A DVM with a Different Career Path
Krista Keller, DVM, an avian and exotic animal veterinary specialist at University Hills Animal Hospital in Denver, CO, always knew she wanted a career where she could help strengthen the human-animal bond. What she didn’t know was that she would be drawn to caring for animals of the nontraditional sort (birds, reptiles, small exotic mammals, fish).
“There’s a huge amount of variety in what I see, which is challenging but also really rewarding,” Dr. Keller says. “I’ve started the day with a toad that isn’t eating, and ended the day working with a falcon. I have been able to work with a black-footed ferret, and most people haven’t ever touched one because of how endangered they are.”
Dr. Keller gives credit to her time spent at RUSVM in discovering a specialty she was passionate about. “A lot of people go into DVM training with blinders on, she says. “They already think they want to be a private practitioner, because that’s all they’ve experienced. But if you go outside your comfort zone to find your passion, chances are you’re going to find something nobody else has a passion for, and you’ll discover different opportunities.”
For Dr. Keller, studying in St. Kitts was her chance to go outside her comfort zone to discover just what kinds of different opportunities could be in store for her.
“I originally applied to [RUSVM] as a backup because I didn’t want to apply to a stateside school twice,” she says. “But looking back, if I had to do it differently, I would have applied only to Ross, because I truly believe I got the best education I could have received. I got to spend my time in a very culturally different place, and I didn’t just learn how to be a vet—I learned how to be an adult, and how to interact with different cultures.”
And with those experiences, Dr. Keller’s interest in nontraditional and exotic animals began to grow.
Life After RUSVM
Dr. Keller completed her clinical year at Tufts University, followed by advanced training in companion animal medicine and surgery during a one-year internship at Louisiana State University (LSU).
“I knew then that I wanted to work with exotics and wildlife, and I also knew I wanted to be board certified,” she says.
After completing her internship at LSU, Dr. Keller enrolled in a three-year advanced training residency program at the University of California, Davis, specializing in companion zoological animal medicine and surgery.
“Companion zoological animals are zoo animals living in people’s homes. I was drawn to that because I have strong feelings about the human-animal bond, and it’s so rewarding to preserve and enhance that bond,” Dr. Keller says. “For example, you might have a family with a 42-year-old parrot that has grown up like a brother to the owners’ daughter, and now the daughter owns it. It’s really a member of the family.”
Following her residency at UC Davis, Dr. Keller prepared to become board certified.
In 2014, she became the first RUSVM graduate to be board certified by the American College of Zoological Medicine—an elite certification that less than 200 veterinarians hold worldwide, and one that Dr. Keller is particularly proud of.
“The certification process is long and laborious, and it took a lot out of me, both mentally and physically,” Dr. Keller recalls. “It doesn’t have a high pass rate, so I was very proud to pass the first time.”
But being designated as a Diplomate of her specialty wasn’t the only way her life had changed since becoming a veterinarian.
The Power of Becoming a Vet
“Once you become a vet, everyone knows you as a vet—people will instantly open up to you as someone who may be able to give some guidance. I’m impressed by how powerful it is as a title. It’s such a powerful statement to say, ‘I’m a veterinarian,’” Dr. Keller says.
She wants the next generation to know just how powerful that statement is, too—a reason why Dr. Keller agreed to be a speaker at RUSVM’s White Coat Ceremony.
“It’s invigorating to speak to students at any level—people who are excited about vet school or in the middle of exams and worried about finals. It brings me back to that original passion, when I was saving every penny and waitressing, trying to get my prerequisites, and it’s invigorating to realize how far I’ve come,” Dr. Keller says.
In an effort to pay it forward, Dr. Keller hopes to further the RUSVM reputation, and help open doors for future veterinarians. “The [RUSVM] alumni ahead of me worked hard to maintain a certain status, especially with accreditation.
It would have been hard for me to get my residency and internship without them preceding me,” she says. “There was a lot of work that was done way before I even thought about vet school, and I want to carry on the tradition and advance the vet profession.”
Luckily for Dr. Keller, she loves the career path she’s chosen, even with the challenges she faces. She admits that she is continuously learning to keep pace with new species and diseases, but wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It doesn’t matter how many years of school you’ve had or how many books you’ve read, there’s always going to be new diseases, so my knowledge base is ever-expanding. I knew it would be a lifelong journey for me. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”