Dr. Karla Rodriguez-Garcia’s journey from rescuing stray dogs, cats and even chickens with her mother in her native Puerto Rico to becoming the newest small animal veterinarian at Mattituck-Laurel Veterinary Hospital has been a difficult and rewarding one.
“I look back and how blessed I feel that I was able to accomplish what I did, it’s something that I can’t even describe,” she said. “I never thought the journey was going to be so difficult, but being from where I’m from — I did my bachelor’s degree on the island, too — just presented an extra obstacle for me.”
She knew at 7 years old that she wanted to be a veterinarian, even though there weren’t any veterinary schools in Puerto Rico.
“I knew as I grew up and went through high school, college, I knew that I had to move elsewhere to pursue my studies,” she said.
She moved to the United States in 2015 and attended Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Indiana. Prior to that she had only been to the U.S. once in 11th grade for a school trip to Washington, D.C. Dr. Rodriguez Garcia graduated from the university in 2019.
After graduation, she struggled to find the right fit, after practicing in Maryland, Wisconsin and Virginia, until she found Mattituck-Laurel Veterinary Hospital.
“From all the places I went, it seemed at that point that Mattituck-Laurel was the better fit,”she said.
A resident of Jamesport, Dr. Rodriguez Garcia has been their small animal associate veterinarian for about a year and a half and was recently honored by the hospital for her work as part of October’s Hispanic Heritage month.
Dr. Rodriguez Garcia credited her time with Dr. John Andresen, a veterinarian at the hospital since 1994, who died of esophageal cancer last year, as inspiration for where she wants to go in her career.
“When I started, I would do farm calls with him,” she said. “We had a good time just doing exams on horses, vaccines, getting blood draws, and he would mentor me,” she said.
Dr. Rodriguez Garcia sat down with the Times Review Media Group to share her experience at the hospital so far.
Q: What’s your favorite part about the job?
A: My favorite part, and this is something I didn’t have in Wisconsin, was serving the Hispanic community. Because that’s something that only I am able to do in this practice; nobody else has Spanish as their first language. And I feel very honored to serve those people that come here, either for the first time or [those that] have been clients in the past but have had big struggles communicating what their concerns were with their pets.
Q: What has been the most challenging part of the job?
A: The most challenging [part of the job] has been the pace and the amount of cases we see. We get a lot of same-day appointments and everybody has a full schedule. I think definitely learning how to get a hold of the pace of the practice and manage more caseload was a big one.
Q: Have you seen more of an influx of Spanish-speaking clients since your arrival?
A: I think by word of mouth it’s spread out. After you see a family and that family is comfortable with you, when you get through the appointment in Spanish and they’re happy, then they speak to maybe their relatives or neighbors and whatnot … There are very busy weeks where I’m like, “Oh, wow I saw maybe three people from Ecuador or Costa Rica.”
Q: What are your goals and plans for the future?
A: I feel like I have so many goals. One of my big ones when I practice, I always said I wanted to serve a Hispanic community so I have achieved that and I’m very grateful for that. I think expanding the species I treat. On some instances, I get to see rabbits or ferrets or hamsters, and I really do enjoy that. I would like to become more of a diverse veterinarian, like not only a small animal [veterinarian]; I would like to see the exotic pets, I would like to do some large animal work like I did with Dr. Andresen, so that I think that is one of the biggest goals I have.
Dr. Rodriguez-Garcia added how coming to the U.S. made her even prouder to be part of the Latin American community.
“I admire Latin people so much, wherever they come from,” she said in Spanish. “They’re such a hard working people and wherever you put them, they move forward despite finger-pointing or things like that and coming to the United States made that very present for me.”