The Gift of Time and Training

Adam Lepold DVM’21, the first person awarded the Zoe and Lexi Wells Primary Care Internship at UW Veterinary Care, speaks with newfound confidence about his first few months as a veterinary intern.

Having started in the role in May, Lepold’s transition from a veterinarian in training to graduate to intern was “thankfully smooth.” When he learned he was chosen for the internship, he was ecstatic and honored. And now, with two veterinary medical students under his wing, he has added teaching to his duties and loves the role.

Adam Lepold
Adam Lepold

“The students ask great questions. I frame their inquiry in a collaborative way — ‘Let’s look at this problem together. Let’s take a step back, come up with a plan, and check-in with senior faculty,’” he explains. “Teaching is a great way to solidify your own knowledge, but it also empowers the students to figure things out.”

A gift from Deborah Wells and her husband Tom DeBeck, along with a commitment from the teaching hospital, recently established this new primary care advanced training program.

For more than 11 years, Wells and DeBeck have brought their pets to UW Veterinary Care. Their experience as clients inspired the gift. “The first line of defense is the primary care doctor,” says Wells.

“I know veterinary medical school is expensive, and there’s a real need to graduate and start paying off debt, but as a client, I’ve come to understand that internships give new graduates extra time to apply what they’ve been taught,” Wells says. “And they are exposed to more complex cases in the hospital. Those are invaluable experiences. I’ve noticed that the further veterinarians develop their relationships with specialist colleagues, the more confident they are to better diagnose, treat, or know when to make a referral. An adept clinician does save lives!”

After completing the one-year primary care internship program, participants can enter the general practice workforce or apply for further advanced specialty training.

“I personally believe that education makes all the difference, and the more, the better. These vets have to be exceptional and empathetic too. … Advanced education helps them immeasurably.”

Elizabeth Alvarez, clinical assistant professor and section head in Primary Care, is leading the effort to build the next phase of this training program, a two-year primary care residency program at UW Veterinary Care certified through the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP). Completing a residency program, combined with passing a board examination, certifies the trainee as a board-certified veterinary specialist.

The clinic hopes to begin the Zoe and Lexi Wells Primary Care Residency in July 2022.

“There are only about 15 ABVP programs at institutions and practices across the nation, so we are motivated to provide additional opportunities for our early-career veterinarians to pursue this certification,” says Alvarez.

She concurs with Wells’ assessment of the benefits of advanced training.

“Interns and residents benefit from the additional years of mentorship by working with our experienced UW Veterinary Care clinicians, technicians, and staff to strengthen their knowledge and dive deeper on cases with the collaboration and close proximity of the many specialists at our hospital,” Alvarez says.

UW Veterinary Care patient Lexi Wells
Deborah Wells and Tom DeBeck’s dog Lexi.

Wells witnessed the value of this type of teamwork during a visit to UW Veterinary Care with her dog Lexi.

“The vet school operates very much like the Mayo Clinic. It’s quite fascinating,” notes Wells. “I was there with my new puppy, who was not eating, when our Primary Care doctor called a clinician in Small Animal Internal Medicine. In five minutes, they had a diagnosis!”

“Being in a setting where there are so many talented specialists is wonderful — for the patients and the students and interns too,” she adds. “They see firsthand what it takes to gain expertise in a field and how it directly impacts care for their patients and clients.”

For several years, Wells and DeBeck have also supported student awards at the School of Veterinary Medicine’s annual Celebration of Excellence program recognizing the dedication and achievements of students, faculty, and staff.

“Being in a setting where there are so many talented specialists is wonderful — for the patients and the students and interns too. They see firsthand what it takes to gain expertise in a field and how it directly impacts care for their patients and clients.”

“I personally believe that education makes all the difference, and the more, the better,” Wells says. “These vets have to be exceptional and empathetic too. They have to figure out what’s going on because the animals can’t tell them where it hurts. And understanding all the species, breeds, and diseases is quite a challenge. Advanced education helps them immeasurably.”

Lepold can already see how the internship is changing him for the better.

“I am much more well-rounded now. I can handle the routine visits and vaccinations, but I’m also gaining the skills and confidence to manage complicated chronic disease cases. My communication skills are stronger too,” he notes. “Veterinary medicine is such a team effort. Problem-solving with my peers, students, and faculty to give the patient a higher quality of life and maybe avoid hospitalization is rewarding, to say the least.”

Denise Garlow

This article appears in the winter 2021-22 issue of On Call magazine.

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