACVIM really is my career. I practice as an equine internal medicine specialist. Without the ACVIM I would not have had a residency training program with rigorous construct to complete, as well as the requirements to achieve as set forth by the college. Additionally, the ACVIM is responsible for the same training as all those mentors whom I have already discussed. As such, I am grateful for the college for providing that training to those before me, my generation of specialists, as well as for the continued investment into the posterity of specialists to come.  

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