Career Spotlight: Aja Harvey

Written by: Dr. Aja Harvey
Published on: Apr 7, 2022

Aja Harvey
Dr. Aja Harvey

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. Aja Harvey.

Dr. Harvey grew up locally in Somerset, New Jersey and from a young age, she knew she wanted to become a veterinarian. Dr. Harvey obtained her undergraduate degree in Biology from Howard University in Washington, D.C. and her DVM degree from Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama. Tuskegee was a familiar place to her, as she spent many summers as a child visiting her grandmother and grandfather who served as Dean of the Tuskegee School of Nursing and pastor of the local church, respectively, for many years. After graduating, she went on to complete a rotating surgical and medicine internship at Louisiana State University. Afterwards, she was accepted to Texas A&M University as one of their large animal internal medicine residents. During her residency, her research focused primarily on plasma therapy of Rhodoccocus equi in foals and was exposed to dynamic internal medicine disorders in equines and ruminants, lameness, cardiology and ultrasound. Post residency, she worked at a high volume ambulatory practice in Lexington, Kentucky where she gained experience in thoroughbred breeding, farm management and yearling sales. Dr. Harvey joined the dynamic B.W. Furlong & Associates practice in November 2020 as an associate veterinarian and internal medicine specialist.

1. What made you decide to choose veterinary specialty medicine as a career path, and specifically your specialty?

I have always enjoyed learning and in the process, becoming a well-rounded person and professional. As a veterinary student at Tuskegee University, we did not have a tracking curriculum, therefore I was exposed to all the facets of the veterinary field and realized early on that I enjoyed internal medicine – no matter what species on which I was focusing. The series of puzzles that internal medicine cases presented was a large draw for me. Frustrating as they could be at times, I loved to be able to thoroughly analyze a case, ask questions and think outside of the box to provide an accurate diagnosis and ideally a solution. Once I realized that I could combine my love of horses with a field I thoroughly enjoyed, I decided to pursue a board certification in large animal internal medicine.

2. How would you describe your career path/journey?

I would describe my pathway to become an equine veterinarian and now internal medicine specialist as unconventional. While I have loved and been comfortable around horses from a young age, I rode sparingly over the years and never owned one of my own. The fact that I had a desire to enter into a field that I had little practical experience was very unusual, but my determination and drive are what have helped me excel throughout the years.

My foundation was built at both Howard University and Tuskegee College of Veterinary Medicine, places which thrive in diversity and promote academic excellence. From there, I was able to gain more experience and confidence under the guidance of some great clinicians at both Louisiana State University (where I completed my rotating equine surgical and medicine internship) and Texas A & M (TAMU), where I completed my large animal internal medicine residency. I do not regret any part of my journey, as it has helped me grow into a competent veterinarian and allowed me to forge lifelong bonds with other veterinarians in and out of my field.

3. What do you consider one of your career successes? How did you achieve it?

At the end of my final year of residency at TAMU, I was selected by my senior clinicians to receive an award for my performance in emergency medicine. It was a pleasant and unexpected surprise. I believe that I was considered as a recipient of the award was partially due to one of the most demanding emergency weekends I had been on call for – assisting with the admission and management of animals recovered from the flood waters in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

What stood out to me the most about that weekend was that it was successful due to the entire teaching hospital: clinicians, house officers and support staff from every department showing up and pitching in to help the scores of displaced horses arriving by the trailer load. I had never been so exhausted, but at the same time fulfilled by the challenge that the caseload presented.

Even more, the award signified recognition from doctors I strived to emulate and at the same time represented tangible evidence of my growth as a resident. All the long hours spent agonizing over cases, sleepless nights and sacrifices I had along the way had amounted to something. 

4. What do you consider a challenge you’ve faced in your career? How did you overcome it?

One of the challenges that I faced as a younger clinician was feeling like I needed to know all there was to know about a certain disease process or procedure and to get everything right on the first try. We all know that life does not work like that – especially in the world of medicine. It is still a work in progress, but I have learned to let up a little and realize that there are things that are beyond my control and all I can do is to learn from all of my experiences; both the good and the bad.

5. How did the global pandemic affect your day-to-day working life?

The horse industry is very interesting in that the pandemic didn’t seem to slow things to a crawl like expected. In fact, I’d say it was the exact opposite. There was and is still plenty of work to be done and like we all know, sick animals will always need care no matter what is going on in the world. The biggest adjustment I had was how to communicate with clients effectively in a somewhat remote manner, while keeping myself and my staff safe. Beyond that, I also wanted to make sure to protect my family from anything that I was potentially exposed to, so I took the necessary steps to isolate myself as best as possible and limit my interactions with them.

6. Where would you like to see your career path going next?

I tend not to think too far in the future in general, but I would love to continue to fine tune my skills in both internal medicine and lameness. One of the things I thoroughly enjoy about my current practice is the ability to work on and be exposed to cases in both areas and work alongside clinicians who have a wide breadth of experience. In particular, I love ultrasound and would love to become even more proficient in performing advanced techniques and interpretation on a wide variety of structures.

7. What impact has the ACVIM had in shaping your career?

The ACVIM was invaluable at providing me support during my time as a resident, especially during my examinations. As a newer Diplomate, I am grateful for the opportunity to connect with other Diplomates that have a vast amount of knowledge and provide advice on a wide variety of things.

8. What is a piece of advice you would share with job seekers or offer a new Diplomate just beginning their career?

As a fairly new Diplomate myself, I cannot begin to say how fortunate I am to work with another amazing internist that has been at my current practice for over 15 years. Her guidance and experience with difficult cases has been invaluable in helping me continue to refine myself as a clinician and also to push myself out of my comfort zone. I would say to newer internists to never be afraid to ask for help and to take the time to just observe how other clinicians work up cases, because there are always new and interesting things to learn.

9. 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 BIPOC members?

I was honored to have recently served as a member of the AAEP’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion taskforce, which taught me a lot about creating an honest, open and respectful dialogue around a topic that may be sensitive to a large number of people. Increasing diversity does not and will not happen overnight, however I think that if the ACVIM and other organizations take steps to recognize and realize why diversity is lacking, in addition to creating solutions for the future, then that would be a big first step in my mind towards making a difference. I would welcome a safe space for BIPOC members to meet and speak freely with one another. Not with the intent to exclude, but with the intent to connect with members who have overcome similar obstacles and have thrived in fields that have been traditionally considered unconventional.

10. Finally, what is something unique about your career, or career path?

I touched upon this a bit earlier in the interview, but it is always surprising to clients and clinicians alike that I did not grow up owning or riding horses. For a brief period of time that part of my history almost held me back from pursuing a career in equine medicine. I thought that being around horses from a young age was the foundation necessary to become a successful equine vet. As I progressed through my career, I realized that there are far more important characteristics and experiences that have allowed me to thrive.

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