Dr. Fonti is a Lieutenant Colonel with the United States Air Force. She currently serves as a Public Health Officer for the United States Air Force and Illinois Air National Guard.
She completed her undergraduate work at Loras College where she earned Bachelor of Science degree.
Dr. Fonti completed her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree at the University of Illinois, College of Veterinary Medicine and went on to complete a Masters degree in Business Administration at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale in 2012.
Dr. Fonti shares her home with husband, Nick, daughter, Mickayla, dogs Ivan, Stormy and Dragon, and two cats.
Idiopathic Issues: Describe your career path… the route you took from Graduation to what you are doing today.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 happened during the anesthesia rotation of my senior year in veterinary school. After considering positions in northern Illinois (close to my childhood home) and opportunities in the military, I ultimately commissioned as a captain in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps.
After serving three years on Active Duty in the Army, I left in 2005 and went into full-time veterinary practice as a relief veterinarian. Desiring practice ownership, I pursued a corporate career with the goal of making enough money in a two-year timeframe to buy into a colleague’s practice. As it turns out, I loved the corporate word, and the business and administrative spin on the veterinary industry. I worked for a major international petfood company for over four years.
However, military service called to me once more. I transferred from the Army inactive ready reserve (IRR) to the Illinois Air National Guard as an Air Force Public Health officer. To further pursue the business side of medicine, I obtained a Masters Degree in Business Administration, while working full-time for the Air National Guard. I am currently still a military Public Health officer, and am anticipating deploying to a desert location for six months later this year.
II: What does your job entail?
In the Army Veterinary Corps, my job entailed three main roles: food safety and sanitation, primary care of Military Working Dogs (MWDs), and the medical care of military members’ pets. In the Air Force and Air National Guard, the Public Health career field is much broader, but excludes the clinical aspects of veterinary medicine. Air Force Public Health officers don’t treat pets in the normal course of their military duties.
Rather, they focus on human “herd health,” including occupational medicine, reproductive and fetal health, communicable disease prevention, deployment and travel medicine, as well as food safety and sanitation. The job is more administratively-heavy, as there are several electronic health record systems and databases to enter data into, and pull reports from for the purposes of tracking, trending, and preventing disease.
II: What are the best things about your job?
Wearing the uniform certainly makes me a member of another family. Especially as a Guard member that isn’t subject to moving (Permanent Change of Station, or PCS) every 2-5 years.
The camaraderie felt within my current medical unit of 66 members is amazing, as well as the extended support often felt within the total family of our whole wing of 900 military members. We take care of each other and form very close bonds.
II: What are some challenges you face in your position?
In the Active Duty Army and Active Duty Air Force, promotion and career opportunities are most often created through changing locations. But, in the National Guard, our force is typically older and much more stable, which has the downside of less upward mobility.
If you aren’t willing to move to another Guard unit, or cross train into another career field, your opportunities may be limited.
II: Looking back, what do you know now that you wish you would have known as a Vet Student?
"There is only one thing I would change based on current knowledge – I wish I had purchased all the text books from veterinary school and kept them (rather than borrowing or selling them to the next class). "
Even though some of those texts would be a bit dated today (14 years after graduating), I would have referred to them many times over the years.
II: What are some challenges/changes you see for the veterinary profession?
Although I do occasional relief work, I’ll admit I’m largely removed from many of the day-to-day challenges clinical practitioners face. However, my experiences providing clinical veterinary relief services, marketing and communications work in the corporate animal health industry, and in managing a military human medical group have all revealed one overwhelming trend amidst veterinary and human medical doctors – we are not typically good practice managers, team leaders, communicators, or business professionals.
If veterinarians want to continue to be fulfilled, financially successful, and ultimately in control of the veterinary profession, more of us should consider taking courses or seminars in management, HR, finance, marketing, business, etc. This was one impetus for me to pursue the MBA. Although my current position focuses largely on human medical health, I hope to use my MBA in the future to benefit the veterinary profession.
II: What is your most memorable patient or moment in veterinary medicine?
My most memorable moment was the first rabies vaccine I gave as a doctor and captain in the Army. It was my first week, and I needed to give the vaccine to a German shepherd Military Working Dog.
After “injecting” the dog, the dog handler, a young enlisted Air Force Security Forces member asked ever so politely, “Ma’am – is it supposed to go on the floor?” Yep, I missed! Great way to make a first impression!
II: What are some of your hobbies outside of veterinary medicine?
I play the piano, and I love karaoke. My husband and I also own several rental properties, so real estate is always on our mind. And finally, since I’m married with a 7-year old daughter, my life is filled with books, toys, and Netflix shows about dinosaurs, dragons, Disney princesses, and Power Rangers.
II: Do you have a dream species that you would like to work with?
Giraffes. And pretty much any mammal at the zoo. But, I find it highly unlikely that I will go back and do a zoo medicine residency!
II: How would you like to see technology affect vet med?
Education, education, education. Whether that’s in undergrad, vet school, or another advanced degree. Through advancements in online education, social media, and communication, I was personally able to complete an accredited MBA in two years completely online, while working fulltime and raising a family.
II: Anything other words of advice about your specialty?
If you have a desire to serve your country through military service, it’s rarely too late if you’re in good health and aren’t afraid of running, push-ups, and sit-ups.
Doctors can get age waivers even in their 40s and 50s if they want to serve on Active Duty or in one of the Reserve Components (National Guard and Reserves) as a traditional part-time member.
II: Anything else you’d like to share?
Never stop learning. Treat yourself to a nice five-day CE conference in a desirable location. And when you get there, attend a few lectures that have little or nothing to do with your current species or discipline.
It’s amazing the inspiration or insight you might discover by learning about emerging infectious diseases, how swine herd health has a more global impact than you think, or how tough it can be to perform an accurate read on a blood spear or fine needle aspirate.
It can awaken some memories of vet school (yes, not all good), and why we sacrificed so much time, money, and brain power to obtain that DVM or VMD.
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