Dr. Clare Hyatt, DVM, MS, DACVECC and Dr. Lindsey Nielsen, DVM, DACVECC recently joined VESCNM to provide 7-day a week critical care coverage for the Albuquerque facility, and constant access by phone or in person when needed in Santa Fe. These two doctors are excited to help the hospital improve their patient and client care, and constantly bring in some of the newest and best treatments for the critical dog and cat patients that need them.

What exactly is a criticalist?

Emergency and Critical Care is indeed a specialty.

Like other veterinary specialists, criticalists have to complete a three-year residency at an approved American College of Veterinary Critical Care (ACVECC) institution. Most residencies in critical care involve a large portion of time on the floor dealing with the sickest patients in the ICU under the guidance of a board certified criticalist, receiving anything that walks through the doors of the emergency room, as well as spending some portion of time with specialists from other fields such as surgery, internal medicine, anesthesia, ophthalmology, neurology and cardiology. During the three years of clinical experience the residents are continuously working towards the ultimate goal of publishing an article on a critical care topic as well as passing the grueling two day exam to obtain the status of board certified.

They are true jacks of all trades.

Criticalists have to be prepared for a whole range of patient conditions. Their qualifying exam includes numerous areas of knowledge, from heat stroke to trauma, to immune mediated disease and toxicology, and many more subjects. In the world of emergency this is important, since there’s no telling what patient condition might come through the door next. Some days are filled with vomiting, diarrhea and broken nails; others involve open chest trauma, kidney failure, and internal bleeding.

They collaborate with all of the other specialists.

Criticalists work very closely with all other specialists in the hospital, and often time help guide the ship of the hospital to ensure that the sickest patients are constantly getting the attention they need from all possible specialists. Criticalists often times take in any case as an emergency to help stabilize them, but ultimately might transfer them to another specialist once they are stable, or may constantly work with other specialists to optimize every patient’s care. Primary veterinarians often choose to refer a patient through the Emergency and Critical care service when a patient is likely to see more than one doctor, and the criticalist is likely the best doctor to help ensure that patient sees everyone it needs to.

They deal with the sickest of the sick.

No pet owner ever wants to hear their pet being called critical, but critical care specialists are there for that reason. The cases that need a criticalist can be complex, emotional, constantly in need of attention. Being a criticalist involves giving it your all no matter what the prognosis for that patient is. In fact, Dr. Lindsey Nielsen says it’s one of the most rewarding parts of her job, “Helping clients understand how critically ill their pet is and helping them make the best informed decision they can in that difficult situation.”

The secret of happiness is variety.

Many criticalists are drawn to the profession because they enjoy the variety of pace and cases they might see, constantly needing to be on your toes and ready for anything. Seeing so many varying emergencies keep things interesting for many criticalists: there is never a dull moment in the critical care unit!