Profiles in Leadership is a monthly interview that showcases outstanding leaders and bright minds in the veterinary health profession.

Dr. Wismer is the Medical Director at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center. She is responsible for overseeing medical recommendations made by the veterinary staff. She is also highly involved in lecturing, making media appearances and writing, and she coordinates the APCC’s extern program.

Dr. Wismer earned her undergraduate degree from Ohio’s University of Findlay in 1990 and received her DVM from Purdue University in 1994. In July 2003, she became a Diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology and the American Board of Veterinary Toxicology. Dr. Wismer has written several peer reviewed toxicology articles and book chapters. She is an adjunct instructor at the University of Illinois, previously a visiting professor at St. Matthews University (Cayman), and a consultant for VIN (Veterinary Information Network). Dr. Wismer is also a Master Gardener.

NAVC: Congratulations on being appointed to NAVC’s Veterinary Innovation Council (VIC). The Council focuses on strategic, innovative and industry-wide solutions that will benefit all stakeholders in the animal health industry. What are some of the high impact issues that you want the VIC to know more about?

Dr. Wismer: Student debt is a very important topic that affects not only new graduates but also established veterinarians. As many of us are moving into that ‘thinking of retirement’ phase of our lives, we need the younger generation to be able to have that purchasing power. Also, as millennials are more group-oriented than any other generation, this may be the time to change the individual-practitioner-based practice. Perhaps a model based more on human medicine – one centrally located emergency/critical care practice with multiple satellite ‘healthy pet’ clinics. If everyone had a monetary piece of all the practices, there would not be the issue of ‘stealing clients’ or the need for everyone in the area to buy expensive, yet not used every day, equipment (ventilator, ultrasound, etc.).

NAVC: The services performed by the APCC are extraordinarily beneficial to our profession. We are grateful for the excellent support it provides to help animals exposed to potentially hazardous substances, including providing 24-hour veterinary and diagnostic treatment recommendations by specially trained veterinary toxicologists. Help us understand what was involved in establishing and then maintaining this valuable service.

Dr. Wismer: The Animal Poison Control Center was started at the University of Illinois in 1978. It was mostly focused on large animal and averaged about 1 call per day. The service began to become more well-known and outgrew the University in 1996. It was brought under the ASPCA umbrella at that time. The APCC has grown by leaps and bounds and now receives about 800-1000 calls a day. The focus has also shifted almost exclusively to small animal (dogs 88% of cases, cats 11%). To maintain the center we employ about 23 veterinarians (10 are boarded toxicologists) and about 40 support staff (veterinary assistants and veterinary technicians). Our phone system recognizes veterinary clinic phone numbers and those go into the queue to be answered by a veterinarian. The public calls are triaged by the support staff.

NAVC: Your professional experience began in a small animal practice in Michigan, and later with an emergency practice in South Bend, IN, before you joined the APCC in 1998. What are some of the most valuable experiences from your earlier career that have helped you in your role as APCC’s Medical Director?

Dr. Wismer: My first employer had an amazing way of connecting and communicating with people. As a new graduate I found I had a huge vocabulary and an amazing set of differentials, but not a lot of practical knowledge on how to talk to clients. I learned so much just by watching (OK, eavesdropping!). The emergency clinic helped me to understand how if Plan A doesn’t work, then we can try Plan B or even Plan C. It also taught me to talk directly to my colleagues and to not always believe what the client relayed to me. In one instance I was both the emergency vet that saw the client and also the day time vet (relief vet) that saw them the next day at the clinic. Their interpretation of what I had said the night before was ‘enlightening’ to say the least. I was shocked they didn’t recognize me (in their defense, I had showered and changed my clothes!). All of these communications issues have helped me shape the way I get information from clients, how I let people know what the plan is and what steps we need to take to get there. This helps in both patient care and managing people.

NAVC: Help us understand what professionals need to know about using AnTox™, the APCC’s clinical animal toxicology database system that identifies and characterizes toxic effects of substances in animals. We understand that toxicology education is part of APCC’S mission. How can people reading this interview get more information and help spread the word?

Dr. Wismer: Our database is agent (substance) driven. This allows us to input information about each case (signalment, substance ingested, amount ingested, time frame since ingestion, clinical signs and treatment) and then be able to search to determine what amount can be problematic. We are able to compare similar cases that may have happened years apart to help determine the prognosis and best manner of treatment. Follow up on these cases is very important. The robustness of our database depends upon the referring veterinarian. If you are a veterinarian who receives an email or fax from us wondering about the case outcome, the APCC would love to hear from you.

NAVC: The APCC was the first to discover Lillium and Hemerocallis Spp toxicity in cats, Vitis sp (grapes and raisins) toxicity in dogs, and Macadamia nut toxicities. The Center’s staff wrote the first articles on bromethalin toxicity and helped shape the treatment for many toxins including cholecalciferol, permethrin, and 5-fluorouracil. You’ve published more than 250 articles and book chapters in the last 25 years. Having acknowledged those tremendous contributions, we’d like to know, if time and money were not factors, what innovation, cure or invention would you want to be developed now that would most help veterinarians and pet owners?

Dr. Wismer: Great question! It may take magic instead of money and resources, but I would love to find a way to educate all pet owners about animal care. Many problems that send people to the vet are due to the lack of knowledge about things like preventative diseases or pet proofing their home or even general husbandry in the case of exotic pets. This knowledge can help decrease such heartache and unnecessary animal suffering.

NAVC: The APCC works closely with human poison control centers to provide animal poisoning information. Is there a Zoobiquity-type communication exchange with those centers for human poison control that also informs your work with animals?

Dr. Wismer: We always attend the national conference for the Human Poison Control Centers every year and put on a veterinary symposium. Comparing and contrasting toxicities among species is a hot topic. We are able to provide the information on why acetaminophen causes methemoglobinemia in cats and not in people. It is also important that we attend to see if there are any new treatments performed on the human side that can be incorporated into veterinary medicine (intralipids and cholestyramine being two of the newer things we have pulled from human medicine). The free exchange of information is important for learning.

NAVC: We’re fascinated by the amateur dog racing and AKC coursing that you do with your Borzoi. What fun for you and your pup! How long have you been doing this and what’s involved? And, of course, we want to see a photo of your dog.

Dr. Wismer: One of my co-workers (Karla Smith, DVM) participated in both racing and coursing. She decided to breed her first litter of Borzoi and I wanted a puppy. I have always loved long-nosed dogs and have owned Greyhounds and even a Collie. Ash (FC RiverRun Oxota Fire in the Glen Avalon SC CGC FCh SGRC2) became mine, as I just wanted a companion. When I got her, Karla said “She’ll probably run for you. You’ll have a good time.” What an understatement! Ash has earned her field championship in both AKC coursing and ASFA (American Sighthound Field Association) coursing. Her favorite activity, however, is straight racing (LGRA – Large Gazehound Racing Association). This is like Greyhound racing where they start in boxes and chase a lure. She was actually the number one LGRA Borzoi in the country in 2014 and 2015. Ash is truly a once-in-a-lifetime dog.

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