When Amanda Smith was growing up in South Kitsap, she was surrounded by lots of pets and enjoyed them immensely, she says.
But her strong interest in the sciences in school and her natural curiosity led her down the collegiate path toward medicine.
But how to use her medical knowledge was a question mark as she completed an undergraduate degree at the University of Washington.
“I did know I didn’t want a job that I could walk into and do it with my eyes closed,” Smith said.
After considering her latent interest in veterinary medicine that blossomed while still a student at South Kitsap High School, she was drawn to the goal of becoming a vet.
During those years, Smith (then with a maiden name of Villwock) began working at Bethel Animal Hospital with Dr. James Wempe “to test the waters a little bit,” she said.
“I wanted to make sure my vision of what veterinary medicine would look like matched up with reality.”
After meeting with the dean of veterinary medicine at Oklahoma State University (“I was impressed with how engaged and outgoing he was — unusual for a major university dean”), Smith gathered her books and gear and headed to Stillwater.
While at OSU, she applied and received an Army scholarship, which paid a portion of her education. In return, Smith spent three years fulfilling her active-duty obligation after graduating in 2010.
Her Army stint, working as a vet with service dogs and providing care for service member animals, took her to Fort Bliss, Texas, for two years and then a year at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.
Her civilian veterinary career began in 2013. Since then, Smith has primarily specialized in critical-care and emergency work at a specialty hospital in North Seattle, and later in Tacoma.
Dr. Amanda Smith, DVM, now married to Adam and being a mother to four children, is busier than ever. But mitigating her whirlwind life is her joy at living in Port Orchard.
She works at Cedar Creek Animal Clinic on Mile Hill Road.
“My family lives here, my husband’s family is here, so coming back to South Kitsap has been great,” she said.
“I had a client come in the other day who turned out to be someone I went to elementary school with. It’s really rewarding to live in a place where I grew up and now my kids are, too.”
Smith said her South Kitsap school experience was influential. Two teachers made a big impact in her life, she said. One was her math teacher, Tom Felix, at Cedar Heights Junior High.
“He spent a lot of time encouraging me to reach a little farther and do a little more than what my expectations might be.
“He challenged me to think about things that were a little outside the scope of what you’d usually see in day-to-day life.”
She also counted her health teacher, Mrs. Little, as a school mentor.
“Her husband is a veterinarian in Gorst. She told me a lot about his work and planted a seed for me.”
While Smith had the talent and fortitude to become a medical doctor, she chose to treat animals because of the rapidly changing nature of health care.
“While I was going to school, my dad was getting really sick as I was making my (career) choices,” she says. “We were struggling with having to navigate the human healthcare system and the ins and outs of insurance coverage.
“I think that was the time when I thought, ‘Wow, I don’t want to have to deal with questions about what kind of care people could get that was based on their insurance coverage.”
For Smith, being able to spend quality time with clients and have a conversation to decide what works best for their pets and family was appealing. Not in having to consult the insurance carrier to find out what’s covered and what’s not.
And that’s a big part of what brought her to tending to pets — and their owners.
“I really enjoy building relationships with people, and I think that’s where human medicine struggles,” she said.
“General practitioners don’t have the time to really develop a good relationship. They sort of pop in and out in 10-minute increments.”
Smith said the relationship between people and their pets has changed over the last 40 years.
The vast majority of pet owners consider their Fido or Snowbell to be part of their family — and not just the dog or cat in the backyard.
“The decision we make together is important” and not taken lightly, she says.
That’s a far cry from the notion of the old country vet — the American version of Brit vet and surgeon Dr. James Herriot. Smith says veterinary medicine has made significant advances even in the past 10 years.
“What I love about medicine is that there’s always new research out there and new advances,” she said.
Veterinarians now can specialize in chronic-condition management, oncology, endocrine diseases and geriatric medicine: areas where a four-legged patient likely won’t be cured by specialists but where strategies can be developed to provide a better quality of life.
At Cedar Creek, Smith is excited about a new piece of equipment that’s arrived at the clinic: an ultrasound machine.
“That’s really exciting,” she says. “It’s a tool that can help us catch those things that might be subtle and not otherwise seen in x-rays or bloodwork.
Now that Smith has been on staff fulltime at Cedar Creek for the last couple of months, she’s enjoying the perks of working a regular schedule, unlike her time as an emergency veterinarian where she worked lots of nights and weekends.
“My new role here is so much more conducive to family life,” she says.
That’s certainly a benefit, like her daily experience of forging relationships with people and their precious animals.
“I love being able to see people with their little puppies all the way to them bringing in their very old dogs,” Smith says.
She finds rewards from facilitating that connection. It’s a lifetime bond between two-legged humans and their four-legged dogs or cats.