Small animal surgery clicked with Plesman

Dr. Rhea Plesman

Small animal surgery resident Dr. Rhea Plesman was the CAHF research fellow for 2011-12. Photo: Robyn Thrasher.

Dr. Rhea Plesman developed her keen interest in veterinary medicine while growing up on a feedlot operation in Coaldale, Alta.

“I really loved the farm and I wanted to have a career that was related to it,” says the 2008 Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) graduate.

Given her background, Plesman initially intended to focus on bovine medicine. But during her undergraduate studies at the University of Lethbridge, she began working weekends at a mixed animal practice and was introduced to small animal medicine — including surgery.

“I loved going in to watch the vet perform surgery,” she says. “It was the first time I really started to gain an interest in that field of veterinary medicine.”

Still torn between bovine medicine and small animal surgery, Plesman spent the summer between her second and third year at the WCVM working in the college’s Veterinary Medical Centre (VMC).

“That summer I was exposed to many referral-type surgeries in the small animal clinic. I remember seeing my first hemilaminectomy (spinal cord surgery) and thinking, ‘This is so cool!’” she says.

During Plesman’s final year, her involvement in the WCVM’s surgical rotations and a four-week externship at the Veterinary Emergency Clinic and Referral Centre (VEC) in Toronto, Ont., solidified her career choice of small animal surgeon.

After a one-year rotating internship at the VEC, Plesman returned to the WCVM in 2009 to begin a residency in small animal surgery and a Master of Veterinary Science (MVetSc) degree. During her program’s final year in 2011-12, she was selected as the Companion Animal Health Fund’s research fellow.

With a passion for orthopedic surgery, her research project involved identifying radiographic landmarks for evaluating knee instability in dogs following damage to their cranial cruciate ligaments.

“I also enjoy soft tissue surgery and minimally invasive surgical procedures such as laparoscopy and arthroscopy,” says Plesman. “I’d really like to continue working and developing my skills in these areas.”

Plesman, who finished her residency on July 15 and will join the VEC clinical team in Toronto in late July, has found her years spent at the WCVM a valuable experience.

“The VMC has a good surgical case load so the opportunity to see a lot of different surgeries really prepares you for your career,” she says.

“And one of the benefits of the VMC is that it’s not just a referral centre: there’s the private practice and emergency care aspects of it. You see a lot more in addition to the complicated referral cases which makes you a good, well-rounded clinician.”

Robyn Thrasher of Edmonton, Alta., is a third-year veterinary student at the WCVM. Robyn is a WCVM research communications intern as well as a summer student in the WCVM Veterinary Medical Centre during the summer of 2012.

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