Problem-solving, confidence, and care. All things veterinarians have in common, but for Bianca Ortolani, they are critical to success in practice. As an associate veterinary in Waltham, Massachusetts at Kindness Animal Hospital, Dr. Ortolani focuses on healthy pet visits part-time at the clinic.
We caught up with Dr. Ortolani during a day off and talked about cats, dogs, and veterinary medicine!
When did you first know you wanted to be a veterinarian, and what triggered your interest?
I was in elementary school and I would watch my dad play softball with my siblings. During one game, we noticed that there was a stray dog around the ball field. We didn’t know where his owner was. Some of the neighborhood kids around the ball field were taunting him, so he kept running in and out of the street. Unexpectedly, a pickup truck came down the street and ran over the dog.
I remember people approaching and trying to help save the dog. A lightbulb went off, and I knew I wanted to help animals. I always thought I might want to do emergency medicine because of that experience, but I’ve found I enjoy working in general medicine to help keep animals healthy first and foremost.
Any special areas of interest in terms of practice?
I always anticipate seeing healthy animals, but it’s exciting when I have the opportunity to solve a problem, and as any veterinarian would, and it’s usually with limited information. When an owner is explaining what’s been going on with their animal – if they’re able to relay information to pinpoint a specific condition or alert a larger issue, then we’re able to act immediately to run diagnostics, usually, blood work and/or X-rays to start, to find more answers. If there’s renal disease or diabetes, we can detect it right then and there and start treatment. Also running wellness bloodwork as animals age can help identify early conditions that would have been overlooked as a small change in the animal’s personality or behavior that had gone unnoticed.
From graduating vet school to now, is your career what you thought it would be? What was your transition like from vet tech to DVM?
It is exactly what I wanted it to be. I enjoy meeting new pet owners, as well as seeing long term clients with their pets as they grow up. What I enjoy most about patient visits is when the animal likes coming to the clinic because the dog or cat is just an affectionate and friendly pet. When there are fearful animals, we work with them to make them and their owners are as comfortable as possible, using rewards, or if needed, postponing their visits so we can effectively use pre-medication to help reduce their anxiety in the clinic. Years ago, I never would have imagined the need to reduce fear in vet visits and the initiative so many veterinary practices are taking and I’m on board with the hopes to make every patient and their owner’s visit more comfortable!
I worked as a technician for over three years, it felt like a pretty easy transition, because I had the amazing opportunity to work at several clinics and volunteer with so many veterinarians and this helped shape me into the vet I am today. I had some excellent mentors, even though they didn’t all know it. The biggest challenge was the incredible responsibility that veterinarians have. Both techs and vets are in it together as far as taking care of pets and their people. It is a team effort and I have been a technician, I appreciate them a whole lot more than they’ll know regardless of the many thank yous. Shadowing these veterinarians in large and small animal medicine drove my interest and career even further. This is why I was disappointed when realizing just how difficult it was to get into vet school, not that I expected it to be a piece of cake. After moving back from NC and considering a career change to nursing, I continued as a technician and then I met a Ross University veterinarian. I hadn’t known much about Ross University. And with acceptance, I got my chance to go to vet school, and as you’d expect, it was hard! And I believe everything happens for a reason.
What’s one thing about being a vet that you love that has surprised you?
My confidence has grown over the years, but despite that, you can’t let anyone see that or they can doubt you. You can still doubt yourself or wonder what more you could do or have done for a patient. But you have to realize you can’t help every pet the way you’re supposed to. There are many obstacles from the owner’s willingness to treat their pet, to having to refer an animal because they need more advanced diagnostics or overnight care. It’s important to stay open-minded about one case which can be tricky when you’re scooting from appointment to appointment. Also, there are many ways to treat an animal and there isn’t one right way or only one way to approach a case. Another thing I’ve learned along the way is the benefit of working with other veterinarians in your practice. Having great colleagues as I do means better care for your patients.
Tell us about a memorable case that you’ve had.
In my current practice, we had a Tortie cat that was brought in for humane euthanasia, because the owner had reached out to others to try to rehome her and shelters about surrendering her, and the owner didn’t have the resources to support her anymore. This cat had some medical issues that just needed to be managed. No one wants to euthanize a friendly cat, ever. Fortunately, our clinic was able to take her as our clinic cat and I am happy to say that our Tortie cat has been living happily at our practice with a lot of medical support and attention. The technicians are committed to giving her medicated baths and treating her urinary tract infections. It was one situation that turned out for the best and she has been a very pleasant memory.
What is a general misconception about practicing as a DVM?
It’s challenging when pet owners or clients don’t believe diseases or conditions exist in their animals or if they do, expect you to know what is going on with their animal without using diagnostics. As a clinician, I rely on blood work or other diagnostics to detect underlying disease or a specific condition, just like any human doctor. I recommend a treatment plan for an animal, so we know how to properly and successfully treat some conditions, and also to help them live comfortably. When pet owners ignore a treatment recommendation, it’s a struggle, not just for us but for their animals. It’s about helping pet owners realize that more might be going on with their pets and since they can’t tell us. We need further evaluation for the best interest of their pet.
Dr. Google is also a tricky competitor. On occasion, we have pet owners who believe what they’ve read about a specific condition, treatment, or supplement is the best for their pet, and saved them a dreaded trip and expense to the vet. People believe that the information they’ve obtained from an online source is safe and they often don’t believe a veterinarian if a contradiction is made. For instance, if a pet has anxiety or arthritis, many owners want to use CBD as a treatment instead of coming to their veterinarian to see if there’s something proven to be effective and safe. CBD is being currently being studied for its safety and efficacy, but until we have further information, it’s not what I recommend as a first-line treatment when we have more effective treatments for arthritis and anxiety in pets. I am not saying it’s not useful, I also use Google! But as readers, you have to take it with a grain of salt, and as veterinarians, we have to recommend evidence-based medicine.
What’s your favorite thing about coming to work?
Well, there are a few things. Every day is different! Yes, there might be five ear infection appointments, but when an appointment is booked for a specific complaint, it doesn’t mean that the outcome of that appointment will be just that and I feel those cases keep each day interesting. Even though your patient walks out the door, they stick with you and you learn to love your patients just as their owners do, so you want to do as much as you can for them. Most importantly though is your team and our team cares for every animal and their owners. Your job is your life and you get a second family when you go to work.
What do you think makes for a healthy veterinarian, and do you feel like a healthy veterinarian?
As much as we veterinarians commit our lives to work because it’s our passion, we also have to make time for ourselves and our families and friends. We need support from our family and friends, and we need support from our work family. Luckily, I have that support. I have excellent colleagues that have a lot of experience and willingness to help. I have a close family including my husband, children, and friends that are there to listen and support me any way they can. It also means taking care of yourself with regular check-ups, exercise, and just good self-care.