Katie McGonigle, DVM, MPH, DACVIM-SAIM, is one of the extraordinary puzzle solvers of veterinary medicine… a Board Certified Internist. Part super sleuth, part decipherer, her job is to create a complete picture of a pet’s health issues, by collecting and connecting many pieces of information. It’s a specialty field that involves a roller coaster of intellectual and emotional highs and lows that come from having to diagnose and treat pets with severe, chronic illnesses and complicated conditions.
Her patients may have tails and four legs, but they are as medically complex and challenging as humans who fall ill. With that, Dr. McGonigle treats conditions involving the blood and circulatory system; endocrine system; gastrointestinal tract; the heart; kidneys and bladder; lungs; reproductive organs; respiratory tract; and urogenital system. In many cases, she’s dealing with conditions where several different disease processes are involved.
The white doctor’s coat she wears is more like a superhero’s cape, as she has a remarkable ability to methodically tackle her very difficult work, while offering boundless compassion to the families of the pets in her care. For that reason, “compassion exhaustion” is an inescapable hazard of the job, but Dr. McGonigle’s intense love for her patients and deep appreciation of the human-animal bond are what drive her forward.
Dr. McGonigle is currently one of the 350 veterinary specialists that make up BluePearl Veterinary Partners, a community of hospitals that offer 24/7 specialty and emergency medicine for pets in 14 states across the U.S. She practices Internal Medicine at BluePearl’s Brooklyn, NY hospital. In addition to the critical care services they provide there, Dr. McGonigle and the BluePearl team also work closely with the NYPD and the ASPCA on cases of suspected animal cruelty, neglect, or abandonment.
We had a chance to speak with this Woman You Should Know about her inspiring work and vocation. Check out what she shared.
Women Talk: Questions With Dr. Katie McGonigle
What drew you to veterinary medicine?
KM: A fascination for all animals, which turned into an intense desire to help sick animals and also keep the others healthy and happy! As I reflect on what else continues to draw me to the career, it is the combination of the amazing patients, the medicine, the science and technology, the families, and the other individuals who make this their vocation and share the same passion.
You have lots of impressive initials that follow your name… DVM, MPH, DACVIM-SAIM. What do they all mean?
MPH – Masters in Public Health
DVM – Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine (earned after successfully completing 4 years of veterinary medical school)
DACVIM-SAIM – Diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine – Small Animal Internal Medicine (specialty subgroup. Other subgroups include Cardiology, Neurology, Oncology, and Large Animal Internal Medicine). After attending a 1 year internship in small animal medicine and surgery, THEN 3 years of Residency training, THEN passing 2 rigorous board exams, THEN publishing, AND a bunch of other paperwork … you get to have these letters.
Why did you pursue advanced veterinary training in internalmedicine?
KM: I was a general practitioner for 4 ½ years in a small animal practice that took care of dogs, cats, small mammals, reptiles and birds. It was a wonderful experience. I learned over time that I most enjoyed the medical cases that required chronic follow-up. The diseases that involved the liver, intestines, kidneys, endocrine system, pancreas, immune system, etc. were fascinating and I wanted to know more. I worked with a wonderful Internal Medicine specialist who helped me to work through these cases.
One day, an e-mail was sent out about an open internship position within my company. While I did not apply for that job, I felt the biggest rush at the thought of returning to a teaching environment. After many conversations with my family and friends, and hearing several times, “I knew you would do this,” I started the application process and was accepted into a small animal internship at Garden State Veterinary Specialists, which was the #1 hospital I referred to. It was a wonderful experience and helped me to secure a residency spot at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals.
As an urban vet, what types of animals do you see?
KM: I see only dogs and cats at this job. But there are hospitals in the New York City area that help care for exotics pets – mammals, birds, and reptiles – as well as injured wildlife.
How do you make sense of all the different species you treat? Does that add another layer of complexity on to making a diagnosis, especially in an emergency situation?
KM: Absolutely… the disease processes we see are represented in different frequencies and as different clinical symptoms, in each species. While there are many dynamic vets who take on several species at a time in practice, you will notice many vets focus on a specific area, which can range from food animal to companion animal to zoonotic disease studies.
We are very familiar with the more common disease processes in the dog and cat, however up-to-date resources are critical to providing the best medical care. Text books, journals, search engines, and the internet are referenced just like they are in human medicine. Annual conferences are excellent to learn what is new and what is on the horizon. And for rare disease processes, I will often look at the human literature for information and treatment possibilities.
No matter which species we treat, they are certainly complex. I admire veterinarians across the board for being so versatile at what they do and how much they know! It can be a challenge, but the typical vet has a network of associates and colleagues who will discuss cases to make the best outcome possible!
Much of your work involves critical care, so the challenges must be as great as the rewards. What do you find to be the most difficult parts of what you do?
KM: The most difficult cases are those where the patient appears acutely ill to the client (i.e. only sick within the past 24 hours), but then we find a disease process that has been building for some time. It is shocking to the family, however it is not uncommon for the pet to hide the initial mild clinical signs. It is devastating for all involved and makes the illness, and associated immediate needs of the patient more difficult to understand.