The Doctor Is In

Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, to learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s website!

An ultrasound machine is used in many check-ups and is usually conducted while the animal is awake. The technology uses high-frequency sound waves to construct images of the organs inside an animal.

Rob Browning is a Veterinary Resident at the San Diego Zoo’s Jennings Center for Veterinary Medicine (JCVM). His residency through the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine is a three year program that provides him with veterinarian experience, advanced training, and other opportunities to further his knowledge in exotic animal medicine and prepare him for board certification. Dr. Browning has always loved animals but in college, he struggled with the decision of whether to become a human physician or a veterinarian. In the end, he was more interested in the wider variety of patients along with the challenges that come with being a vet. He also fell in love with the idea of being able to impact animal conservation in his chosen field. Once Dr. Browning decided on his career path, he began his schooling journey. He first obtained both his undergraduate and masters degrees in biology from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, and then attended Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine. Throughout college, he participated in many internships and externships, as well as volunteered at multiple organizations such as the Cleveland Zoo. Now Dr. Browning is working towards finishing the last part of his schooling, his residency at UC Davis, which has allowed him to work at multiple locations. The first year of his residency was spent at UC Davis, but in his second year he spent time at SeaWorld San Diego and is currently completing the rest of the year at the Zoo. He will then spend part of next year at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. After all of this is done, Dr. Browning will take the board certification exam through the American College of Zoological Medicine and if he passes, he will become a Board Certified Specialist in Zoological Medicine. Dr. Browning is very dedicated to his job and has done amazing work for the Zoo healing many animals in need and we can’t wait to see what his future holds!

Dr. Browning uses these tools to create darts to sedate animals. He loads the syringes with medicine and uses it to tranquilize the animal, so he can transport it to the hospital. The bright red feathers in the photo are attached to the dart and used to help identify where the dart lands.

While working at the San Diego Zoo, Mr. Browning has had the opportunity to work with a variety of species including a wide range of endangered animals. Being able to help out with such a range of species is something he has enjoyed greatly throughout his residency at the Zoo. The Asian elephant, which has a smaller stature and smaller ear size than its African counterpart, is one of Dr. Browning’s favorites. One of his favorite Asian elephant patients, Devi, has recently been receiving treatment for arthritis. Dr. Browning loves any opportunity to go down to Elephant Odyssey at the Zoo and check up on the elephant residents. Dr. Browning also loves a challenge, and flamingos provide just that when trying to insert an endotracheal tube (a tube placed in the windpipe to help a patient breathe). Flamingos are large birds with a specialized beak that tilts at a 130 degree angle, which they use to filter out food in the water. This unique beak shape can definitely be a challenge when trying to anesthetize a flamingo for surgery! While being able to work with animals every day may be fun, Dr. Browning has enjoyed any opportunity to give back to the animals and his profession. 

This is a CT (computed tomography) scanner, which is used to capture images of muscles as opposed to an x-ray which is only adept at capturing images of bone. CT scanners are unique as they show three dimensional slices of the body portrayed in an image. This particular hospital is one of four lucky zoos in the country that have a CT scanner at their facility.

Dr. Browning said that the main reason he decided to become a veterinarian was to help animals. He lives his life motivated by his passion to care for all wildlife, everything ranging from dolphins and snakes, to polar bears and elephants. One of the most memorable projects he has worked on was at the Houston Zoo involving both Asian and African elephants, and the elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV). The EEHV is the leading cause of death in young elephant calves. While at the Houston Zoo, Dr. Browning devoted himself to his work aiming to better the lives of the elephants by investigating shedding detection of the virus. Animal conservation is a top goal and motivator for Dr. Browning and other veterinarians, which is why many staff at the veterinary hospital at the San Diego Zoo also work on conservation projects outside of their work. These conservation projects often involve research and/or fieldwork all over the world!

This is a CT scan image of one of the Zoo’s cougars that came up for a recent check-up.

The path to becoming a veterinarian requires a lot of hard work. The career of a vet offers a unique set of challenges that you don’t get from the human medical field due to just the variety of species with different physiological makeups and needs. There is also an element of surprise, as your daily schedule may change in an instant with a new patient being brought in, so you need to be flexible. Dr. Browning accomplishes this by having a strong foundation of knowledge and building upon that while also inferring what he knows from experience. Before you can become a veterinarian, there are multiple steps to take, one of which includes internships. Internships are important for both experience and getting your foot in the door. At the beginning, Dr. Browning didn’t know where to start, but if you figure out where your resources are you will be able to find these opportunities. He recommends checking out the Association of Zoos and Aquariums job listing website https://www.aza.org/jobs for different opportunities offered at a variety of organizations. Being able to network might also lead to these opportunities. One piece of advice he gave us was to never be afraid to reach out and email people, as it opens you to more opportunities to network. It is good to get work experience at multiple locations to gain a well rounded experience and help get in the door. The job is competitive and requires a lot of dedication, but Dr. Browning and many others continue to strive toward their goals and you can too.  

After a unique and exciting opportunity to meet with a exotic animal veterinarian, the interns pose with Dr. Browning outside of the San Diego Zoo’s Jennings Center for Veterinary Medicine (JCVM).

Dr. Brownings has a very challenging job but the chance to work with animals that require his help is very rewarding to him. With the experience he has been given throughout his residency working for the Zoo, he has not taken the job lightly and has succeeded. His hard work ethic and dedication have allowed him to accomplish a lot throughout his job and he has played a large role in helping animals in and outside of the Zoo. Once he passes the boards he will be able to do what he loves for the rest of his life! Good luck Dr. Browning!

Week Six
Winter Session 2020

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