Aida Vientós-Plotts, DVM, PhD, DACVIM (SAIM)
This is the latest in a series of interviews with veterinary specialists connected to the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM) to share insights, knowledge and expertise about career opportunities, growth and development. Today we hear from ACVIM Diplomate Dr. Aida Vientós-Plotts.
Originally from Puerto Rico, a graduate of Tuskegee University (DVM), Dr. Aida Vientós Plotts completed a rotating internship at Auburn University followed by a small animal internal medicine residency, post-doctoral fellowship and PhD at the University of Missouri (MU). She joined the MU faculty in 2020 and is currently an Assistant Professor of Small Animal Internal Medicine. Dr. Vientós-Plotts is one of the co-founders and currently serves on the board of directors of a non-profit organization, Veterinarians for Puerto Rico. Since its inception in 2017 this organization has facilitated over 16,000 spay/neuters and vaccinated close to 20,000 dogs and cats and continues to spearhead efforts to help tackle the overpopulation of dogs and cats on the Island. While she wears many hats her favorites are mama and wife. When she is not working, she enjoys spending time with her family, traveling and organizing.
1. What inspired you to become a Board-certified veterinary specialist?
I always knew I wanted to be a veterinarian. My father is a veterinarian and my mother a veterinary technician. I was lucky enough to be able to do every single job in a veterinary clinic, including cleaning cages, answering phones, assisting in surgery ... you name it I did it. That exposure made me love veterinary medicine, but deep down I knew I wanted to do more than general practice, I wanted to dive deeper, really think about why something was happening. Towards the end of my second year of vet school I realized that my love for complex case management and the need for a deeper understanding of physiology pointed straight towards internal medicine.
2. Are there any resources or pieces of advice that helped you along the way? Is there any advice you would specifically give to job seekers?
Some of the things that helped me along the way were my determination (knowing what I wanted and not giving up) and having a supportive network. Networking is such an important part of this profession. It’s such a small world, even smaller within the specialty medicine field. Being able to lean on mentors along the way was so impactful in my personal and professional life. I was incredibly lucky to find some of the most inspiring and encouraging mentors around at each stage of my career.
3. Is there a story or experience that stands out in your mind that reaffirmed your decision to work in specialty veterinary medicine?
During my residency I developed a special interest in respiratory medicine, in large part because I was inspired by the enthusiasm and expertise of my mentors. Spirit, a young dog, presented in respiratory distress. The first doctor to see her thought she had cancer or infection and started treating her for the latter with no improvement. She presented to us and after reviewing her case and thoracic CT, we were suspicious of an immune mediated pneumonia, a differential that rarely appears on most specialists list. We obtained a lung biopsy and diagnosed her with cryptogenic organizing pneumonia and to this day she is doing amazing! It is cases like this one that reminds me of how exciting it is to be in a place that is pushing the envelope, and hopefully impact how we practice medicine in the future.
4. What is something you wish the general public knew about veterinary specialists?
I wish the public knew what it takes to be a veterinary specialist, the time, the effort, the investment and the personal sacrifice. Many people do not realize that veterinarians go through four years of medical school after meeting the entry requirements, which could take between two to four years. Many specialists do at least one year of internship (some two or three) before completing a three-year residency. Not to mention some of us complete a residency in conjunction with another graduate degree like a masters or a PhD. Pursuit of this dream can come with enormous personal sacrifices like living away from a significant other, making a fraction of what most veterinarians make while in training (and sometimes even after being done, especially in academia), and even putting off having a family to make that happen.
5. How is specialty veterinary medicine paving the way for advances in veterinary science?
Many veterinary specialists, particularly those of us in academia also have an interest in research. It is one of the aspects of my career that I really enjoy. Doing research and answering questions that might impact or change not only the way we practice veterinary medicine, but also human medicine.
6. When it comes to increasing diversity in veterinary specialty medicine, what kind of resources or changes would you like to see from the ACVIM and/or similar organizations? To phrase it another way, how can the ACVIM better support its diverse members?
In one word, transparency. I think the ACVIM needs to be transparent about the lack of diversity within our organization. That includes reporting on the makeup of the members of the ACVIM, and promoting the creation of a network to allow us to collaborate to tackle the issues that have become obstacles for up and coming doctors and futures specialists. At this point pursuing internships, residencies etc. is becoming more unattainable, primarily because compensation is so low, and student loan debt is so high. Acknowledgement and awareness of how intersectionality impacts diversity within our profession and our college is also important. The creation of the ACVIM Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Taskforce and the strategic planning task force are a good start, but my hope is that it doesn’t stop there.
7. What does a typical workday look like for you?
As a specialist in academia my typical workday can vary. While on the clinical duty, we have dedicated teaching time daily, primarily rounding on cases with students, then we start seeing appointments. On average, each faculty member can oversee anywhere between six to 10 cases which include new referrals, rechecks and transfers. We also supervise and perform minimally invasive procedures and do consult calls from other veterinarians. While on research duty I get to work on new manuscripts, grants, create teaching material and try to keep up with the literature. Sprinkled in throughout the year, I teach some lectures to first- and second-year veterinary students and attend or speak at scientific meetings.
8. What do you consider one of your career successes? How did you achieve it?
I am currently an assistant professor at the University of Missouri. I would consider obtaining a job in academia and getting to work with other people that I respect and admire one of my career successes. My internal medicine family is made up of three other strong, brilliant women that teach me things every day. I get to make an impact on our students, and house officers’ lives and careers. I strive to teach them about medicine, while showing them that you can do this job while raising a young family. Lastly, I can be an example for other underrepresented minority students; I didn’t know of another Puerto Rican internist in academia that I could look up to (still don’t).
9. What do you consider a challenge you’ve faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
I was diagnosed with ADHD while in veterinary school and had done the best I could to adapt up until then, but veterinary school, and then residency presented me with new challenges. But the biggest challenge I’ve had in my career so far must be not passing my board exams the first time I took them. Many of us are type A overachievers. We are used to succeeding, so I didn’t consider the possibility of failing. Failure is not something that many people talk about. I was surprised to learn that other people that I had looked up to also had similar challenges, and that failing the exam didn’t mean I was a bad doctor, or that I wasn’t smart enough or good enough. It was just another obstacle I had to overcome. So, I did. With the support of my family, a counselor who taught me new study strategies, and my mentors I studied and passed the following year. I now make sure that I remind my students and residents that we need to prepare for both outcomes, and there is no shame in failing.
10. What impact has the ACVIM had in shaping your career?
The ACVIM had significant impact in the early stages of my career. While in veterinary school I developed an interest in internal medicine, but our school did not have an ACVIM student chapter. Along with some of my classmates, and with the support of our internal medicine professor we started this chapter. The starting funds we obtained from the ACVIM, along with some fundraising allowed some of us to attend the ACVIM Forum for the first time. This is where I first saw where my career could lead. I distinctly remember attending a Q&A panel for aspiring specialists, as well as other sessions at the ACVIM Forum that were geared towards students. Being at the ACVIM Forum as a student gave me the opportunity to see myself where they were one day. And the funny part is that I had no idea that years later one of those panelists would become my colleague at MU.
11. Finally, what is something unique about your career, or career path?
I am a neurodiverse, underrepresented minority woman in specialty medicine at an academic institution. I like to say that I am a little bit of a unicorn, but my career is just getting started, and I am doing my best to balance that with motherhood and real life. It took me three years to get into veterinary school, I didn’t pass the one portion of the general exam, or one portion of the specialty exam the first time, and it took me longer to finish my PhD than I hoped, but I was determined to achieve those goals. I didn’t do it alone, I had support from my husband, my family, my coworkers, and all my mentors. All of this to say that it wasn’t a straight road getting here, but I hope my story helps other aspiring specialists know that they can do it too.
Learn more about ACVIM and its members.
View jobs of interest on the ACVIM Career Center