Dr. Matthew Brunke

"I'm Done!"

Dec 13, 2019
"I remember graduating from RUSVM in 2004 and thinking, "This is awesome, I'm a veterinarian. I'm done!"

It had been a lifelong dream to become a DVM and I had achieved it. I had a job in a mixed animal practice in upstate NY with a classmate and friend (shout out to Bryan Dubynsky ’04) and was enjoying being a veterinarian. In the first 4 years of my career, I did C-sections on nine different species (dogs, cats, horses, cows, sheep, goats, rabbits, guinea pigs, and a hamster). I was putting every facet of what I had learned at Ross [University School of Veterinary Medicine] to work every day. I had reached the goal I set for myself at the age of 5. I seriously thought I was done. Oh, how wrong I was.

I kept craving knowledge. Having done a lot of extracapsular repairs and then having some patients not getting back to full activity, I started to look around for ways to help. In human medicine that patient would have physical therapy; is that available for my patients? Nothing in the textbooks about it, so off to PubMed—a few articles on the subject, and a training course available through the University of Tennessee. I pitched the idea to my boss but was told. “No. Animals don’t need that, and we have too much work as it is; you can’t have the time off.”

So I changed jobs. I found a small animal practice that already had two rehab-certified licensed vet techs and was doing TPLOs. I joined that team in 2008 and took the UT CCRP rehab course (UTVetCE.com), the AO Fracture Management course, and the Slocum TPLO course all in the first 12 months. My head was swimming in new knowledge and ways to help my patients. I had great team members, brilliant, compassionate technicians, helpful mentors to bounce ideas off of, and a caseload to keep me busy.

I liked this new field so much, I told everyone about it. When I emailed Dr. Spackman, she had me present “the basics of veterinary rehab” to the 6th (and 5th and 7th) semester classes in November 2008 at the reunion. I had never given a major presentation before and was nervous. Having a whole bunch of my classmates roll in at 9am for a lecture on their vacation was some of the best support ever. (Thanks Colleen Mullally ’04, JadeHuynh ’04, Amy Lipnicki ’04, Javier Gonzalez ’04, Andrea Kitson-Keller ’04, Carlos and Gilbert Cintron ’04!) And again, I thought I was done.

Cool, I had learned more stuff. I was done. And I was still wrong.

There were new pain management techniques to learn, because not every dog got better on an NSAID. So I did the CVPP program through the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (IVAPM.org) in 2012. And some patients didn’t respond to Western Medicine, so I learned Traditional Chinese Vet Med techniques (acupuncture) through the Chi Institute (TCVM.com) in 2013. I started attending national and international meetings on rehabilitation and physical therapy (IAVRPT.org) to collaborate with colleagues from five other continents on how to help our patients.

A fellow Rossie (Jill Zager ’05) asked me to help with organizing our regional vet med society’s continuing education. Jill and I had worked together at three different practices and complement each other well. We would brainstorm CE topics, and try to find fellow Rossies (Micah Bishop ’05) or other friends to come and present for our monthly meetings. Very quickly we had booked every month of the year. This allowed us to not only keep current on a variety of topics, but also hang out with people we liked!

During this time, I kept learning from amazing colleagues and just trying to pay it forward. In 2014, I was asked to become faculty for the CCRP course and also started speaking at local, state, and national conferences on rehab. I found it rewarding to work with other practitioners to help them learn and understand how to put these post-graduate skills into place for their practices and patients. One veterinarian cannot see every animal, but if we work as a team, we can help a lot more.

This time I knew I wasn’t done. I had learned my lesson. The learning never stops.

In 2014, while working full time as a rehab doctor (thanks James Keller ’02 and Andi Keller ’04), I took courses on regenerative medicine (platelet rich plasma, stem cell therapy) for use in dogs to help manage arthritis and heal from various injuries. I added this to my armament of tools to help my patients.

During that same time, I worked on a career path residency for the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation (VSMR.org). The AVMA had just recognized the field of rehab as a specialty in 2010 and I had the opportunity to become a boarded specialist.

There I was, back learning, shadowing internal medicine, cardiology, nutrition, surgery, anesthesia, and more. Never having done research or published, I was tackling that too. I spent time in negative 60-degree weather drawing blood on sled dogs for my research project. Many a long day was spent seeing patients, writing charts, and then typing up a journal article and doing revisions with my mentor and co-resident via email.

Around this time I realized I might want to leave New York, so I signed up for the ECFVG, crammed large animal knowledge back into my head, and passed that multi-day exam.

With my residency complete, I had the opportunity to join the team at Veterinary Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Group in Maryland. Here I did a fellowship in diagnostic musculoskeletal ultrasound and studied for my board exam. I am so thankful to have passed boards. In theory that’s the last exam I ever have to take.

In order to maintain my Diplomate status, I have to do research, teach, and attend lectures as a student for the rest of my professional career. I am very thankful for that.

This past year, I was invited back to speak at the West Indies Vet Conference and had a great time. While I was there, I got to meet with the student surgery club and help them learn more about rehab and sports medicine. Some of those students are now enrolled in the rehab course and that makes me especially thankful.

I have been honored and humbled to meet absolutely amazing people in this field along the way. I’ve always learned something pressing on, because learning is a two-way street, and the traffic never stops.

My path wasn’t clear when I graduated. It kept twisting and turning. I went with it sometimes. Other times, I hit a dead end. So I would pause, back up, and find a new way. Your way could be more straightforward than mine, or perhaps you haven’t found yours yet. Either way is great because it’s your path. Don’t be afraid to make a change, reach out to a fellow Rossie, and try something new.

Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine does a great job of preparing us, and I am thankful for their support in helping alumni learn about all fields of veterinary medicine.

I’m always happy to pay it forward.

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