Member Spotlight: Saralyn Smith-Carr, DVM, DACVIM (SAIM)

Feb 14, 2023, 00:00 AM by Michelle Hardy, Member Engagement Specialist

Saralyn Smith-Carr, DVM, DACVIM (SAIM) | Associate Professor Emerita, Auburn University

What first inspired you to become a veterinary specialist?  

There were multiple experiences that led to and sustained my desire to become a veterinary specialist.  My primary inspiration was the desire to train, teach and mentor veterinary students which ignited during my small animal rotating internship at Tuskegee University. The internship also was the experience that led me to want to pursue a career in academia which was later reaffirmed during my one-year tenure in private practice and second internship at Washington State University.

Other inspiration for pursuit of a veterinary specialty came from the mentorship by faculty at Tuskegee and appreciation of the decision of two other Tuskegee graduates and small animal rotating interns, Drs. Ruby Perry-Felton and Howard King, to pursue specialty residencies in radiology and small animal surgery. By the time that I began my second small animal rotating internship at Washington State, I had made up my mind to pursue a residency in small animal internal medicine. The mentorship that I received from the small animal internal medicine faculty at Washington State (Drs. Jim Miller, Richard Ott, and Wally Morrison) during this internship helped me to affirm that this was the right specialty field for me.

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

My small animal intern mentors at Tuskegee, Drs. Madan Vig, Jerry Clinkscales and George Blackledge were both encouraging and helpful. They gave me good advice, encouragement and constructive criticism. I certainly learned that constructive criticism was meant to help and not hurt me.  My mentors during residency at Washington State university were also encouraging and helpful. It was here that I developed my understanding of small animal internal medicine as a specialty. 

Dr. Jim Miller, my residency advisor, told me to ensure that I was kind and patient with all the staff because they could be my greatest friends or enemies. I took his words to mean we all equally have a set of responsibilities required for the section, department, clinic, or research to succeed. In other words, we are a team, and each player has a role to play which is of equal importance.  Treat everyone with the respect that you expect from them. Knowing that I was a valued member of a team helped me to strive to do my best for the team. I did learn from both positive and negative criticism because each time I was encouraged to do better. The lesson is not to be discouraged, learn from each situation, and improve your performance.

Photo: Drs. Ruby Perry, Lloyd Jarmon, Winston Felton, Desiree Darden, and Saralyn Smith-Carr during a Tuskegee Veterinary Medical Alumni Association (TVMAA) fall conference. Photo courtesy of Dr. Saralynn Smith-Carr.

What do you consider one of your greatest career successes? How did you achieve it? 

I have had many great career successes which makes it difficult to choose just one, so will settle on three of my top career successes. First, reaching my goal to become faculty at my alma mater, Tuskegee University, was one of my greatest successes. I really enjoyed teaching and interacting with students at Tuskegee.  It was this success that led to awards in teaching as well as research collaborations that were helpful for me to attain tenure and promotion. My road to achieving this goal required completing two rotating small animal medicine internships, a combined small animal internal medicine residency/masters program, and veterinary science doctoral program focused on infectious disease.

"Sticking to the goal toward Board- certification in small animal internal medicine was well worth the time and effort. This achievement opened doors for other great opportunities for me."

Reaching my goal of becoming an ACVIM Diplomate in small animal internal medicine was equally a success. Unlike many residents today, I did not reach this goal immediately after my residency, but years later. My road to success was the completion of my small animal internal medicine residency program and continuation to work toward Board- certification while serving as faculty at Tuskegee initially and then at Auburn. I was allowed time off of the clinic floor and served as primary on cases so that I could attain enough passing cases to turn in to take my certifying examination. I needed time off the clinic floor to study and study partners. My study group was the small animal internal medicine residents at Auburn. I did not let pride get in the way. Eventually I succeeded. Sticking to the goal toward Board- certification in small animal internal medicine was well worth the time and effort. This achievement opened doors for other great opportunities for me.

Lastly, but equally, one of my career successes has been an opportunity to meet and work with many people of many different races, cultures, communities, and ethnic origins. This certainly began while I was matriculating through veterinary college and has persisted throughout my career as a veterinarian. The opportunities that I experienced came through my interaction as an active member/officer of the Tuskegee Veterinary Medicine Alumni Association (TVMAA), faculty advisor for the Auburn VOICE/Broad Spectrum chapter, and as faculty training veterinary students, interns, and residents at various colleges of veterinary medicine. I feel truly fortunate to have had these opportunities.

What do you consider a challenge you’ve faced in your career? How did you overcome it? 

Two of my biggest challenges were also my successes of becoming faculty and tenure at two CVM (Tuskegee and Auburn) and a Diplomate in small animal internal medicine. While at Tuskegee and Auburn, there were many faculty that assisted my effortstoward tenure, promotion, and Board-certification. We were a team.

Photo: Dr. Smith-Carr, far left, attends a Diversity and Equity Conference at the Florida State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Photo courtesy of Dr. Smith-Carr.

Another challenge, not previously mentioned, was gaining the confidence of veterinary students for whom I taught. I am not sure whether it was my personality, method of classroom teaching or both that made the students uncomfortable. Students seemed more intimidated by me during lectures but found me more approachable on small animal internal medicine rotation.
You’ve been a member of the ACVIM for nearly 25 years. How have you seen the organization and the profession itself change over that time? 

The biggest change in the organization is the increase in women in the organization and those that are taking over leadership roles in ACVIM. There has been an increase in the numbers of Diplomates in each specialty and recently an increase in the specialties. Also, there is an increase in the number of specialists in private practice vs academia.

The profession has also seen changes in the number of women vs men graduates from veterinary college. There has been an increase in the number of veterinary colleges along with a change in the structure of programs. Still opportunities for everyone have not been equal in the profession which may be the limiting step for the organization. Recently the pool of applicants seeking internships from U.S. schools has decreased. This also has some impact on those seeking residency. 

How would you like to see the ACVIM and the profession improve or change in the future? 

I would like to see both ACVIM and the profession perform more outreach to high school and elementary school students, especially underrepresented minority schools. This early outreach would be beneficial to introduce veterinary specialty as a career goal. I would also like to see ACVIM and the profession work more on discovering methods to improve work life balance. The main emphasis is on should always be on service and professional excellence. However, I do not think this should be at the expense of a personal life (church, family, etc.). I would like to see some presentations during the Forum that addresses this topic. We are our own worst enemy in presenting what veterinary students see as the life of a specialist and choose not to go that route. Lastly, I would like to see more discussions on diversity and equity.  We all are diverse and need help of improving, supporting and interacting with each other despite our differences.


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