Dr. Eller works as a Field Shelter Veterinarian for ASPCA Field Investigations and Response. She also works in the Veterinary Forensics Field.
Dr. Eller has been involved in animal welfare almost her whole life. After running her own equine practice for 13 years, Dr. Eller now works in the Veterinary Forensics field as a Field Shelter Veterinarian. Recently she began working towards her Master’s degree in Veterinary Forensics through the University of Florida. A Field Shelter Veterinarian works closely with law enforcement and animal investigation teams to provide veterinary care to animal victims in both natural disasters and large-scale cruelty cases.
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Name, veterinary school attended, and year that you started.
Nicole Eller, DVM, University of MN, 1995
Field Shelter Veterinarian for ASPCA Field Investigations and Response
What was your major in undergraduate college?
I was a little scattered. I started in music/theater at Sarah Lawrence College, received my BA in English and Anthropology from Macalester College, and then did my pre-vet at UW-Stevens Point.
At what age did you first apply to vet school?
I was 27
How many schools did you apply to?
How many application cycles did you apply to, before being accepted?
I got in the first time.
Do you remember any specifically challenging interview questions?
Oh boy, that was over 20 years ago! I don’t remember specific questions.
What was your GPA (in undergraduate)?
4.0 for my BA, 3.85 for my pre-vet.
What was your GRE score? GRE at Magoosh.com!
That, I really don’t remember!
Did you attend grad school?
No, not before vet school only after to get my Master’s in Veterinary Forensics.
Did you have large and small animal experience prior to applying to veterinary school?
Yes, as well as avian and wildlife.
How many extracurricular activities did you list on your application?
Not many – I was kind of past that stage
What types of paying jobs did you have before going to veterinary school?
Hmmm….I taught English in Finland for a year, and also worked with disabled children. I also spent a lot of time waiting tables. Then in pre-vet, I got a great work-study job in the biology department working in both the greenhouses and in the aviary. We had a small breeding project for endangered Venezualan Black-hooded Red Siskins.
How many people read your personal statement before submitting it?
Four. My mom and dad, sister and my aunt’s husband, who is a vet (and who didn’t think I would get in…).
Did you volunteer? If so, where?
Yes, I did a lot of volunteer work, and still, do. I volunteer(ed) mostly at humane societies and rescues, but also at wildlife rehab centers, zoos, the Raptor Center, International Crane Foundation, and Planned Parenthood.
When did you decide to become a vet?
I was working at a humane society and had been for almost 3 years after graduating from college and returning from teaching in Finland. I remember clearly, I was cleaning cat cages and contemplating why people wouldn’t listen to our pleas about spay/neuter, etc…I looked over at my co-worker and said, “I think I’m going to go to vet school…” hoping that DVM would cause people to hear what I was saying!
Did you interview any vets before starting the application process? If so how did you approach them?
Well, I spoke with my aunt’s husband (had spent a lot of time with him), as well as the vet who worked with the humane society I was at. Fortunately, he was also the president of the MN board at that time, so he was really active and well-informed.
Were you a member of any clubs at your school? If so, which ones?
Because I was a non-traditional student and worked a lot, I didn’t really belong to a lot of clubs in pre-vet.
Did you find the application process stressful? Why or why not?
It was a little stressful since I was already going BACK to school, and I only applied to one vet school. I kind of put all my eggs in one basket!
Are you happy that you chose this career?
I am happy. It has been a long, strange path to get to where I am now (Field Shelter Veterinarian for ASPCA Field Investigations and Response), but I really feel that I am where I am supposed to be. I can make a difference for animals and sometimes people on a daily basis. It is an amazing honor to do what I do.
Do you have any advice for students, once accepted?
Be open to everything in front of you! You may go in thinking you will be a small animal practitioner, but there are so many paths to choose and so many places in the world where our skills are needed.
Any study tips?
Get lots of tissues… I spent a lot of time crying! haha
Have there been any classes, within your DVM program that were especially relatable to your current position, in Veterinary Forensics?
No! But I think a lot of vet schools are now adding courses in welfare, shelter medicine, and veterinary forensics.
What was the most challenging class, in your DVM program?
For me, it was the Small Animal Medicine rotation because by that time I was already very equine-focused. A classmate had to drag me kicking and screaming through that rotation!
As a Doctor, have there been any particular cases that were your favorite?
Oh man, there have been a lot. Every day I learn something new. I loved foaling mares in my private equine practice. Now I love pulling animals out of horrible situations and helping them to blossom into the loving, beautiful creatures they are so they can go on to live a happy, healthy life.
Do you have a specialty or are you working towards one?
I was a solo equine practitioner for many years, so that was my focus. I am in the process of completing a Master’s in Veterinary Forensics, and am doing a lot of “learning on the job,” but I do not have a specialty.
What has been your most challenging case?
Each case brings unique challenges, some huge (working with the ASPCA to rescue nearly 700 animals animals living in deplorable conditions at an unlicensed, self-described animal rescue facility) and some tiny (a kitten dying of gangrene from being stuck to a metal water tank in sub-zero temps—and amputating two of his feet by myself late on a Friday…Yes, he survived and is the KING of his castle).
Do you frequently have to research cases, on off hours?
All the time…what are off hours?!
What does a typical day (or week) look like for you working as a Field Shelter Veterinarian as a Veterinary Forensic Doctor?
There is no “typical week”! Last week I went from testifying in court to presenting at a veterinary conference, and back to court again for rebuttal! After that, I went to our temporary shelter for a couple of days to catch up on how the animals and responders there are doing. This week I got a couple days at home, and then fly out to conduct forensic exams on animals in a new case. The end of September and beginning of October were spent on USVI St. Croix assessing the effect of Hurricane Maria on the animals the island.
In addition to traveling, I am often working on reports, protocols, and making decisions with referral clinics regarding individual animals in our care. There are meetings…team meetings with Field Investigations and Response to keep us all aware of what our teammates are doing, as well as meetings with different departments. For example, I am also heavily involved in the ASPCA’s organization efforts regarding our increased involvement in the equine community.
We also participate in training, such as the expert witness training held in NYC this past May, and things like slack- and swift-water rescue training. My favorite part of this past year was going to NV and CO to assist with the castration of over 100 wild stallions from a large “wild horse sanctuary” rescue. Wild horses are my true passion.
How much traveling for work do you do?
I travel A LOT! It has consistently been about 75% of my time, which is more than I was originally told at my job interview! After two years, it is beginning to wear on me a little. My team did gain two medical team members this year, though, including another veterinarian, so I am hoping this will help decrease the travel somewhat. This is not a job for the faint-of-heart…
Do you think the field of Veterinary Forensics is a growing one?
Yes, the field of Veterinary Forensics is growing significantly. However, it is still in its infancy, and we still have a LOT of work to do, including much research that will need to be done and peer-reviewed. A great place to start is the International Veterinary Forensic Sciences Association (IVFSA), which holds a very good conference every year!
Have you read or listened to anything worth sharing?
Just re-reading Black Elk Speaks by John G Neihardt
Do you have any last words of wisdom?
Give your time freely—volunteering is the best way to gain experience, meet people, learn about different avenues available to you, and feel good about yourself! There are no negatives to volunteering. If you are interested in volunteering with the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response team, you can learn more here. If you are thinking of a Master’s in Veterinary Forensics you can learn more here.
How can people find you?
I am on FB/Messenger, and my email is Nicole.firstname.lastname@example.org
OTHER IDEAS FOR LIFE AFTER VET SCHOOL
- Interview with a Veterinary Oncologist
- Interview with a NYC house call vet
- Interview with a hospice veterinarian, who started her own nationwide practice
- Interview with a world-renowned speaker who teaches other vets how to be happy