Dr. Cook is an Associate Professor of Small Animal Internal Medicine at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
She obtained her veterinary degree at the University of Edinburgh in 1989. Dr. Cook completed an internship in small animal medicine and surgery at North Carolina State University before starting her residency in small animal internal medicine at University of California at Davis. She completed this program in 1994, achieved board certification with the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine in 1994 and with the European College in 1996. She became board certified in Feline Practice in 2013, and recently completed a Post-Grad Certificate in Veterinary Education through the Royal Veterinary College in London.
Dr. Cook owned a referral practice in Virginia for ten years before joining the Texas A&M University faculty in 2007. She is currently co-Chief of the Medicine Section. Her professional interests include endoscopy, endocrinology, gastroenterology and interventional radiology.
We very much appreciate Dr. Cook for serving as Small Animal Medicine Program Chair for our NAVC conference. And congratulations to her for her talk on “Cushing’s: Making the Diagnosis” being selected as 2017 Small Animal Session of the Year!
NAVC: As an Associate Professor, you interact with many students. What concerns do they have as they prepare to enter the profession? What advice do you give them?
Dr. Cook: Many of our students are appropriately concerned about their financial wellbeing, as most of them now graduate with substantial debt. I think some of them also worry about the transition to practice and the responsibilities that go along with that. I don’t have any great advice regarding the debt, except for them to remember the reasons they chose this path, and to seek out the joy that comes with being a member of this amazing profession. Take time to get to know a client; sneak off for a minute to cuddle a kitten; pause to share a funny story with a team-member. I do urge them to take responsibility for their own learning. Great veterinarians are reflective; they are always thinking about their cases and what could have been done differently. We learn and grow when we take the time to identify gaps in our understanding and commit to filling those holes.
NAVC: Among your colleagues and students, what are you known for?
Dr. Cook: This is an interesting question! I think my colleagues know that I am passionate about education and willing to be creative in the classroom. I hope they would also say they trust my judgement and technical skills. The students probably describe me as being exacting: I have high expectations and expect them to give 100% every day. I am also known for my morning rounds discussions, as I try hard to keep things entertaining and will bring in props as needed!
NAVC: With your demanding schedule and other commitments, how do you set boundaries to protect your personal time? What do you do for fun?
Dr. Cook: I love my work but I also love my home life and try very hard to balance those two worlds. As an internist, the clinic day really never ends, so I am pretty ruthless about leaving at a fixed time so that I can enjoy the evening with my husband and our dog and cat. My house officers can reach me by phone if necessary but I try to empower them to make decisions for their patients. I am also very lucky to work in a facility with overnight care and the support of a critical care team, which limits my out-of-hours duties. I do travel regularly, but l limit my trips and only go to places I can get to without changing planes! I don’t have a lot of spare time at the moment as I am working on a masters in veterinary education, but I still bake regularly and always have a novel on the go.
NAVC: You’ve said that students leave vet school with 1% of the knowledge they need to thrive. Tell us more about what you mean by that.
Dr. Cook: We do our best to teach our students enough to get by and not do harm on Day 1, but I am very aware that almost all the knowledge and skills I rely on every day were gained post-graduation. I worry that our students don’t really appreciate the vast amount of information that is simply not covered during vet school, and that they will need to acquire on their own.
As I have grown in confidence as a teacher, my view of this role has shifted. I now focus a lot more on supporting the students’ self-directed learning, and am less concerned with simply transferring factual information from my brain to theirs. It’s a bit like the analogy about giving a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach him to fish and he eats for life. It is my job to model and facilitate life-long learning.
NAVC: If you could have a super power, what would you choose and why?
Dr. Cook: As an internist, I already have an abundance of super powers! But seriously, if I had a magic wand, I would give all my students the gift of life-long curiosity. If you always want to know the how and the why, learning is easy and every new piece of knowledge is a gift. I have some wonderful colleagues here at Texas A&M, and all of them are curious. They may have been specialists for decades, but they still find questions to answer and learn something new every day. That’s a real gift, as work is a pleasure and never a chore.
NAVC: If time and money were no object, what innovation or new approach could revolutionize the way educators currently teach in veterinary schools? What’s the first step toward those concepts become reality?
Dr. Cook: I am a big believer in experiential learning… learning by doing, not by listening; by trial and error, not rote memorization. I would love for us to have virtual-reality simulators, so that students can talk to clients, perform tests, interpret data and make decisions from day one, in a safe, no-risk environment.
The traditional model in which we teach normal anatomy and physiology before we introduce the abnormal is flawed; we need to get students out of the lecture hall and thinking like doctors at the start of their schooling. New information needs to be attached to something – and a simulated patient is ideal – in order to be retained and retrievable. A student who has worked through a simulated GDV can learn a ton of anatomy, physiology and pharmacology in a way that supports deep learning and a proper understanding.
We have an outstanding team here at TAMU that help us create on-line, case-based material for students, so we are making baby steps in this direction.