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Q&A with our Nashville symposium faculty: Kate Baker, DVM, DACVP (Clinical Pathology)

Nashville hosting veterinary conference

While at the Directions in Veterinary Medicine symposium in Nashville, Tennessee, Dr Kate Baker sat down with us for an exclusive interview

Kate Baker, DVM, DACVP (Clinical Pathology), grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, and completed her DVM at the University of Tennessee in 2012. She then went on to complete a small animal rotating internship and then a 3-year residency in clinical pathology and master's degree at the University of Illinois. Baker became board certified in veterinary clinical pathology in 2016 and is currently the founder and CEO of both Pocket Pathologist and VetHive, companies aimed at aiding veterinary professionals with resources and teamwork.

Baker spoke at our Directions in Veterinary Medicine symposium in Nashville, Tennessee focused on veterinary oncology and nutrition. During the conference, Baker interviewed with dvm360 to offer her expertise in cytology and learn more about VetHive and Pocket Pathologist. Learn more about Dr Baker in this Q&A style interview.

Kate Baker, DVM, DACVP (Oncology)

Kate Baker, DVM, DACVP (Oncology)

Can you please introduce yourself and what you currently do in veterinary medicine?

I am Dr Kate Baker. I'm a board certified veterinary clinical pathologist, and I currently am the founder and CEO of both Pocket Pathologist and VetHive.

What got you interested in veterinary pathology?

I absolutely love everything about it, honestly. And I knew even before going into veterinary school that I wanted to be a pathologist. I really started to get interested in pathology, pretty much in my teen years when I was, (it's super nerdy story) but I came across this book, it was the some encyclopedia of disease, got super into reading. I also got into some shows, especially one called “Mystery Diagnosis.” And I was hooked. So, really just learning about the pathophysiology of disease became my interest at that time and really kept going. So, when I went into veterinary school, I found out that veterinary pathology was a thing and really all stars aligned to make me go into veterinary pathology.

In what ways can neoplasms be diagnosed with cytology?

So, there are lots of different types of neoplasia. And cytology can be an excellent tool in both diagnosis or at least getting some clues about what you might be dealing with prior to removal or prior to going into a big surgery. These things are so important for the practitioner in terms of planning, and in terms of knowing what they're dealing with and being able to communicate that with the owner. So its cytology is an excellent first step in getting that information. And while cytology is not always going to be the end all be all answer, there is so much information you can get from cytology. Sometimes, I think it's one that not everybody really even realizes the full capability of what cytology we really do in terms of diagnosing neoplasia. So it's an excellent tool, highly recommend it.

Specifically with skin tumors, how can cytology be effective?

So practitioners are seeing a lot of skin masses in their practice. That is what the owner sees and so obviously, the owner is bringing their pet in for lots of different things, but lumps and bumps on the skin is a big one. In practice, you are able to get information for the owner right there, in your practice, be able to sample that mass, see if it's neoplasia, if it's inflammation, if it's infectious and get that information. And then if it is neoplasia, work down the algorithm of what type of neoplasia it is, which I go into in depth in my talks, and really see how far can we get in that algorithm, how close to the final answer of what this actually is can we get. Even if you don't achieve that final answer, there's so much information along that process that can help you determine what your next steps are: Do I go ahead and remove this did I find an infectious organism that this actually is not the inflation at all, and there's some other treatment that needs to be done. So really skin neoplasia in general, using cytology to make those diagnoses is really valuable.

Can you tell me a little bit about VetHive and your inspiration for starting this community?

VetHive is a clinical support and learning community. It is based on the foundation of a really healthy culture. So really, it's a place where you where you can go in right now in a virtual space, where you can go and you can access 50 plus specialists right now that are all chosen for their ability. Well, also for their personality, they're just cool, kind people. They all are chosen for their ability to be empathetic, understand what the practitioner is dealing with in practice, and know you're not always going to be able to do everything and what can we help with. How can we help each other?

In practice it can be a lonely place to be sometimes, you feel on your own, especially when you get challenging cases. And while there are other resources, this is a central space where you can come into this community where they're there waiting to help. Also to learn from those same specialists—we call them our guides. And through continued education articles that are all meant to be super practical, everything is centered around being useful for the practitioner.

But at the very, very heart of it all, I knew we needed a space where we really could go and feel safe asking our questions. And knowing that we none of us have all the answers. We're all just working together to figure this thing out and help each other. And that's where it came from and it's been amazing.

How can veterinary teamwork improve patient care and personal growth?

Veterinary teamwork is huge. In fact, one of the VetHive pillars is “This is a team sport.” I feel like there's kind of traditionally been this hierarchical nature to our profession, where somewhere along the line specialists are at the top of the hierarchy. It was sort of bred into us in school to look up to these people. And that trickles down in our practice, where it can be intimidating to talk to specialists. That's something that we're trying to fix in VetHive, that we're all part of this together. But again, going all the way through that hierarchy, (or the traditional hierarchy) there's this assumption to that our technicians are at the lower end of that hierarchy. That is not the case. This is all a team effort. Everybody has something to contribute, everybody is working to help the patient. So technicians, veterinarians, general veterinarians, relief veterinarians, house call, ER, specialists; there's a million different types of us in this profession, and all of us have something to contribute and have the ability to help each other get through our days. And if you're able to lean on other people and work together as a team, it's so much better.

Can you tell us a little bit about Pocket Pathologist?

Pocket Pathologist came out of the clear need for veterinarians to have support with cytology and how cytology is difficult, notoriously. And it's something that not everybody does every day. In practice, most practitioners don't. It's one of those types of diagnostics that if you don't do a lot of it, it's easy to have those skills get rusty and feel really uncomfortable with what you're looking at in house. That's a problem because we do a lot of cytology in practice and the owners understand the value of it, but then oftentimes vets feel uncomfortable when they're looking at it. That's a real challenge. So there needs to be resources to help there.

Of course, pathologists, like myself, are available to read cases through diagnostic labs. But there's oftentimes a limiting factor there with owner finances. So you as a practitioner, juggling that in practice, and you're left to figure these things out on your own. So that’s what Pocket Pathologist came from—that desire to help the practitioner with their in house cytology.

So we do that in 2 different ways: One is we offer continuing education through our courses, and there's a bunch of free resources like our “Digital Case of the Month” and “5-Minute Rounds.” And also our telecytology service: We have an app where you send photos in for a pathologist to help you with and it's like we’re really in the practice with you. And because of the nature of tele-cytology, we're able to keep it pretty cost-effective and you're able to get the help you need on cases. That's what it's all about; just helping vets feel more confident in what they're doing in terms of in house cytology.

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