Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Students Lead the Way

Zachary Tooley

SAVMA President Tooley All About Building Community


Zachary Tooley DVMx’23, the newest Student American Veterinary Medical Association (SAVMA) president, says his first passion in life wasn’t veterinary medicine but wrestling. He began the sport in third grade and hadn’t thought much about college until toward the end of high school, and only then did he consider college so he could keep wrestling.

Tooley grew up in Hortonville, Wisconsin, at an equine boarding
and training facility that his parents owned. He always enjoyed biology,
so he majored in the subject while he seized the opportunity to wrestle at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. He soon got involved in the pre-veterinary club and found his true calling — not in wrestling but in veterinary medicine.

Zachary Tooley
Zachary Tooley, Student American Veterinary Medical Association president, holds a puppy for a wellness check.

Not long after that, he started working at Central Animal Hospital in Onalaska, Wisconsin — owned by Douglas Kratt DVM’90, now AVMA immediate past president, and his wife, Kimberly Kratt DVM’00. There, Tooley first became exposed to small animal medicine.

Tooley didn’t get into veterinary college on his first try. That did, however, allow him time to gain experience with more veterinarians and start a master’s program at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

Once he got into the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, Tooley recalls seeing [Doug] Kratt on a career day in his first year. He hadn’t seen his mentor for a few years. This time, Kratt was the incoming AVMA president-elect.

“It was cool to see him step into a leadership position, especially seeing how much he tried to do for his community with support and outreach, and then take that to the next step to give back to the veterinary community,” Tooley said.

Another piece of the puzzle came together for Tooley when a friend start- ed going through the ROTC program, whichishowTooleylearnedaboutthe Army Veterinary Corps. Tooley applied for the Army Health Professional Scholarship Program. In the spring of his first year, he was commissioned into the Army Veterinary Corps as a second lieutenant. After veterinary school, Tooley will complete a rotating externship at one of the Army’s sites and then three years of active duty.

“Take a chance, step up and reach out. There are so many exceptional people in veterinary medicine, and so many of the veterinarians that have come before us would like nothing more than to help us succeed. I would encourage students to follow their interests and don’t hesitate to take the chance on a new experience that might seem intimidating at first. When we see our peers and friends manifest the courage to step up and do something potentially uncomfortable or challenging, it encourages and empowers others to take that chance as well.”

-Zachary Tooley DVMx’23

Another influential moment came when Tooley befriended Marie Bucko DVM’21, who soon became SAVMA president. She encouraged him to pursue a leadership position with SAVMA, which he first did by becoming a member of the SAVMA House of Delegates.

“I feel like the doors kind of got blown wide open,” Tooley said. “I didn’t realize how much lateral movement there was in veterinary medicine. I didn’t know positions in public health were available, the specialties you can get into, or the government side of things, like getting involved in the legislative side of veterinary medicine and helping shape some of the guidelines and policies that protect and grow the profession.”

His goal as SAVMA president is to build excitement for in-person events and what SAVMA is able to accomplish for students. He also hopes to provide more interconnectedness between SAVMA presidents and delegates as well as promote resources and activities that promote good mental health and its importance.

Finally, he wants to encourage others to realize their potential and fill leadership positions, just as his mentors did for him, because the profession needs those people to continue to move it forward.

“I’ve seen how much that I’ve been blessed with because of the community that has invested in me and the leaders who make time for their community. That’s something I really want to try to emulate — to give back to the profession and leaders who have taken a chance on me,” Tooley said. “The outlook is so good for the future. It really is something we should be excited about.”

— By Malinda Larkin. Reproduced with permission of the American Veterinary Medical Association

VBMA Vice President Thurston Delivers Business Knowledge to Peers


During an organization and club fair during his first year of veterinary school, Joseph Thurston DVMx’23 ran into student members of the Veterinary Business Management Association (VBMA). He knew he was interested in the business and ownership aspects of running a veterinary practice one day, so he decided to attend a few meetings. Soon, he found himself heavily involved in the organization and elected to the local chapter’s board at the UW School of Veterinary Medicine.

Fast forward a year, and Thurston now serves as vice president of VBMA’s national board. He was elected to this position after dedicating time and effort to the association at the local level. He remains as passionate about the work that he and his VBMA peers are doing as when he stepped into his first leadership role with the group’s UW chapter.

Joseph Thurston

The student-driven organization is dedicated to advancing the profession by increasing business knowledge, creating networking opportunities, and empowering students to achieve their personal and professional goals.

“This organization is students step-ping up to provide an education to other students,” Thurston says. “That’s what I love about the VBMA. We fill in the gaps often missed in veterinary education.”

The gaps Thurston and his fellow board members aim to fill include how to work at corporate levels of veterinary medicine and manage student loan debt. VBMA chapters at veterinary schools across the country hold regular lectures, workshops, and more to help students with their professional, personal, and academic lives.

The organization even offers a business certificate to those veterinary medical students who want to show future employers they gained additional skills in finance, business management, leadership, and personal and career development.

“The VBMA does a great job of recognizing that veterinary medicine is not solely patient care, though that’s obviously a huge, important part of it,” Thurston says.

“Every pet comes through the door with a person attached to it. Every veterinarian leads in some capacity. Everyone in the veterinary industry is impacted by the wide range of stresses this profession puts on us,” he adds. “So, it’s important that veterinary students are educated in those areas.”

As the national vice president, Thurston is in charge of the group’s day-to-day operations and coordinates with regional leaders. With COVID-19 putting a hold on many of the organization’s in-person activities for the last two years, one of his goals is to increase and expand collaboration between chapters to help students connect with one another.

He encourages potential student members not to be thrown off by the “business” aspect of the organization. He believes that VBMA is for more than just those students who want to run their own practice.

“Whether you’re working with small animals, in research, pathology, or anything, you still need to understand the value you bring to a company or practice,” Thurston emphasizes. “Your financial well-being, your mental well-being, those are all aspects that we provide resources on.”

— By Alisyn Amant

This article appears in the summer 2022 issue of On Call magazine.

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