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The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center recently hired its first full-time staff veterinarian, and after she graduated from high school, she used to scuba dive in the waters around Vancouver.
Dr. Allyson McNaughton, a Vancouver native, started at the aquarium about a year ago, as a part-time contract veterinarian. But her interests in marine life, marine conservation and animal care date back to her childhood, when she explored tidal flats, and her early 20s, when she volunteered at the Vancouver Aquarium. Her career specialization stems from combining her interests.
Now, after studying veterinary medicine in St. Kitts, West Indies and at Oklahoma State University, and after completing a two-year aquatic animal medicine and research internship at the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, she has found a home in Virginia Beach. Among the things she likes about the Virginia Aquarium are the sea turtle rescue and recovery efforts, the emphasis on conservation and education and the range of species on-site.
“People always ask me if I have a favorite animal and I can never nail it down to just one,” she said.
As for being a woman in a science-based field, McNaughton, 36, thinks there has been a generational shift among veterinarians, especially as an older generation retires. Her class in vet school was roughly two-thirds women, she said.
And for young people who might be interested in pursuing a career as an aquatic veterinarian, she had simple advice: network, volunteer at a facility and rely on colleagues for support.
“We collaborate a lot,” she said. “It’s a small community.”