When Ashley Sanfelippo, DVM ‘23, narrowed her career path to veterinary oncology, she was captivated by the bond formed with patients and owners through a sensitive time in their pet's life. With a background studying genetics and biochemistry, her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine (Ross Vet), and recognition as an award-winning oncology student, she now has an opportunity to propel pet cancer treatment and research forward for a disease that impacts dogs and other pets at roughly the same rate as humans (source: AVMA).
DESTINED FOR ROSS VET
For Dr. Sanfelippo, this was a path she set herself on from the moment she enrolled at Ross Vet. “I knew whenever I went to veterinary school that I would combine that with my background in genetics,” she said. She is originally from Dallas, Texas, but was no stranger to Ross Vet and St. Kitts thanks to a family vacation when she was younger. A local cab driver helped her fall in love with the island and although she had not yet started on her path toward veterinary medicine, her burning desire to return to St. Kitts brought her to Ross Vet’s email list for any information about the school.
While pursuing her undergraduate degree in genetics and biochemistry at Texas A&M University, she was considering a career in human medicine at first. But during her sophomore year, she began volunteering at an animal shelter and fell in love with a dog brought in with face lacerations. She instantly became interested in learning how to care for her new friend and shifted focus to pre-veterinary courses and clubs. “I truly fell in love and did not look back.”
With her spot on Ross Vet’s email list still active, she learned about openings to enroll in May 2020. She graduated Texas A&M on a Friday and was enrolled in her first semester at Ross Vet three days later. Her third semester pathology course was the first bridge between her future connecting with her undergraduate degrees, when topics like neoplasia (uncontrolled, abnormal growth of cells or tissues in the body) are learned.
“When we talk about genetics going wrong, it turns to cancer. It’s a sensitive and difficult subject that many people have personal experiences with, so to help clients through the diagnosis and focus on the patient’s quality of life builds a strong bond.”
THE BOB ROSENTHAL ONCOLOGY AWARD
By the time she reached her clinical year at Colorado State University (CSU), Dr. Sanfelippo had advanced her knowledge and affinity for the care of animals with cancer all the way to earning CSU’s Bob Rosenthal Oncology Award. The award recognizes a fourth-year student who demonstrates proficiency in the care of veterinary oncology patients and aptitude in clinical oncology.
“It’s a special feeling because the clinicians who wrote the textbooks on clinical oncology are here at CSU teaching the subject and awarding me with their oncology award,” said Dr. Sanfelippo. “I was grateful to be recognized coming in as a Ross Vet student joining a class that had been here four years and showing we can thrive in rotations.”
After students at Ross Vet complete their preclinical core curriculum in St. Kitts, they spend the next three semesters at one of 29 affiliated AVMA-accredited schools of veterinary medicine in the United States, Canada, Ireland, United Kingdom, or New Zealand. Students spend 45 weeks completing core rotations and a variety of electives and externships to continue gaining exposure to diverse skill sets across various specializations in clinical settings.
Dr. Sanfelippo will complete her rotations at CSU in August and relocate to Walpole, Massachusetts, to begin a small animal rotating internship with Tufts VETS (Veterinary Emergency Treatment and Specialties), a specialty and emergency hospital affiliated with Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Oncology is one of nine specialties Dr. Sanfelippo will rotate through to continue developing her skills in pursuit of a residency position next year.
“Thank you to all the doctors, faculty, specialists, residents, and interns throughout my time at Ross Vet, Colorado State, and externships in Dallas and Houston for
Through all her academic and professional training, Dr. Sanfelippo never lost sight of the heart that motivated her journey to becoming a veterinary oncologist. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, almost half of dogs over 10 years old will develop cancer.
“A lot of people are going to be impacted by cancer, and I think a lot of clients don’t realize there are a lot of options for our canine friends to provide good comfort, support, and relief during their final stages of life,” she said.
Learn more about the clinical year and other programs at Ross Vet here.