A merchant marine, a veterinarian, and now a social media pioneer, Dr. Krista Magnifico (DVM ’05) wears many hats.

Magnifico is the owner of Jarrettsville Veterinary Center, a large, busy small animal practice in Jarrettsville, Maryland, about 30 miles north of Baltimore. Three years ago, she launched Pawbly, a free social network for people who are passionate about pets so they could get answers to pet-related questions and connect with local and national animal health experts. 

“When I looked at the websites available to pet owners, they were all fee-based at the time,” she said. “It wasn’t really building a library of information and resources for pet owners. The general client sometimes doesn’t even know how to ask the correct question to get the information they want, and the answers are never quick and easy.”

Pawbly users post pet-related questions about a wide range of issues, from disease symptoms to how to tell if pet jerky treats originated in the U.S. In many cases, Magnifico refers them to their local veterinarian.

“Many of the people who come to Pawbly or other social media outlets are looking for ways to avoid going to the vet, but in many cases, going to the vet is the best thing they can do for their pet,” she said.

Magnifico launched Pawbly after witnessing the power of social media in her own practice. “I spent nine years using other types of advertising for my clinic, but nothing comes close to the power of social media,” she said. “My clinic probably has five or six posts a day on Facebook. We post before and after photos of each dog that comes in for grooming and we will post photos every day of each dog in our boarding service if the owners want that as well. Their pets are their family, they post photos of their family on Facebook, and so that’s often what they want.”

Magnifico explained that she embraces the “whole social media aspect of veterinary medicine” and is one of a small group of veterinarians who are active in sharing their veterinary knowledge through a variety of social media channels. She has an active blog, Diary of a Real-Life Veterinarian, and answers pet questions on her @FreePetAdvice Twitter account. Her veterinary practice also has multiple Facebook accounts with a high level of engagement from her clients. According to Magnifico, other veterinarians have opportunities to reach more clients in their area using similar strategies.

Krista Magnifico (DVM '05) riding a horse
Magnifico rides a horse along the beach during a 2013 trip to Grand Bahama Island.

“The younger generation is actively using social media to find information,” she said. “My clients have children who are completely wired into technology and so they are completely wired into technology too. More and more people are doing their research and shopping in their living room through the power of the Internet, and veterinarians are missing out on an opportunity if we don’t reach people where they are now.”

Magnifico, who hails from Long Island, New York, has been involved in animal health issues in one form or another for more than 25 years, but her path to become a veterinarian is far from traditional. She lived on a New Hampshire farm for part of her childhood and then attended the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in marine transportation and biology, she was a merchant marine for 10 years, working her way up to the rank of captain.

“When I was a merchant marine, I spent four months on the ship and four months off,” she explained, adding that she volunteered at the Baltimore City Animal Shelter during her time off. “It’s difficult to spend half of your life at sea.”

After deciding to change careers, Magnifico moved to Blacksburg in 1993 to take the biology prerequisites need to apply to the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.

“When I was attending classes at Virginia Tech, I also started working for a farrier in the area,” she said. “The farrier started working on a horse, and I looked around the farm and spotted a pot-bellied pig. I asked the owner about it, and he said, ‘If you want that pig, she’s yours. My girlfriend left her here.’ ”

Magnifico took the pig home and it lived to be 17. She now has a second pot-bellied pig that joins her and her husband’s two dogs and four cats at home. “Her name is Strawberry,” she explained. “She’s so in love with sunshine that she stays out in the sun too long and gets as red as a strawberry a few times a year.”

Krista Magnifico (DVM '05) at graduation
A 2005 graduate of the veterinary college, Magnifico (left) now mentors high school and college students interested in veterinary medicine.

Magnifico’s experiences as a merchant marine prepared her well for the pressures of veterinary school and taught her problem-solving skills that she used in the classroom and the clinics. “We were such a close-knit group,” she said of her classmates. “There are only a few professions where you are spending so much time with others in training, and veterinary medicine is one of those professions.”

Many people helped Magnifico on her road to become a veterinarian, and now she returns the favor whenever she gets a chance. “We always have pre-vet high school and college students in our clinic,” she said. “We had four last year, and three of them are in veterinary school now. The clinic works with people up and down the ladder, from Girl Scout troops to college students majoring in agriculture or biology.”

Following the success of her veterinary practice and social media endeavors, Magnifico hopes to turn her attention to animal health advocacy and policy-making efforts in the future. She sees this as an extension of her work with the clients in her community.

“I feel so lucky and so blessed to be their veterinarian and help our community,” she said. “I ask myself, ‘How do I take that a step further?’ Many of us see our pets as our family, and I would like to do my part on behalf of those family members, whether it’s through the clinic, social media, or advocacy.”