2023 Year in Review: Dr. Emma Winstead, Veterinary Intern

It’s time to look back on 2023! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2023 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

Weekends are stressful. Nobody teaches you how to manage people in veterinary school. Yet, standing in the treatment room on Sunday mornings as the only veterinarian in the wildlife hospital, you can’t help but feel – even temporarily and superficially – "in charge". On Mondays, the rest of the world returns to the clinic and everyone will inevitably find the things I missed and point out the mistakes I made over the weekend (a humbling reminder of why I am not, in fact, in charge). Tuesdays are dedicated to catching up on a backlog of procedures from patients who were admitted over the weekend and could not be prioritized during Monday’s busy treatment day. By Wednesday, I am often physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. On this particular Wednesday, the entire building was preparing for a large event so staff were exceptionally busy and stressed. On this particular Wednesday, I was totally content. I felt like all the stars in the universe had aligned so that I could be exactly where I was meant to be in life.

I was standing over a humerus, holding the draped wing of an owl in one sterile-gloved hand, and our pneumatic drill in the other. To my left, I had complete trust in the licensed veterinary technician keeping my patient alive and anesthetized (a task that is much more easily typed than accomplished, I promise you). To my right, I had a friend and mentor talking me through the fracture repair. It was one of those rare moments in life where you recognize an incredible experience as it is happening. A Type 1 Fun Moment.

Of course, it wasn’t just mystical, zodiac forces at play. It was four years of undergraduate, many days of which were spent in this same building as a volunteer. It was four years of veterinary school with countless unpaid, or at best minimum-wage-paid, hours spent handing instruments to large animal surgeons and lingering in the wildlife clinic at school. It was years of hard work before holding a scalpel came close to "fun" and farther from "terrifying". Most of all, it was the support of dozens of humans in my personal and professional life that helped me run, crawl, limp, and climb to where I am today.

 As 2023 comes to a close, Barred Owl #23-3848 will take her first laps on her newly healed humerus. The owl is oblivious to the people who helped her get there – except to defensively clack at those feeding and monitoring her daily. Being human means that I stress over my management skills (or lack thereof), catalog my mistakes, and constantly wish for more hours to accomplish unfinished tasks in the day. But it also means I get to feel exceptionally privileged on the Very Good Days where my community, hard work, and stars align so that I can repair an owl humerus. It means I can say “thank you” to the people who helped me get here, who stand next to me in an operating room each day, and who feed me dinner when I return home. 2023 was a challenging year for many reasons that extend far beyond my job. But it was also the year I felt extremely lucky to have kind and empathetic mentors, a supportive family, ride-or-die friendships, and the chance to fix an owl’s wing.

– Dr. Emma Winstead, Veterinary Intern

Check out all of our year-in-review posts!