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Career Spotlight: Katie Tolbert

Published on: May 18, 2024

Career Spotlight Katie Tolbert

This is the latest in a series of interviews with Board-certified veterinary specialists of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM) to share insights, knowledge and expertise about career opportunities, growth and development. Today we hear from Dr. Katie Tolbert, a small animal internal medicine specialist who recently became dual-boarded in nutrition.

Dr. Katie Tolbert completed her small animal internal medicine residency and Ph.D. at North Carolina State University. She is a clinical associate professor in the Gastrointestinal Laboratory at Texas A&M University and is a member of the Dog Aging Project consortium. She completed an alternate-track residency in small animal nutrition at the University of Tennessee. Her clinical interests and research program are focused on the treatment of acute and chronic gastrointestinal diseases in dogs and cats.

What inspired you to become a Board-certified veterinary specialist? 
As a practicing small internist with an emphasis in gastroenterology, it was hard to ignore the critical role that nutrition played in promoting a positive outcome for my patients. However, it was really challenging to teach myself more about nutrition without the structure of a residency. Thanks to the support of the Texas A&M Gastrointestinal laboratory, I was able to pursue the alternative track residency under the direction of Drs. Murphy and Rollins at the University of Tennessee.

Is there a story or experience that stands out in your mind that reaffirmed your decision to work in specialty veterinary medicine?
Patients succumbing to their disease despite my best efforts drives me to be better – this is the reason I chose to do the SA nutrition residency and is the reason I try to push my knowledge every day.

What is something you wish the general public knew about veterinary specialists?
I think the general public is largely unaware that our companion animals develop many of the same diseases that humans do, and that just like in human medicine, we can help improve the healthspan and lifespan of our veterinary patients through the advanced diagnostics and therapeutics we provide.

How is specialty veterinary medicine paving the way for advances in veterinary science?
The complexity of the cases and the support of financial resources and time solely dedicated to research have been instrumental to the advancement of our profession. In the coming years, my hope is that we can develop more translational partnerships with our human medicine counterparts to fund larger and more impactful studies to continue to advance veterinary medicine. The Dog Aging Project is a great example of this partnership.

What does a typical workday look like for you?
It changes from week to week, which is one of the best things about an academic job. My weeks vacillate from being on the clinic floor to conducting research to consulting with veterinarians on behalf of the GI lab about complex GI cases.

What do you consider one of your career successes? How did you achieve it?
Finishing a second residency while maintaining my academic job and being a mom to an amazing and rambunctious kid have been the best successes of my career. I achieved it because I have a supportive spouse and excellent colleagues that want the best for each other.

What impact has the ACVIM had in shaping your career?
From two ACVIM residency programs and countless hours of continuing education, the ACVIM has provided the infrastructure for me to have a successful career as a specialist. I am very thankful to the staff and the countless volunteers that keep the organization running.

Since becoming a Board-Certified Veterinary Nutritionist last year, how has your perspective as a veterinarian changed?
I am more “nutrition forward.” I try to think about what nutritional interventions could be trialed before reaching for pharmaceuticals.

What advice do you have for those aspiring to become Diplomates?
There are so many career options in specialty medicine – sometimes a change in direction can be scary but also can be the most satisfying. Keep an open mind and trust your intuition.

Finally, what is something unique about your career, or career path?
Getting my second board certification in my 40s is probably the most unique thing about my career path! Sometimes your career goes in an unexpected and exciting direction. Keep an open mind!


Learn more about the ACVIM and ACVIM Diplomates >>