Specialist returns to WCVM roots

Thirty-one years after graduating from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM), Dr. Gregory Starrak is glad to be back as a new addition to the veterinary college’s faculty.

Dr. Greg Starrak

Medical imaging specialist Dr. Greg Starrak beside the WCVM’s new CT machine. Photo courtesy of Dr. Starrak.

“I always wanted to come back here,” says Starrak, who joined the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences as an associate professor of medical imaging in early April 2012.

“The profession has been really good to me on a lot of different levels, and I felt that by returning to the WCVM I could give back to the profession through teaching.”

Originally from Moose Jaw, Sask., Starrak spent the first 12 years of his veterinary career working in a successful equine practice in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley.

In the early 1990s, he decided that it was time to do something different and gain a new perspective and career. Interested in the use of various diagnostic tools, Starrak was naturally drawn to medical imaging. He eventually obtained a radiology residency at North Carolina State University which was no easy feat — especially after working in general practice for several years.

“I didn’t get the residency after the first time I applied,” says Starrak.

Determined to succeed, he drove down to Seattle from Vancouver one day per week for an entire year to shadow Dr. Chuck Root, a board-certified veterinary radiologist, before re-applying.

“Chuck really helped me out and gave me an impression of what I was looking at down the road,” Starrak says.

Dr. Greg Starrak will give a three-part seminar on thoracic and abdominal imaging at the 2012 June Conference, June 7-9, in Saskatoon, Sask.

Initially, he wanted to specialize in nuclear imaging in horses after finishing his residency. But instead, Starrak had his eyes opened to many other possibilities.

“Imaging is such a diverse field and the modalities have increased exponentially over the 16 years since I finished my residency,” he explains.

While the three-year residency was tough and challenging at times, Starrak really enjoyed it.

“Many of my vet friends thought I was crazy for going back to school, but it was a great decision for me. It was incredibly interesting and invigorating, and it opened up so many opportunities for me. I would encourage anyone to consider doing it, although it was not easy,” he says.

“I especially have to give credit to my wife for supporting a move across the continent with two young children and putting up with a stressed out, middle-aged resident for three years.”

After attaining board certification from the American College of Veterinary Radiology in 1996, Starrak joined the faculty at Cornell University for one year before returning to Vancouver to become the head of diagnostic imaging and a partner at Canada West Veterinary Specialists and Critical Care Hospital (known as Canada West).

When Starrak retired from Canada West in 2010, he worked as a locum veterinarian at Murdoch University in Australia and in the greater Vancouver area. Over the years, he’s also done several locums at the WCVM’s Veterinary Medical Centre.

Nearly two months into his new career in academia, Starrak has found his time at the WCVM very satisfying and has liked working with the college’s students.

“They have a strong work ethic and they’re all pretty smart, too. It keeps me on my toes as a clinician. Sometimes they ask questions where I think, ‘I never thought of that.’ It really helps me to hone my craft and learn things better myself.”

Before Starrak begins co-teaching the various medical imaging courses in the upcoming school year, he’ll have the opportunity to share his expertise at the WCVM’s 2012 June Conference.

His three-part seminar, which will focus on thoracic and abdominal imaging, will be held on June 9.

“Just about everything I discuss will relate to a real clinical case that I’ve seen and dealt with myself,” says Starrak, adding that he hopes to perform a live abdominal ultrasound demonstration during his talk.

“Ultrasound is so different from any other imaging modality. It’s so dynamic and you have to physically acquire the image through your own motions. I want to demonstrate to fellow veterinarians the different techniques and manipulations required to get the image you want.”

Overall, Starrak feels his return to the WCVM has been very positive and enjoys being part of the college’s medical imaging team. “Drs. Pharr, Silver, Tryon and Montgomery are great to work with. They’re all very good radiologists with their individual strengths that, as a whole, I think add up to an extremely good group.”

He adds that he truly values being able to come into work and throw ideas back and forth with the other radiologists.

“In private practice, you’re often making the call entirely on your own. Here it’s much more collaborative. It’s a great group of people and I’m really happy to be here.”

Visit www.wcvm.com/junecon2012 for registration information and to view the conference’s program and speaker biographies.

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