2016 Year in Review: Dr. Peach Van Wick, Veterinary Intern

It’s time to look back on 2016! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2016 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

I often get asked by my colleagues if I miss the interactions between clients and their pets and the affectionate tail wags and purrs that I used to receive from my patients, in general practice and vet school. At first, I had to stop and think about my answer. Did I? Who wouldn’t miss the smell of puppy breath, the sweet stare from an old dog’s eyes, the handfuls of fuzzy kitten fur, the gratitude of a small child after treating their sick pet? Sure I did. But did I want to trade the work I do now for all of that again? Absolutely not. These past six months at the Wildlife Center have opened my eyes to the type of veterinarian I want to be and the work to which I hope to contribute during my lifetime. My internship at the WCV has arguably been the most exhausting yet equally rewarding time of my life. I learn something new every single day … about myself, about the people I work with, about the species we treat, etc. And I have learned that there is nothing more gratifying than working with wildlife.

My favorite memory from this year stars my favorite patient, Great Horned Owl 16-1710. This owl was admitted in July as a referral from a fellow rehabber after it was found down on train tracks in Norfolk, VA. This owl had a broken leg and broken ulna (one of the bones in the wing). While the ulna fracture could be repaired with a bandage and restriction of movement, the leg fracture warranted surgery which was scheduled to be performed on July 28. This surgery was both exciting and nerve-racking for me, as this would be my first orthopedic surgery to perform on my own. Lucky for me, my internmate Dr. Ernesto was well-versed with raptor orthopedics and voluntarily stayed late with me at work the night before the scheduled surgery and patiently taught me the correct techniques using the cadaver of a vulture. The next day, with Dr. Ernesto’s help, I successfully repaired the fractured leg. The recovery process for this patient was lengthy and ended up requiring several months of rehabilitation, physical therapy, and exercise before this patient was ready to be released. But it finally happened, and this owl was returned back into the wild on December 13. I was lucky enough to toss this bird into the open air, and it is a feeling I will never forget.


A few of my favorite things about my job are highlighted by this story. First, this is a story of collaboration and dedication to the well-being of a wild animal. This owl’s outcome would not have been what it was if it hadn’t been for the relationships the Wildlife Center has with referring rehabbers and veterinarians, the mentoring and assistance from my internmate, the hard work by our vet student/rehab externs and rehab staff, and the story updates on this patient by the outreach staff. This job is not a one-man show. It is a group effort with every single patient. This owl’s story also highlights something that I find very important in wildlife medicine and rehabilitation and that is the ability to take advantage of every learning opportunity possible even with animals that are euthanized. Euthanasia is one of the most difficult topics about veterinary medicine, no matter the species. Something that helps me “stomach” this unpleasant task is being able to give that animal a purpose even after it is no longer alive. In this story, the body of a badly injured vulture that was euthanized was utilized to help me practice the surgical technique I used on a live patient the very next day. Without knowing it, that vulture helped another life! And finally, this story had the happiest ending of all. It demonstrates the immense gratification of repair, rehab, and release, which is really what it’s all about.

The Wildlife Center of Virginia has already shaped my career and the outlook I have on my professional life. The work that is done at this Center and the relationships I have formed with the staff, volunteers, students, and referring rehabbers and veterinarians has already made a lasting impression. I look forward to what these next six months have to offer!

--Dr. Peach

Keep checking the Wildlife Center's blog for more year-end posts this week!