Veterinary residents often endure long, challenging days, but Dr. Whitney Hinson is grateful for the opportunity to hone her surgical skills at Texas A&M—and save lives while doing it.
Veterinary residents at the Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital (SAH) spend their days seeing appointments, providing treatments to patients, and communicating with clients. They work long hours and weekends, teaching students while still learning new things every day.
According to Dr. Whitney Hinson, a small animal surgery resident at the SAH, the hard work is worth it, especially when she can make a difference and save an animal’s life.
Veterinary students have the option to go straight to general practice after graduation, but Hinson recommends they consider a rotating internship, to get more training and experience in the first year out of school. Residencies typically last at least three years and allow veterinarians to focus their time on a specialty, similar to human medicine residencies.
“You’re really getting more and more exposure to a variety of cases and how to adapt based on individual patient circumstances,” Hinson said. “I feel like that’s probably the biggest thing with residency. It’s just getting that extra clinical experience, immersing yourself in a specialty, and learning from the experiences of your mentors and peers.”
“We learn to manage complicated cases and develop strategies moving forward to give the best care and outcome possible for all of our patients,” she said. “It’s a daily learning experience.”
As a surgical resident, Hinson’s schedule switches between days receiving patients and days performing surgery.
The surgical caseload at the SAH is diverse—including orthopedic, soft tissue, oncologic, and neurosurgery cases—which is ideal for training surgical residents because it provides exposure to a variety of surgical training in the limited amount of time they have in a residency.
Residents also spend time on call for cases requiring emergency surgery after hours on weekdays and on weekends.
“Exposure to emergency cases and rotating through multiple services in the hospital allows surgery residents to become well-rounded clinicians and not just skilled surgeons,” Hinson said.
Teaching is also a big part of her job as a resident, and Hinson tries to challenge her students to become independent thinkers and problem solvers as soon as possible to prepare for their future.
“Knowing that our students become our referring veterinarians, we also try to encourage a sense of collegiality among them in the hopes that they will always feel comfortable referring patients in the future,” Hinson said.
As she enters her third clinical year of residency, Hinson is now working toward becoming a board-certified specialist, or diplomate, in small animal surgery. She hopes that her training and experience with advanced surgeries will allow her to be a resource for other veterinarians in the future.
Discovering Her Passion
Hinson first considered a career in medicine when she was a teenager, but she quickly realized that she would prefer to treat animals rather than people.
“I wasn’t really drawn to human medicine; I was more drawn to working with animals,” Hinson said. “I used to watch ridiculous amounts of Animal Planet and that also kind of sparked my interest, which developed into a passion, for veterinary medicine.”
After shadowing some veterinarians in her hometown of Statesboro, Georgia, Hinson decided that a veterinary career was the right path for her.
She graduated from veterinary school at the University of Georgia and immediately moved to College Station to begin her veterinary career, first completing a small animal rotating internship and then beginning a four-year residency in small animal surgery.
Her decision to be a surgeon was reaffirmed when she saw a case involving a Husky in need of complicated lung surgery. After considering many different treatment options, Hinson explained to the Husky’s owner that the surgery had several possible complications and that the lung condition could return.
Hinson said the Husky’s owner took several hours to think before finally deciding to take the risk with the surgery.
“After surgery, the owner was so happy with her decision and that surgery had been an option for her dog,” Hinson said. “She sent me an email and also sent me a card with the dog’s picture in it one year later saying that he was doing better than ever.
“It’s days like those when I know I made the right choice with what I want to do with my life, and it’s such a good feeling,” she said. “Sometimes you lose a patient, but, thankfully, more often, you save someone’s pet and you give the owners months to years longer with their pet than they would have had otherwise.”
Hinson has not yet decided where she wants to work when her residency is over, but she said she has loved her time at the SAH, largely because of the people.
“Everyone is really welcoming and that’s one of the things that I really love about my program and just about the Texas A&M hospital, in general,” Hinson said. “It’s the friendly dynamic, collegiality, progressive mentality, and collaboration for the greater good of our patients that makes the SAH such an amazing place to train.
“We’re also spoiled,” she said. “We have some of the most state-of-the-art equipment that we get to use to provide the highest level of care to our patients.”
While her future practice location is uncertain, Hinson already plans to see orthopedic, soft tissue, and neurosurgery cases following residency; all three, she says, are challenging and rewarding in their own ways.
“As I get closer to the end of my residency training, I am comforted by the gratifying feeling that I’ve chosen the right career path for me,” Hinson said. “Despite the challenges of residency life, I can honestly say I’m thankful for every day of my residency and am grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given to do what I love.”
This story originally appeared in the Fall 2019 edition of CVM Today.
Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of CVMBS Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; email@example.com; 979-862-4216