Women leading change: Robin Downing


Veterinary pain specialist turns to the wider world of science and human medicine for inspiration and information.

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Talking to Dr. Robin Downing, Dipl. AAPM, about her career in veterinary medicine, practice, and professional leadership is like watching flash bulbs go off. Blinding aha! moments populate her memory of what took her out of medical school in the 1980s and into her leading role as an icon of pain management for pets.

A high-school mentor’s words—”Don’t you want to be a real doctor?”—turned her from animals to pre-med. But during her sophomore year of college, she remembered her first love and returned to the path that led to veterinary school. Later, a dog with a painful bowel obstruction and a consultation with a human-medicine surgeon reminded her that the pain control used in people (morphine, in this case) had never made their way into veterinary clinics.

And then there was her adoption of a partially paralyzed pug, which inspired her to improve her speaking abilities in record time to advocate for disabled pets at a national AVMA convention.

“When Robin sees something as important, she will find a way to make it happen,” says Dr. Mary Beth Leininger, who met Dr. Downing on the campaign trail to become the AVMA’s first woman president. “She’s focused and forward-thinking.”

Dr. Downing has practiced primarily in small towns in Wyoming and now Colorado, but her reach is international. The Downing Center for Animal Pain Management in Windsor, Colo., is the first AAHA-accredited pain management referral practice in the nation. She was co-chair of the task force that wrote the AAHA and AAFP pain management guidelines for dogs and cats. And she was a founder of the International Academy of Pain Management, which is preparing to administer its second round of exams for veterinarians and technicians seeking certification through the organization.

Dr. Downing is also the first and only veterinarian credentialed by the American Society of Pain Educators, and she reads and travels regularly in human-medicine circles to discover the latest and greatest in pain medicine. “There are so many techniques in medicine and pharmacology that are tested on animals and brought to people—from the bench to the bedside,” she says. “I want to help bring them from the bedside back to the bench.”

Her grand vision for the rest of her career is to orchestrate communication and collaboration among human-medicine doctors, veterinarians, chiropractors, and other pain control experts. Since Dr. Downing is known to “make it happen,” the profession most likely does not have to wait long to see the results of these efforts.

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