Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Tatiana Weisbrod, DVM ‘17, University of Florida
While she’s currently a third-year Aquatic Animal Medicine Resident at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Tatiana Weisbrod, DVM ‘17, once thought medical school was in her future. While working at a zoo as an undergraduate student on the pre-med track, she came across the Cornell AQUAVET® program website, a moment she recalls being a game changer for her. “I remember looking at my coworkers and saying, ‘You can be a doctor for fish?’ I thought, that’s what I need to do with my life. I think that was the moment for me.” Dr. Weisbrod has been chasing her dream of working in aquatic animal medicine ever since.
Before starting veterinary school at Cornell University, Dr. Weisbrod volunteered at the New England Aquarium, working in their Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Department. This experience cemented her conviction that aquatic animal medicine was her passion. As a Cornell veterinary student, she completed all three courses within AQUAVET®, as well as various zoo and aquatics-focused externships.
After her graduation in 2017, Dr. Weisbrod completed a rotating internship in small animal medicine at VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital. She then moved to Florida to complete an aquatic animal health specialty internship with the University of Florida. She continued there to obtain her master’s degree focused on marine mammal pathology and then embarked on her Aquatic Animal Medicine residency. As she prepares to complete her residency, her hope is to continue to pursue both clinical medicine and research.
Reflecting on her journey up to this point in her career, Dr. Weisbrod recalls a number of experiences at Cornell that she considers formative. “One of the major things for me was the ability to work at the [Janet L. Swanson] Wildlife Hospital as a first-year student. Getting exposure to those species early on - it was kind of a cementing, foundational experience where I was able to really confirm that this was my passion and that I wanted to work with wildlife. Having the ability to get hands-on experience and to start making treatment plans for non-traditional species there was super helpful for me.”
Dr. Weisbrod also highlighted her experience at the Fish Disease Diagnostic Laboratory. “Dr. Paul Bowser, Dr. Rod Getchell, and Dr. Hélène Marquis took me under their wings (fins?) and gave me the opportunity to serve as a teaching assistant, work in the research lab, and help with their data collection. They were my connections to the aquatic world and definitely helped jumpstart everything.”
During her clinical year, Dr. Weisbrod says her time at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center was her favorite clinical experience. “I got to see what clinical medicine in aquatics was like in a real world setting and also work with wildlife. It was a dream position.” Unsurprisingly, she took all of the fish-related courses Cornell had to offer, but she also recommends Applied Pharmacology and Conservation Medicine to interested students. “Conservation Medicine gives you a context for thinking about wildlife medicine through a different lens - how to help people help animals. I thought the course was great for helping you strategize about where to get where you want to go when trying to pursue research and further conservation efforts.”
When asked for her advice for current or prospective vet students looking to follow her into the field, Dr. Weisbrod has a great deal to share. To help distinguish yourself as a candidate for internships and residencies, she stresses the importance of relationships within the field. “It’s so important to be somebody that people can work with and enjoy working with. Networking is key because you get to connect with people that you get along with and potentially meet collaborators. It also gives people in the field an opportunity to meet you so you become a known entity.”
As all-consuming as this work can feel, Dr. Weisbrod also emphasizes the pursuit of work-life balance. She recommends relying on a solid support system and making time for non-work activities and self-care whenever possible. “You can take small steps to make sure that you still have a life and still set time for yourself. I also have tried to take one day a week where all I do are things not related to my job. Be sure that this is what you want to do, because the road to working in zoo, wildlife, and aquatic medicine is incredibly difficult and very long. That being said, if you’re sure, I would try to always say yes if an opportunity presents itself and you’re able. If you think an opportunity will give you good experience and potentially be a good networking opportunity or it will help you to become a better doctor, say yes, and you never know where those experiences might lead you.”
In Dr. Weisbrod’s case, her experiences led her to a residency filled with amazing opportunities. “I think one of the coolest things during my residency has been the ability to work at SeaWorld during my third clinical year. At any given time, SeaWorld’s Rescue Center can have upwards of thirty manatees that are undergoing rehabilitation all at once. If a manatee comes in when I’m on-call, I get called in to assess them. They stay with us until they’re healthy enough to be released, so every animal that I see has the potential to go back out into the wild and contribute to its population’s success. We see cow-calf pairs, orphans, subadult males, and everything in between and treat everything from catastrophic boat injuries to cold stress. Working with manatees has been super rewarding.”
Another highlight of her residency came about thanks to her willingness to say yes to an opportunity that presented itself. “One of my mentors at Busch Gardens knew that I was interested in fieldwork and Arctic wildlife. She got me involved in a research project working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska. I was able to go to Alaska to work on a conservation project focused on spectacled eiders. It was probably one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
As for her parting words, Dr. Weisbrod ends our conversation on an inspirational note. “Everyone gets told that it’s really hard and it’s really competitive working in this field. It is, but there are program spots and jobs opening every year, and somebody gets those positions. So imagine yourself in such positions and know that if it’s something that you really work hard for and you’re willing to sacrifice for, there’s no reason why it can’t be you. Don’t let people get in your head about it being too difficult or too hard. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Written by Colleen Sorge ’20, DVM ’24
Photos provided by Tatiana Weisbrod.