For some, becoming an equine veterinarian was always their calling. But, for PBEC’s own Dr. Marilyn Connor, 35, a diverse education and a healthy serving of life experience gave her options. Originally hailing from just north of Dallas, TX, Dr. Connor grew up around horses, but initially set her sights on going to medical school to study human medicine. Her undergraduate studies started at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA, before she transferred back to her home state and graduated from Texas A&M University with honors and a Bachelor of Science degree in biomedical science with minors in chemistry and business.
After conducting a Master’s level research project on the effects of social stress on an animal model of multiple sclerosis, Dr. Connor broadened her horizons. She moved to New York City to take time off before attending veterinary school. There she volunteered at a therapeutic riding program and taught riding lessons to children, adults, and veterans with mental and physical disabilities whether from domestic abuse or trauma suffered by combat. Dr. Connor even spent three years as a junior trader at a New York-based hedge fund thanks to her business minor.
Dr. Marilyn Connor. Photo by Erin Gilmore
Ultimately, her love of animals called her back to Texas where the attended four years of veterinary school at Texas A&M.
Here’s the rest of Dr. Connor’s story:
What led you to an internship at PBEC?
It’s optional in veterinary medicine, unlike human medicine where you have to do an internship and then residency in order to get certified. In veterinary medicine, day one you can go out and buy your own clinic if you want or be a solo practitioner or just get a job. I felt to be a good, quality equine vet it was smart to do an internship so I could get those additional hours of mentorship. It’s estimated that an equine internship – because of the high case load and number of hours – you gain anywhere from three to five years of experience. Because I was a nontraditional student with a career before I started vet school and not starting until I was 30, I really wanted to jumpstart my career and get good quickly.
I considered quite a few practices, but met Dr. Swerdlin at an American Association of Equine Practitioners conference in Las Vegas two years ago and he told me about PBEC. Florida was not really on my radar – I wanted to go to California or Colorado — but he invited me to come down for a visit and I went during the spring break of my third year of vet school. I really liked the practice! I thought it was the perfect balance of mentorship and getting to do things as a veterinarian.
One thing that’s nice about PBEC is that we have a full staff of technicians day and night so I knew I wasn’t going to be spending my time feeding horses and cleaning stalls and administering meds that do not require a doctor, which I saw happening to interns at a lot of other practices. Another big motivation for me was that we have so many doctors. During the peak of season, there are roughly 40 doctors here to learn and gain experience from. I was also impressed with the very diverse case load that comes into PBEC. Those are some of the reasons I joined PBEC as an intern in July 2017.
Dr. Marilyn Connor speaking at a Lunch & Learn during the 2018 Winter Equestrian Festival. Photo by Jump Media
What is your experience with horses outside of being a veterinarian?
I like to say that I was riding horses since before I was born. My mom had horses and she rode while she was pregnant with me. When I was eight I got my first horse and rode western, mostly trails, pleasure, and a little bit of barrels, until I was twelve. Then I switched over to do hunters and I did that until I was 16. Then I did hunters and jumpers until I was 18 and left for college. I didn’t have the means to bring a horse with me to school so there was a period of about two years when I was only riding when I would come home.
During my second year of college I got a job at a dressage barn just exercising horses, but I rode some first- and starting second-level dressage horses. Later in college I had a friend who did competitive endurance racing and she had some spare horses that she needed ridden in competition so I did that and it’s something that I stayed with until today. I have just about done it all!
What is your typical day like at PBEC?
One of the things I love about being a vet is that no two days are that typical and they are often very different. First thing in the morning I do treatments, physical exams, things like bandage changes on the hospitalized patients that are living at PBEC. I am transitioning from my intern role to more of an associate, but one thing I still do that is an intern responsibility is the anesthesia for the surgeries taking place at the clinic.
We place intravenous catheters into the horse and make sure they are physically sound to handle anesthesia, give them medication to induce them under anesthesia, do the monitoring, and then recover them after anesthesia, so I stay with them until they are able to stand up and walk back to their stall. I am working on developing my client base, so now I handle going out and seeing call-in appointments for simple things like health certificates or vaccines as well as daytime emergencies such as when people discover their horse has a swollen leg or isn’t eating. I have taken continuing education courses that are specific on dentistry, so I also see a lot of the patients that require dental exams. I am also certified in veterinary chiropractic as well, so that’s another part of my day when people call into the clinic needing that work.
Dr. Marilyn Connor hard at work at PBEC. Photo by Erin Gilmore
What’s your favorite kind of case to work on?
I like so many things about my job. But, I really like helping clients understand nutrition, wellness of their horses, and preventative medicine. I also like working with lameness in horses; diagnosing orthopedic conditions and treating them whether it be through regenerative medicine or traditional steroid injections. Overall, I think it’s really rewarding when you can help clients understand things they can do to prevent their horse from even needing those kind of interventions later on in life.
I also do a lot of the care for the Vinceremos Therapeutic Riding Center and Horses Healing Hearts, which PBEC supports, and I enjoy giving back to causes in a different capacity now as a veterinarian.
What do you enjoy most about working for PBEC?
One of the things I really love about PBEC and what’s unique is the fact that we have so many doctors from different backgrounds and slightly different skill sets. While every doctor essentially operates autonomously within the practice, it is still one big team and I have so many doctors I can call day or night if I am stumped on a case or need assurance that the treatment plan is appropriate. You can always collaborate. We are also so well-equipped with all the latest diagnostic tools and almost every kind of imaging you can imagine including our new Computed Tomography (CT) machine, which very few practices have, as well as top surgeons and regenerative medicine strategies. We have it all at our disposal and I love that diversity of the practice and knowing that anything my client wants, I have access to it.