By Dr. Becker
Today, I’m talking with two doctors who work in integrative veterinary medicine at the University of Tennessee. The first is Dr. Donna Raditic, who is a clinical assistant professor at the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Raditic heads up the integrative medicine service and also works in the veterinary nutrition service.
Dr. Danielle Conway is an integrative medicine fellow at the College of Veterinary Medicine, working under Dr. Raditic’s guidance. Some of you may remember that I interviewed Dr. Conway when she was still a veterinary student. Since our chat, she has completed a veterinary internship focusing on nutrition at North Carolina State University, and was then selected to be the first integrative medicine fellow in Dr. Raditic’s new program at the University of Tennessee.
Dr. Raditic actually conceived and designed the fellowship, and it’s quite unique. In fact, it’s the only one like it at this time. The goal of the program is to offer veterinary school graduates additional training with emphasis on holistic and integrative medicine. Danielle was a perfect choice to receive the first fellowship because of her interest in veterinary nutrition.
UT Fellowship Gives New Veterinarians Exposure to Alternative Therapies in a Conventional Setting
Dr. Raditic explains that she looks at the fellowship as an opportunity for a veterinary school graduate to explore alternative and complementary therapies for animals, actually working hands-on with patients to apply some of those treatment modalities. What’s unique about Dr. Raditic’s program is it gives residents and interns exposure to alternative therapies -- but in a conventional veterinary setting. It is the very definition of “integrative medicine” – combining conventional and complementary therapies, bringing the best of both worlds to patient treatment protocols. It gives new veterinarians exposure and hands-on experience so that they can go forward in their careers embracing both approaches in treating patients.
Mercola Healthy Pets has been a proud sponsor of Dr. Raditic’s new fellowship, and we’re excited to continue our relationship and financial support of the program. We feel it gives new graduates an amazing opportunity to gain experience in the integrative modalities and specialties that interest them, while at the same time adding to the number of integrative and holistic veterinarians available in communities across the U.S.
Integrative Medicine Fellows Learn from World-Class Veterinary Experts
Dr. Conway started her fellowship in July of this year. The program is modeled after a standard American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) residency. Danielle says, “I was literally just thrown in the pot with all the other residents and treated like all the other residents.” She went through orientation, the hospital tour, computer system instruction – all of it. Then she got her feet wet in the internal medicine service to get a good sense of workflow, seeing patients, how to use the laboratory system, etc.
Danielle says the really fabulous thing is that she can rotate through all the different services. Any area she thinks she needs a refresher in, she can simply ask, “Can I go spend time with our top-notch veterinary dermatologist?” Or she can ask to work with the university’s world-class veterinary urologist or neurologist. Danielle says she's spoiled because she gets to train with the people who write the textbooks veterinary schools use.
Fortunately, all the departments within the UT veterinary college have embraced Dr. Raditic’s integrative medicine service, as well as the fellowship. She says most of the clinicians weren’t really aware of integrative veterinary medicine or what its practitioners do, so they were more curious about the service than anything else. Many of the clinicians learned about it either through students who were rotating through, or from clients who brought their pets to Dr. Raditic and her team looking for alternatives to traditional treatment protocols. Gradually, a communication flow began between Dr. Raditic and other departments, and the integrative service has grown as a result.
The other services now know they have an in-house resource available to investigate alternative adjunct therapies -- for example, in the area of acupuncture or nutrition -- that may compliment the traditional treatments their patients are receiving. Dr. Raditic feels that as veterinarians, she and her colleagues all desire the same thing -- to deliver the best in veterinary medicine, patient care, and client care.
Dr. Conway Discusses One of Her Most Memorable Cases as a New Veterinarian
Dr. Conway and I share a passion -- animal nutrition. I asked her what her plans are when she completes her two-year fellowship with Dr. Raditic. Danielle says she wants to find opportunities to advance her nutritional training through the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition. She hopes to become a resident in that program, which is a wonderful goal.
Next, I asked her to talk a little about how it feels to be a new veterinarian, and the overwhelming responsibility of holding an animal’s life in her hands. One of the cases she worked on at North Carolina State jumped immediately to her mind. A woman with a service dog she depends on to get through each day brought the dog in to Dr. Conway. She had already seen several other veterinary specialists in the area who hadn’t been able to help. Danielle thought to herself, “Here is a dog who has seen seven other specialists already. I’ve been a vet for maybe five minutes, and now I’ve got to figure this out. No pressure!”
The dog came in as an emergency around 10:00 or 11:00pm, along with her very sweet owner, and the owner’s mom. The dog had been diagnosed with an immune-mediated condition called masticatory myositis (MM) (which involves muscles in the head), and it was preventing him from being able to open his mouth. So Dr. Conway began examining the dog and getting a history from the owner, while also involving an intern who was working with her that night. And Danielle began to think that the dog’s MM might not be the actual problem. She was at that moment very grateful for the complementary medicine training she had already received in acupuncture and chiropractic, because it added a new dimension to her physical examination of the dog.
Dr. Conway began to do some basic chiropractic manipulations on the dog, paying attention to little subtleties that veterinary students don’t learn about in conventional vet medicine training. She realized there was something going on with the dog’s larynx. She thought to herself, “It’s stuck. It’s just not right.” And she remembers telling the owner that the dog would need to be transferred to internal medicine the following day, where he could get a computerized tomography (CT) scan. In the meantime, she would put him on pain meds and fluids until the CT scan could be done.
Danielle knew she had to write a complete history of what she did and what she thought was going on with the dog to send to the internal medicine department the next day. She also somewhat timidly called the resident of the other department to explain there would be a dog coming over with diagnosed masticatory myositis, but that she (Danielle) suspected the problem was some sort of abscess or tumor of the larynx instead.
Complementary Therapies Demonstrate the Importance of Physical Examinations in Diagnosing Patients
When Dr. Conway came to work the following night, her intern came running to find her and said, “You have to come see this dog” (the service dog). They went to see the dog, who had suffered a ruptured larynx earlier in the day due to an abscess.
Not only was Danielle able to accurately diagnose the dog, she was also able to treat him successfully with aromatics. He recovered and went back to service dog work for his owner.
That’s a great case for a new veterinarian like Dr. Conway to have early in her career, and it shows the power of using our hands in making a diagnosis. She didn’t actually need a CT scan or MRI (though we always want to use diagnostic tests to confirm a suspected diagnosis).
Dr. Raditic remembers back when she was in school at Cornell University, there was a large animal clinician who was very highly respected. In the courses he taught, he always stressed the importance of physical examinations, and how it’s possible to diagnose so many things by putting your hands on an animal, palpating, touching.
At the time, Dr. Raditic was in love with all the high-tech diagnostic equipment, but the older doctor’s wisdom stuck with her. Later, when she was learning complementary therapies involving touch, like acupuncture, chiropractic and massage, she realized how right he’d been and how valuable a thorough physical examination can be. These days, she tells students during physical exams, “You should try to predict what you’re going to find in a CT, predict what you’re going to find in an MRI.”
Dr. Raditic feels these are important skills veterinarians learn in the practice of complementary care. It’s almost going full circle back to the days before CT scans and MRIs existed. Those are great tools to use to verify, and they’ve become vital to the world of veterinary medicine. But she feels veterinarians should still do good physical exams – really put their hands on their patients.
Stay tuned tomorrow for the conclusion of my interview with Dr. Raditic and Dr. Conway.
How You Can Help
I’m excited to announce that now through November 9, 2014, all your donations to help fund an ongoing integrative veterinary medicine fellowship at the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine will be automatically doubled. For every $1 you donate, Mercola Healthy Pets will donate an additional $1, up to $50,000. So please, take a moment right now make a donation to the fellowship program.
When you reach the Give to UTIA page, you’ll need to click the button for “I want to see other giving options” and type in Integrative Medicine in the box. Thank you!