Zwicker has faced a long journey to get to this point – earning diplomate certification by the American College of Veterinary Radiology (ACVR) is a three-year process, which requires intensive studying and testing to meet the exam requirements.
In addition to radiology, specialists in this field must have extensive knowledge of all types of medical imaging — including computed tomography (CT), ultrasonography and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
“I’d say I pretty much studied every evening and every weekend for two years solid,” says Zwicker, who joined the WCVM’s faculty as an assistant professor of medical imaging in May 2017.
Earning her board certification in 2014 was one of the more recent accomplishments in her varied career path, which began with an honours degree in marine botany from Mount Allison University in New Brunswick.
After completing her undergraduate degree, Zwicker worked as an editorial assistant at a scientific journal. She then made another big change and earned a pharmacy degree, becoming a pharmacist and working in the profession for three years
Despite enjoying the job, Zwicker felt like she wanted to be more involved with the medicine and investigative aspects of cases – working a case up from presentation to diagnostics.
“At first I really wanted to be a physician, then I sat back and thought about what I really enjoy in life. I really was interested in medicine, but I loved animals, so I thought it made more sense to marry those two passions,” she says. Zwicker was accepted to the Atlantic Veterinary College (AVC) at the University of Prince Edward Island in 1999.
Just before beginning veterinary school, Zwicker lost her mother. Zwicker’s horse, a warmblood mare named Dream, helped her make it through the veterinary program.
“Riding was a real outlet for me. I owe her [Dream] a lot. She helped me bridge some hard times,” she says.
During veterinary school, Zwicker became interested in both radiology and veterinary pathology. After thinking it over, she realized radiology was the path for her and set off on the ambitious course of becoming a board-certified radiologist.
“Ultimately when I really thought about what made me the most excited, it was radiology,” she says.
In 2011, she came to the WCVM for a one-year rotating clinical internship in small animal medicine and surgery.
Then, it was back to the AVC for a four-year residency and master’s degree program in veterinary diagnostic imaging.
After completing her residency in 2015, Zwicker spent one year at the University of Montréal, before spending the following year working for herself – splitting her time between providing clinical services on a contract basis, academic teaching at AVC and locum services at the WCVM.
While at the WCVM, she was drawn to the sense of teamwork and tools available to the college’s medical imaging department.
“We actually have a sizeable number [of academic radiologists] compared to other schools …We have a critical mass, which makes it nice because we can bounce ideas off each other, support each other,” she says. “We have a real true team dynamic here, and that was really important to me at this stage of my career.”
Zwicker spends half her time delivering clinical imaging services for the WCVM’s Veterinary Medical Centre, providing imaging services for all patients, large and small.
Her work in the clinic can run the gamut from “old fashioned X-rays and ultrasounds” to CT scans and MRIs, as well as nuclear medicine studies. She says she enjoys the sense of collaboration between radiology and the other services.
“Although I don’t see clients directly anymore, my clients are the other clinicians. It’s really nice to have discussions around the cases. I come away feeling like I’m a member of the team, and I feel really gratified,” she says.
“We’re a referral centre so we wind up with some more complex … cases that can have some more complicated diagnostics. When we’re able to sort out those more challenging cases together, I go home with a big smile on my face.”
When she’s not providing clinical services, 50 per cent of Zwicker’s time is spent on teaching, both in the classroom and as part of research. She hopes the WCVM will soon be able to offer radiology residencies. She also plans to develop her own research program.
The WCVM has recently purchased a 320-slice CT unit. This tool is not commonly available in veterinary medicine, so this will be one tool she hopes to use in her research work.
“We’re looking at different areas that we can utilize that machine for innovative research opportunities in vet medicine because nobody else really has one right now,” she says.
“I think, when I look around, we’ve got really amazing equipment here for an academic institution. We’re really fortunate to have the resources we have here at the school.”
With a chance to finally settle down in one place for a while, Zwicker has brought her horse Dream out to join her in the Prairies. Not one to stop learning, she’s embarked on cooking classes and is taking piano lessons for the first time in 20 years.
Dr. Lesley Zwicker is a featured presenter at the Veterinary Education Today conference in Toronto, Ont. on Nov. 2 and 3. Zwicker and Dr. Sally Sukut will present an interactive session exploring thoracic and abdominal radiography on Nov. 2. On Nov. 3, Zwicker will present a one-hour session exploring the use of CT scans in the assessment of abdominal disease.