Meet the Veterinary Teaching Hospital Team – Dr. Nickol Finch

Dr. Nickol Finch has been providing exceptional care for wildlife and exotic pets at Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital for more than two decades. 

She graduated from WSU’s Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program in 2001 and joined the teaching hospital’s team soon after. In 2011, she was promoted to the head of the hospital’s Exotics and Wildlife Department.

She recently took the time to discuss her experiences at the hospital and other thoughts.

What made you decide to go into veterinary medicine?

It was just what I always wanted to do. I always had pets as a child, and as I got a little older, we moved to a place where we could have horses and other farm animals. The one thing my dad never told me no on was getting animals. We lived across the street from the biggest livestock auction in Utah at the time, so every Monday night we’d go over and see what had come in for the sale the next day, just looking around. Most of my earliest memories include animals.

When and why did you decide to specialize in exotics?

I did a few rotations through exotics when I was in my fourth year of WSU’s veterinary program and had taken Dr. Erik Stauber’s classes in my second and third years. As a kid, we had rabbits (both house and hutch), hamsters, mice, chickens, ducks, and turkeys, so it was natural to want to work on them when I graduated, but I hadn’t intended to specialize in exotics.

When I graduated I went to a small animal private practice in Oregon, where I saw all the exotics that came in because none of the other docs wanted to, but we didn’t get a lot at that practice. It was still a time when people didn’t spend $35 for an office call on a $15 hamster. About three months into that associate position, I got a call from Dr. Stauber saying he was thinking about retiring and he asked if I was interested in coming back to exotics. Six months after graduation, I was back in Pullman and with the university.

What is your typical day like at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital?

There isn’t a typical day! I may do a dental on a rabbit, nail trim on a cockatoo, beak trim on a turtle, and surgery on a rat all in the same day. We have certain days of the week that are more catered to doing actual appointments, which we try to have be in-and-out procedures, like blood draws, nail trims, yearly exams, etc., but a wrench always ends up getting thrown in. We may find one of the yearly exam animals is sick and the owners hadn’t realized it, or we may need to get radiographs, which also usually require anesthesia. Surgery days could include spaying a rabbit, neutering or spaying a rat, removing a mass from a ferret, or debriding an abscess. You just never know what the day holds until it gets there, and then it rarely stays the way it was planned to be in the morning.

What do you most enjoy about your career?

Dr. Finch holding a Red-Tailed Python.

I’m never bored! With the diversity of animals that we see – reptiles, avians, mammals, fish, and amphibians – I am still, even 20 years out of school, always learning new things. I spend a lot of time every day looking up treatments for cases, trying to figure out appropriate tests to figure out what is affecting an animal, or trying to make sense of the test results I have. Not all the species I work with respond to certain treatments or medications the same way that other animals may, so I’m always looking stuff up trying to make sure I’m keeping up with the research and treating my patients appropriately.

Why have you decided to stay in academia rather than join a private practice or industry?

I wouldn’t really like to go to a traditional practice where I would also have to see dogs and cats. I don’t mind it, but it isn’t really my passion. I also like teaching. I love seeing the excitement of the students when they get to see a species for the first time and knowing that by coming through exotics, hopefully, those students will go on to see exotics in the future, and eventually, we won’t have any clinics that turn away exotics because they don’t have someone to see them.

What do you most enjoy about working with students?

The excitement – when they see that first snake and see where the heart is beating; when they successfully draw blood from their first budgie! Everything in exotics is new and exciting to them, so it helps keep me excited, even though I may have seen or done that particular thing a thousand times.

Do you have any pets? What can you tell me about them?

Right now, I have fewer than normal, but I currently have seven cats ranging from about 14 years old to 3 years old. All have been rescues/foster fails. I also have four dogs, with the oldest, a rescue, being about 12. I also have a guinea pig, a uromastyx lizard, a blue tongue skink, a Russian tortoise, and an Amazon parrot that all live in the house. Amazingly, I rarely have any fights, and everyone gets along pretty well. I did have a rabbit that recently passed at about 8 years old, and my degu passed even more recently, but she was almost 15 years old.

I am also vice president for a 501(c)3 rescue, Snake Haus, so I have an extra building that houses roughly 30 snakes. I have a few small red-tailed boas, many ball pythons, corn snakes, king snakes, and a couple of blood pythons. I have to stick to snakes small enough to be handleable with only one person, so nothing huge at my house.

What do you do for fun outside of work?

Is there fun outside of work? This year has been very challenging. Our other exotics veterinarian, Dr. Marcie Logsdon, was out on maternity leave for the first half of the summer, so I was holding down the fort while she was away.

We have also had to deal with highly pathogenic avian influenza in the wildlife populations. We’ve had to reorganize many things at WSU to be able to continue to see client-owned birds as well as wild birds that need care without risking the spread of the disease.

I am also on the board of directors for the local humane society, which has had some big changes recently.

When I do get a little time off, I play with my own animals, and I like to go to the mountains, do yard work, and ride motorcycles.