Gator Vet Tails | December 2023

Veterinarian & Owner

Dr. Julie Cole Shacoski

Cat Tales Feline Health Center | Davis, CA

Dr. Shacoski with horse

Dr. Julie Cole Shacoski is currently in the process of building a feline-only practice with her husband in their hometown of Davis, California. She values strengthening the human-animal bond and emphasizes the importance of building a solid community while still in school. Outside of work, she loves spending time with her horses and listening to country and folk music.

What advice do you have for upcoming/new graduates just starting their careers?

I will pass along a piece of advice I was given by an equine resident while I was at the University of Florida. This advice was regarding private practice. I was contemplating a mixed animal or a large animal position and he reminded me of the flexibility of this profession. He was a strong advocate for following your heart and not having any regrets. I did enjoy a decade in an amazing large animal practice and would not change that decision today. An equally important piece of advice I was given was regarding the quality of my first private practice. My initial clinical position was instrumental in shaping my skills, both medically and surgically. I have often called or visited my first clinic to show how grateful I am for the time they spent with me. My advice would be to choose this environment carefully and listen to your passions and instincts.

What insight do you have for current DVM students?

My insights for future veterinarians would be to re-evaluate what is important to you yearly. Veterinarians and veterinary medicine is a beautiful and fluid profession. I feel the possibilities are unlimited and one practice or aspect of our profession may interest you for a season or change is welcomed as your passions develop. Life is also so short, enjoy the people you serve and surround yourself with those who help you achieve your hopes and dreams. I’d like to say “don’t sweat the small stuff” but I never understood this maximum! Having attention to detail makes us good at what we do, so I have modified it to say: “delegate the small stuff to those whom you trust!”.

How did UF CVM prepare you to embark into “the real world” and start your DVM career?

I have had the pleasure of working at 3 other Colleges of Veterinary Medicine, and what I have learned is: all are different, all have values and missions that drive decisions on curriculum, student body, and research. What I have found is that the University of Florida places community and students as its most valuable mission. I am so grateful for the College of Veterinary Medicine and its continued support as it builds students up and prepares us for a lifelong profession.

What did you learn at UF CVM that you never thought you would benefit from?

As a young, and rather impatient, veterinary student at the University of Florida, I felt many subjects were not “clinical” enough to be included in the veterinary curriculum. Lo and behold many of these subjects came in quite handy as a new graduate, as a veterinarian transitioning between many different aspects of our profession, and as a business owner. One of those skills was learned in our ethics class. This teaching opened up the idea of treating fellow veterinarians with respect and taking the time to communicate a mutual pet parent’s concerns. I have learned better communication skills from both recent and seasoned veterinarians when I took the time to really understand how these fellow colleagues arrived at decisions that led to the pet parent’s concerns. I also learned what drives a pet parent to seek a second or third opinion and often these insights changed my own communication habits with pet owners.

What is one of your fondest memories or meaningful experiences from your time at UF CVM?

I have so many fond memories at the University of Florida. We truly had an amazing class of very talented and compassionate students. Most of my fondest memories as a student included an element of humor. I, of course, was alphabetically seated right next to one of the funniest individuals I have ever met. Over the course of 4 years, he would often notice my panic and artfully diffuse the situation. Most noteworthy was his humor when I was asked to treat a very large snake who suffered from cotton mouth. Although not clinically diagnosed with ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) I was not fond of these creatures. As I approached this creature to open its mouth, he quietly stood behind me and slowly but gently pulled on my extra long (equine) stethoscope to mimic a slithering snake on my neck! After a jump scare and so much laughter, he helped me successfully treat this Boa.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently in veterinary school?

Over the past 30 years, I have been asked this question a number of times and I have been fortunate to have heard my colleagues answer this question as well. My answer has always been, I wish I had understood how important our classmates would be in shaping who I would become as a veterinarian. What surprised me was how important these relationships would become and how challenging it would be to find a similar community as I moved through my career.

What do you enjoy most about your current position?

Well, my current position is as an entrepreneur. My husband and I are building a feline-only practice in our hometown. What I enjoy is the ability to make decisions for our clinic that really honor the human-animal bond. We are working on fear-free and cat-friendly practice protocols and I am so grateful for the AAFP and the fear-free community helping us embrace and achieve these goals.

What is the most interesting/unique case that you have worked on?

As a theriogenologist, interesting reproductive cases seemed to follow me! One of the most interesting cases I was involved in was a mare who had prolapsed her rectum during the delivery of a foal. With the help of a surgeon, we were able to save the mare and place a colostomy site. I was then fortunate to use hormonal assays to develop a protocol to flush and retrieve embryos from this very talented mare. Her embryos were successfully placed into recipients and when she was ready the surgical team re-attached her colon.  Watching this special mare and her foals running free in a pasture was one of the highlights of my career!

What is the hardest part of working in the veterinary medicine field and how have you overcome this challenge?

I have found parenting and the practice of veterinary care to be challenging. The balance act has taught me grace, patience and letting go of perfectionism. These challenges have also brought me the greatest joys and taught me to slow down and remember every day can be different if you choose!

What is one of your fondest or most meaningful experiences from your career so far?

One of the most meaningful experiences I have had was owning a small animal practice for 9 years. I was challenged to coach and lead a team of talented veterinarians and paraprofessional staff to serve a community in need of quality care and education. This lower-income community had fewer general practice and specialty options and we took pride in serving these folks. I learned a valuable lesson about the importance of offering compassionate care and meeting pet owners’ needs both financially and emotionally. Our team became an integral part of this community and all of us have continued to support them in ways that are meaningful.

What does mentorship look like for you at this point in your career?

Mentorship has evolved for me over the years. I have met and have learned from some of the most talented veterinarians across this country. I believe mentoring requires being open to being mentored and challenged. I have learned more in the process of mentoring than I have given. This community we have as veterinarians is unique. I am also continually amazed at the courage and grace  I have experienced while working alongside my colleagues. I still feel we are fortunate and blessed to be called to this profession.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I love spending time with my horses and my friends. I have dabbled in western dressage, hunters, and trail riding. I also love to run, especially in new places, at meetings or on vacation.

Who is someone who has inspired you?

I admired one of the Theriogenologists on faculty at the University of Florida. Her name was Dr Michelle LeBlanc. She was fearless in her commitment to excellence and she was passionate about teaching students. She inspired me to continually question, to pursue dreams, and to embrace change.

What is one thing you couldn’t live without?

I love listening to music, many genres, usually country or folk.

How many and what type of pets do you have?

I have 3 horses: Rocket (retired eventer), Leo ( bravest QH) and Utika ( beautiful hunter-jumper). I also have a whippet ( Mitchell)  and a golden retriever (Lafayette). In addition, the Shacoski household has a 4 rescue cat rule and currently lives with Bubbles ( neuro kitty), Snowbut ( teenage Mom), Lucy ( carpal fracture)  and Ash ( single orphan special).