New veterinary college clinician Mary Songster-Alpin embraces teaching, spectrum of care
The Small Animal Community Practice is part of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, one of the college’s three animal hospitals. The community practice provides preventive care to small animals within a 35-mile radius of Blacksburg.
In this position, Songster-Alpin will work as a clinical veterinarian for clients, oversee veterinary students in their fourth-year rotations, and instruct in various labs and lectures.
She is excited for the teaching element of her new position. "I love that light bulb that goes off when I'm talking to anyone — a pet owner, a student, a staff owner, a member of the public — 'Wow, I actually understand.'”
Songster-Alpin — who goes by Dr. Songster in practice — owned a private practice in Chaffee, New York, for 15 years prior to joining the college. Her practice focused on effective client communication, a skill she hopes to teach to veterinary students.
"I felt like the last 20 years, I've been teaching my clients, and the client education and hands-on client interaction is something I really think the students need to see. They need good mentorship in that because we can't do our job without being able to communicate with the clients,” Songster-Alpin said.
“Pets don’t come into the clinic with a credit card on their collar, and they don't get to make the clinical decisions. It's not fair to ask the pet owners to make major decisions without having informed consent. It's our job to advocate for the pet, but also for the pet owner, so communication is one of the most important clinical skills that a veterinarian can possibly have.”
For Songster-Alpin, client communication goes hand in hand with the spectrum of care, the principle that veterinarians need to go beyond the “gold standard” to utilize a variety of diagnostic and treatment options.
"To me, spectrum of care simply means that we are working with the client to do what is best for that particular situation. Even though we can do major surgery or a major intervention, even from a medical standpoint that might not necessarily be the best option, but also from a social perspective, from an economic perspective, from a mental and emotional health perspective."
On the personal side, Songster-Alpin is looking forward to moving her family — including her four cats, a dog, a gecko, and three horses — to Southwest Virginia, and she also hopes to revitalize the area’s high school exchange student program.
Songster-Alpin earned her bachelor of science from State University of New York, Cortland, in 1994, and she graduated with her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the College of Veterinary Medicine at North Carolina State University in 2001.