From people to animals, clients to patients, and colleagues to students, Dr. Stacy Eckman touches the lives of many through her work at the Texas A&M; College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM). To many she is a doctor, a teacher, and a mentor. She currently works as a clinical assistant professor in both small animal primary care and emergency services at the Small Animal Hospital. There, Eckman splits her time between routine care and emergency medicine, depending on where she is needed.
“In primary care, we try to make it as close to a regular, general practice as would be found outside of the university. We do a lot of routine wellness and healthcare, as well as acute injury and illness,” she said. “In the ER, it’s whatever comes in the door.”
In addition to balancing her attention between the distinctive worlds of primary care and the ER, Eckman also teaches veterinary students and interns in clinical and classroom settings. This level of multitasking can be a challenge, but it is something in which Eckman excels. In fact, she flourishes at this level of multitasking. Her versatility makes her an asset as both a veterinarian and a professor.
Life Before the CVM
Before Eckman plunged into the world of veterinary academia, she was no different than many aspiring veterinarians. She loved animals and dreamt of one day being able to help them by becoming a veterinarian. “I have a similar story to everybody else,” she said. “When I was a little kid, I loved cats and dogs. In particular, I loved cows.”
Growing up, Eckman wanted to be a large animal veterinarian specializing in cattle. Sadly, she was discouraged from pursuing her dream. She said, “I thought I always wanted to be a veterinarian, and I went to career day in high school and the veterinarian there said, ‘It’s terrible. It’s all this work, and it’s math and science. It’s a terrible profession,'” she said. “I thought, ‘Wow, maybe I should do something else.'”
Eckman took that conversation to heart. Dissuaded from her dream of becoming a veterinarian, she eventually attended Texas A&M; University as a civil engineering major. However, her dreams would not die so easily.
During a trip to her hometown, Eckman was helping a friend with her show steer when she realized that working with animals was what she really loved. “I just thought, ‘This is what I want to do,'” she said.
When she got back to Texas A&M;, Eckman headed to the CVM and met with Dr. William “Bill” Banks to discuss changing majors to biomedical sciences. “He sat me down and talked to me about what my goals were, and he said, ‘I think we can help you.'”
An Aggie through and through, Eckman ended up attending veterinary school at the CVM. “I drink the Kool-Aid for sure,” she joked, while wearing Aggie maroon scrubs.
“Since I was growing up and going through veterinary school, I was going to own my own practice in small-town America, and that’s what I was going to do the rest of my life,” Eckman said. “The reality of it is, the more time that I spend teaching, the more I really enjoy the other side of medicine, or the other side of what academia has to offer. So, it’s definitely been a trajectory that I never envisioned, but it has evolved into the plan.”
From Private Practice to the CVM
After graduating, Eckman began practicing small animal medicine in Corpus Christi, Texas. Although she wasn’t working on cattle as she had intended, she discovered her love of small animal medicine.
For four years, Eckman and Daniel, her husband and a fellow veterinarian, worked at competing practices in Corpus Christi. The two later joined together and purchased a small animal practice, where they worked for six years. Although working in private practice was rewarding for the couple, it was also difficult.
“Not a day went by that I didn’t enjoy private practice,” Eckman said. “People always ask me why I came back to the CVM if I enjoyed private practice so much. For us it was a quality-of-life issue. Because we were co-owners, we were the only two veterinarians there, we had a young family, so one of us was always at work.”
Initially, Eckman was hesitant to leave private practice. She loved the personal relationship that she developed with her clients, but she found that working at the CVM still allowed her to develop such relationships with her pupils and clients. Not only does she get to see her patients grow up from being puppies and kittens, but she also gets to see her students grow.
As she began to explore professional options, Eckman remembered how much she enjoyed teaching anatomy in veterinary school. So, she applied for a position at the CVM in the ER. From there, her career flourished.
“To me, it’s the best of both worlds,” she said. “I still have the patients and clients, but then I also get to teach students.”
Mentoring Students and Involvement in the CVM
As a mentor and teacher to first- through fourth-year veterinary students, Eckman now has the perspective of seeing students transform from starting veterinary school to entering the veterinary profession. She teaches a correlates course to the first- and third-year students, as well as a preventative care and wellness elective and communications to third-year students. Then, she guides the fourth-year students during clinical rotations. Both ER and primary care are required rotations for veterinary students, allowing Eckman to help mentor all the fourth-year students.
“Mentoring is one of the reasons why I came back-to see that light-bulb moment when it all comes together in the students’ mind,” Eckman said. “It’s really fun to see them come in as first-year students, when they don’t have a lot of confidence or opportunities to talk to clients. But I love to see how they evolve in their fourth year, and even as their fourth year progresses, they gain so much confidence in themselves and in their ability to communicate. It’s fun to watch.”
Through her role as veterinarian in the primary care service, Eckman mentors fourth-year veterinary students who are practicing their clinical skills and preparing to enter the profession. “We’re there for support, but we want them to truly be the doctors,” she said. “They can spread their wings and make a decision about something but still have the luxury of referring back to us and asking, ‘Is that OK? Should I do that?'”
The cases students see in primary care are a learning experience. “We try to make it the best example possible for the students, to show them that this is what it’s going to be like when they get out,” Eckman said. “We start seeing appointments at 8 a.m., then we take a break in the middle of the day for rounds to discuss the cases and specific topics. We continue to see appointments until about 5:30 or 6:00, and that’s kind of our typical day in primary care.”
On the other hand, the ER rotation can be much higher stakes, and students are watched closely by supervisors, such as Eckman, so that the patients receive the best possible care.
“We are highly invested in the students’ education, and I think that’s really, really important,” she said. “I think we, as faculty, take great pride in the fact that they’re getting a degree from Texas A&M;, and there’s a lot of weight that goes behind that. It’s more of a family atmosphere. We’re all in this together, and we can all move forward together.”
To further ensure that students receive a quality education, Eckman is involved in administration. Currently, Eckman is involved in the selections committee and the committee on expanding class size. “The administrative piece is interesting. There’s different aspects of it that I find just as interesting as the teaching and practicing,” she said.
For Eckman, the future is now, and that means continuing to do what she is doing. The descriptors she’s earned-teacher, mentor, doctor-are ones that she hopes will stick with her for a long time.
The CVM’s Primary Care Service provides routine medical care, including regular evaluations, sick care, treatment of minor emergencies, and senior care. It is a core service of the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) and focuses on providing the best and most well-rounded care for pets along with practical experience for our fourth-year veterinary students.
The Emergency and Critical Care Service is a fully functional service with the capabilities of the entire hospital and has a veterinarian and support staff in the hospital to receive patients 24 hours a day. The service provides ongoing care for critically ill or injured pets, as well as those recovering from surgery. The emergency service also provides immediate initial evaluation, stabilization, and treatment for ill or injured pets.