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Veterinary surgery life-long calling

Dr. Koji Aoki with his dog Sam. Photo by WCVM Today.

Like many veterinarians, Dr. Koji Aoki always knew what career path he wanted to follow.

However, unlike most other vets, he had two very important mentors throughout his entire life – his mother and father, who are both veterinarians in Fukuoka, Japan.

He grew up surrounded by pets – up to six Chihuahuas at a time – and Aoki’s older brother also became a veterinarian.

Aoki graduated from Nihon University in Japan with a Bachelor of Veterinary Science in 2010.

During his preliminary veterinary training, he was drawn to surgery courses.

“Even before I became a vet, I wanted to be a surgeon,” he says.

After working briefly in private practice in Japan, he completed one year as a research associate at University of California Davis and one year as a surgical fellow at Michigan State University. Next, he finished a small animal medicine and surgery internship at the University of Minnesota.

Aoki is now a small animal surgical resident at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) and was recently selected as the Companion Animal Health Fund (CAHF) Research Fellow for 2017-18.

Funding from this fellowship will assist him as he finishes a combined small animal surgery residency and Master of Veterinary Science degree program under the supervision of Dr. Cindy Shmon, WCVM small animal surgery professor and head of the college’s Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences. He will complete his residency in the summer of 2018.

As part of his fellowship, Aoki will also travel to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons’ Surgery Summit in October 2017. He is hoping to present an abstract detailing his most recent research into the surgical techniques for assessing and treating damage to the stifle joint – the rear “knee” joint – in dogs.

Aoki hopes to focus next on a study evaluating the effectiveness of the Ehmer sling, a supportive bandage that helps dogs after surgery for traumatic hip dislocations.

His supervisors commend Aoki’s attention to detail in his research as well as his skill in teaching and motivating students to succeed.

“In my time as his supervisor, I have been impressed by not only Dr. Aoki’s performance but also his enthusiasm and dedication to his discipline, initiative, professionalism and strong sense of team,” says Shmon.

The life of a veterinary surgical resident is a difficult one – the job is both physically and mentally demanding, with lots of long hours. There are many duties and a lot of stress involved in working and studying as a surgeon.

Aoki deals with the stress by running and is often accompanied by his pit bull Sam.

It’s the satisfaction of fixing complex cases that motivates Aoki to pursue his specialization in surgery.

“Even though I’m tired, [it’s worthwhile] if the patients get better and the clients appreciate the effort,” he says.

It’s this positive feedback from clients that motivates him, knowing that he’s saving lives and making a difference in the future of many beloved pets.


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