Women's History Month Spotlight: Wendy Vaala, VMD, DACVIM (LAIM)

Mar 11, 2024, 10:35 AM by Krystin Langer



What inspired me to pursue a career in veterinary medicine, particularly in specialty medicine? 

Bedtime stories! My mom read me stories by Thornton Burgess (a conservationist and author of children's books). In his animal-themed stories all the critters had names and personalities. I grew up feeling at-home around animals - domestic and wild. Probably where my strong empathetic side emerged. My love of biology and science seamlessly channeled me to veterinary medicine.  In 5th grade I toured New Bolton Center (LA hospital of Penn Vet School) and became committed to vet medicine with a focus on horses. As a high school senior project I spent 5 weeks shadowing vet students at New Bolton Center. To this day I remember all the details - the faces and names of those students, interns, residents and clinicians I met. So many of those became famous specialists in their fields of medicine, surgery and reproduction. While in vet school I recognized that I was more interested in internal medicine - the diagnostic challenges, identifying the therapeutic options, and willing to take on the acute as well as the chronic cases. An internal medicine specialty was a no-brainier for me. 

Describe your experience in veterinary medicine as one of the early women veterinary specialists.

I always felt at home within the ACVIM - welcomed and supported without regard to gender by my peers and accepted by referring veterinarians and their clients. Establishing a relationship-building communication and respect with referring veterinarians, their clients and the specialist is essential. The medicine department at New Bolton Center, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, was very supportive of my drive to develop an equine neonatal ICU and later a high-risk pregnancy program for mares. My early career memories are some of the best!    

What initiatives would you like to see implemented in the veterinary profession to further increase representation for women veterinarians/specialists?

I think the door has opened regarding gender demographics within our profession as a whole and within internal medicine. I would also like to see a focus on salary gender equity, identify where and why the biggest discrepancies occur, and support programs actively creating game-plans for work schedules for female veterinarians with young children. The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has some great resources for equine vets addressing the 24/7 emergency dilemma. More business courses for vets to help us understand how to market our internal medicine expertise.

What advice would you give to women who are aspiring to pursue a career in veterinary medicine/specialty medicine? 

Go for it! Internists are the core of a practice. We deal with the medical emergencies as well as the chronic care cases and the challenging medical enigmas. Internists can network easily with other specialists to provide bridging care for cardiac, dermatologic, oncologic, ophthalmic etc, cases. The internist is the lynchpin!

Back To Top