What many people would find intimidating about emergency care for horses, Emily Schaefer finds invigorating.

“I love the unpredictable nature of it,” Schaefer said. “I love the stress and the challenge. And I love the fact that it’s important, the animal comes to you because it needs you. And the people that come along with it, they need somebody to explain what's going on and help them understand it. You have the opportunity to figure out what's going on and make some decisions that can potentially save that animal's life.”

The Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center (EMC) is filling two slots to bolster its emergency care of horses, recently adding Sarah Dukti in one of those slots. 

Schaefer’s passion is providing emergency care for horses. So, a fellowship for Schaefer to become a fully certified equine veterinarian trained in emergency medicine and surgery to fill the other slot is a win for her and for Virginia Tech’s equine medical center in Leesburg, Virginia.

Schaefer is in her third and final year of the fellowship in equine emergency and critical care, through The Ohio State University, her committed efforts funded by sponsor Shelley Duke, EMC Advisory Council vice chair, and her husband, Phil.

Emily Schaefer, caring for a patient in the foal box.
Emily Schaefer, caring for a patient in the foal box at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, VA. Photo by Sharon Peart for Virginia Tech.

Schaefer is a clinical assistant professor of internal medicine at the equine center, a hospital of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. She has been shuttling herself back and forth between Leesburg and Columbus, Ohio, while she finishes the fellowship. She travels to Ohio when she is not on duty or on call at Leesburg, her travel expenses and accommodations covered by the Dukes’ gift.

“If I had done it full-time in Ohio, then I wouldn't be of any use to them here at the EMC,” Schaefer said. “And then I would be working there as essentially a resident, be there full-time, and then. come back here two or three years later and say, ‘Hey, you still have a job open for an emergency person?’ But this kind of got the best of both worlds.”

Until Dukti’s recent hire, EMC did not have a veterinarian certified by the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care, and the equine veterinarian industry as a whole is suffering a shortage of emergency care veterinarians and technicians. It will have two once Schaefer completes the fellowship. 

EMC’s transition to a dedicated emergency service represents a cultural shift in academic veterinary medicine to improve both veterinarians’ well-being as well as patient care. While all equine veterinarians at the center will continue to participate to some extent in emergency and critical care of horses, the changes focusing Schaefer and Dukti on emergency care will allow other veterinarians at the center to emphasize their specific clinical expertise and interests.

Dr. Emily Schafer, Shelley Duke, Dr. Michael Erskine, and Phil Duke
Dr. Emily Schafer, Shelley Duke, Dr. Michael Erskine, and Phil Duke. Photo by Andrew Mann for Virginia Tech.

“The Dukes had an endowment that was established to support emergency medicine here at the EMC, “ said Michael Erskine (DVM ’88), EMC director.  “We approached them about basically using that endowment to underwrite a loan vehicle from the Virginia Tech Foundation to provide salary support and cover travel and lodging expenses associated with the fellowship for Dr. Schaefer, while she was involved in training off site.”

Schaefer, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, is already certified by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine. She came to the EMC as a clinical instructor in 2018 after three years as a resident in large animal internal medicine at the University of California, Davis. She had a prior internship at Ohio State, in the Equine Field Service, in 2011-12.

The fellowship is stretching Schaefer to new insights and new skills, she said, which will serve her well assisting with emergency care at Virginia Tech’s equine hospital in Leesburg.

“I enjoy the physiology details getting really into the nitty gritty details about interpreting patient blood work and patient physical status at almost a molecular level,” Schaefer said “I think that has  opened my eyes to really how the animal functions and why we make the treatment decisions that we do.

“I got a lot of physiology training in my residency, but this emergency and critical care fellowship is teaching me to go even deeper into that physiology. It’s also teaching me surgical skills that I didn't get at all in my residency. So I'll have basically a dual set of skills -- understanding what's going wrong with the animal at the cellular level, plus the ability to wield a scalpel blade safely.”

Written by Kevin Myatt, Writer/Editor for the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.


Andrew Mann
Director of Communications and Marketing