Being a Wildlife Veterinarian: Dr. Ernesto Dominguez

Dr. Ernesto Dominguez is the Hospital Director of the Wildlife Center of Virginia, where he oversees the medical treatment and rehabilitation care of the patients at the Wildlife Center. He coordinates and participates in research to improve wildlife health in the field and works with stakeholders to collaborate in national and international projects to improve wildlife and rehabilitation medicine. We asked Dr. Ernesto to share some perspectives on being a wildlife veterinarian, with particular regard to his work with Bald Eagles. 

See Dr. Ernesto at work in our 13-episode TV series, Untamed!

Why did you decide to become a wildlife veterinarian?

Working with wildlife is an exciting and everyday challenge. There is no way as a veterinarian to know all the anatomic, physiologic, and natural history differences of the more of 200 hundred species that we treat at the Wildlife Center, therefore each new species challenges my knowledge and creativity and inspires new and better ways to do veterinary medicine.

What’s the most challenging aspect of caring for Bald Eagles at the Wildlife Center?

There are two big challenges for me. The first one is how powerful and dangerous these animals can be, you have to be careful when treating and handling this species. The second challenge is knowing that most of them have some exposure to toxins such as heavy metals and pesticides, which may complicate the clinical signs, medical treatment, and recovery of this particular species.

What’s your most memorable Bald Eagle patient at the Wildlife Center?

My most memorable Bald Eagle was one that was intoxicated with euthanasia solution which I was able to save after hours of intensive and critical care, staying overnight, monitoring her heart, blood electrolyte values, and keeping her with multiple IV lines, medications, and oxygen. Finally, that animal was released on Dec 22, 2017, on my birthday.

What’s your advice for people who want to work in the wildlife medicine field?

My advice is to have a passion for medicine and biology. Have a strong medical basis and knowledge, so you can apply it to a wide variety of species and taxons. There are few positions in this field and it is highly competitive, but with effort, passion, and dedication you can do it. Wildlife veterinarians need to have excellent clinical skills and combine them with epidemiology, population medicine, and public health.

Looking for more information and advice on working with wildlife?