A cat call for better care


Hillsborough, N.J. - Although she didn't plan to become a feline practitioner, Dr. Elizabeth Colleran, MS, a 1990 graduate of Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, is now the new president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP).

Hillsborough, N.J. — Although she didn't plan to become a feline practitioner, Dr. Elizabeth J. Colleran, MS, a 1990 graduate Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, is now the new president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP).

Dr. Elizabeth J. Colleran

Colleran opened her first cat-only hospital, the Chico Hospital for Cats, in Chico, Calif., in 1998. The hospital is built in such a way to separate cats and it features an air filtration approach designed to remove odors and sustain a calm environment. Her second cat-friendly hospital, Cat Hospital in Portland, Ore., opened in 2004.

Earlier in Colleran's career path, she completed an internship in internal medicine and worked in a general small-animal practice for several years. In 1996, she garnered her master's degree in animals and public policy from Tufts and once again worked in a small-animal practice.

She is an active member of several groups, including AAFP, American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). In 2003, she was honored as Northern California Small Business Person of the Year. Most recently, Dr. Colleran was appointed president of AAFP.

DVM: What do you hope to achieve as president of the AAFP?

Colleran: What is most important to me is that we help to increase the number of cats that are being seen by DVMs. We've already formed some strategic alliances with AAHA and the International Society of Feline Medicine to try to combine skills and move toward that goal. We've also put together various feline-related guidelines with AAHA. If I had my way, AAFP would be regarded by all veterinarians as an important source for feline veterinary medicine. Currently about 60 percent of our members are not feline-exclusive.

DVM: As AAFP president, what is your perspective on the state of the economy and how it impacts small-animal veterinarians?

Colleran: Honestly I see this as an opportunity to focus on adjusting our routines that we have in practice to accommodate the unique needs of cats. If your practice is 100 percent booked, you're not looking for new opportunities.

With the economy the way it is, we're talking to small-animal practitioners on how to make practices more feline friendly.

DVM: What kind of solutions would you like to propose?

Colleran: We really believe we need to increase awareness in small-animal practices of the unique qualities of feline medicine so that veterinarians make adjustments in the way they communicate with clients before the visit, modify the way they manage cats in practice and expand on what they know about maintaining the health of the cat. In some practices, there's that cat person who moves the ball in the right direction. In those practices, many things we're talking about already are being implemented.

DVM: What are some other trends you've noticed in feline medicine?

Colleran: In small-animal practice, there is an awareness of differences in terms of managing illness. The most important thing I'm seeing, however—and I picked up some of this at a recent conference—is the understanding of a relationship-based practice. There's a move toward learning how to acquire communication skills to make a relationship-based practice work. It's critical for clients to be able to have a trusting relationship with veterinarians. Veterinarians need to be aware of the kind of questions clients ask, the body language they use, how to develop rapport and how to engage the client as a teammate in making a plan for the pet.

DVM: What encourages you most about the practice of small-animal/feline veterinary medicine in 2010?

Colleran: Cats are enormously fascinating creatures. Every day is continuing education day for me. Also, some veterinary schools are starting to focus more on feline medicine, including feline-specific diseases and behavioral issues. Students also are being trained more in communication skills.

DVM: What discourages you most about the state of the field today?

Colleran: Although this is not a feline medicine-exclusive issue, student debt is a huge issue. That's really troublesome. It's really difficult for students who are interested in taking the reins of a practice to attempt to do so with their debt load. Owning a feline practice is a very exciting and interesting part of the profession, but it will be out of the question for a lot of younger veterinarians if the debt load is not addressed. Also, there continues to be a bigger focus on canine medicine in veterinary schools, which is unfortunate.

DVM: On the research front, what are some of the most notable strides in feline medicine since you started practicing?

Colleran: I've noticed a great stride in pain management. Cats are so inscrutable. A cat can have an abscess but can handle pain so differently than another pet might to the point where you may not immediately know the cat is in pain. We're starting to understand the subtle signs of diseases in cat behavior. The animal is evolved as a species. Much of the research today is disease specific—and we've discovered markers for disease in cats. There is a lot of amazing work on infectious diseases.

DVM: What important achievements have been accomplished in human research that have impacted feline medicine?

Colleran: Advanced imaging has found its way into veterinary medicine. And while human research achievements have impacted veterinary medicine, what I think is most interesting is the crossover between veterinarian/client relationships and human physician/patient relationship issues, such as how physicians need to do things differently to be understood and to communicate with clients. That's a direct response to people saying, "I'd rather have my vet be my doctor." Truly, we have a lot to share in both directions. Veterinary medicine is moving in the opposite direction of the human medicine's movement toward electronic health records technology and less face-to-face.

Ms. Skernivitz in a freelance writer in Cleveland, Ohio.

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