Covering All the Medical Bases

A career in medicine always seemed to be in the cards for Samantha Sotillo.

Her father is a medical doctor. Her mom is a nurse. As is her sister and brother-in-law. She even has a younger brother in a nursing program.

“I have been around medicine my entire life,” said Sotillo, “but I always wanted to be a veterinarian.”

Still Sotillo knew it wouldn’t be easy to get into veterinary school. So she formulated a back-up plan just in case her dream didn’t work out. “My plan took me a bit longer than expected,” she said.

Her journey eventually landed her in Ames where she is starting her third-year as a veterinary medicine student at Iowa State University. However she had a few detours along the way.

Like her mother, sister, brother-in-law and brother she first became a nurse, earning a bachelor of science in nursing from Texas Christian University. Her human medicine career has taken her to a critical care internship in Dallas, a full-time position at Los Angeles’ Cedar Sinai Medical Center’s cardiovascular surgical ICU and even overseas.

It was in South Korea where Sotillo was first accepted into veterinary school, the first and only American who has been accepted into that program. And even though she is now in vet school at Iowa State, she hasn’t turned her back on human medicine.

Every weekend she juggles her time between studying and working as a critical care specialty nurse at MercyOne Hospital in Des Moines. She rises at 4 a.m. on the weekend, spending the day working with ICU surgical patients, then getting home late in the afternoon. “After I get home I study until it is time to go to sleep and then I do it all over again,” Sotillo said. “I was lucky my job allowed me to only work the weekends during the semester so I could focus on my veterinary studies during the week.

“During the summer and winter breaks I pick up lots of extra shifts at the hospital. It’s hard, but I know the knowledge I get from it is important.” Sotillo says working in a critical care position can be both emotionally and physically taxing.

“It’s not easy,” she said. “You don’t forget some of the patients – some who make it and some who don’t. I very clearly have certain patients in my mind that I will never forget, some with amazing stories of overcoming illness and some with tragic endings.”

That background in human medicine has helped prepare Sotillo for her veterinary medicine studies.

“I am absolutely certain my nursing education helped prepare me for attending a veterinary medicine program,” she said. “So many things such as maintaining sterile surgical fields, doing bedside thoracentesis, and even dealing with cardiac arrests and intubations are things I used to handle every single day as a nurse.”

Sotillo has a strong background in cardiology and it’s an area she hopes to specialize in as a veterinarian. While at Cedar Sinai Medical Center, she was around over 120 heart transplants in one year alone. That experience influenced her decision to join the cardiothoracic surgical team at MercyOne.

All that experience has led to her dream of becoming a veterinarian.

“I’m learning new things and in such greater detail but I think my previous healthcare background has given me a solid foundation onto which I have put my veterinary education,” she said. “I believe nursing has given me a strong sense of compassion.

“I think that level of compassion and understanding will help me with any client in any situation.”