Nicole Nietlisbach is a veterinarian at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
1. What is your current research/position?
I am a veterinarian for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. I work with one other veterinarian (Dr. Danielle Godard) and a fish health technician (Ryen Kleiser) to provide health services and guidance to state fish hatcheries and spawning facilities, conduct regulatory testing required for movement and stocking of fish around the state, investigate wild fish kills, and answer questions from the public about fish health.
2. What sparked your interest in aquatic animal health?
I have always been very interested in fish. I’ve kept aquariums most of my life, grew up fishing in the Long Island Sound, and did a freshwater aquarist internship with the New England Aquarium as an undergraduate. But, I didn’t know of a way to combine this interest in fish with veterinary medicine other than working at an aquarium, which I wasn’t interested in. At the end of my first year in veterinary school, I took a fish health course taught by Dr. Myron Kebus (State fish veterinarian at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection) and Dr. Michael T. Collins (Veterinary microbiologist and former faculty at University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine). This class introduced me to the world of aquaculture and from then on I tailored my veterinary coursework and externships to focus on becoming an aquaculture veterinarian. My interest in fish health was also encouraged by the awesome mentorship I found along the way from a number of veterinarians and fish health professionals, particularly Dr. Myron Kebus and Dr. Nora Hickey (Program Veterinarian for Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission).
3. What has been your favorite fisheries-related job?
This is my first fisheries-related job, but I did do a number of fisheries-related externships throughout veterinary school. It is difficult to pick, but I think my favorite externship was with Idaho Fish and Game. I got to spend six weeks working with their fish health department which involved many days out in the field attending spawning events to collect samples, investigating disease outbreaks, and conducting biosecurity audits. This was my first experience with spawning, which I found fascinating. Getting to work with huge chinook salmon or bright red kokanee is always exciting! I also got to learn a lot from the professionals working in the IDFG diagnostic lab. My externship with University of Florida- Tropical Aquaculture Lab may also tie for my favorite experience as I got exposure to so many species, learned about different rearing systems, and got to see a number of pathogens and diseases in person that I hadn’t gotten a chance to see before.
4. How did you find your current position?
I spent time as a student shadowing the fish health crew at the Wisconsin DNR (Dr. Danielle Godard and Ryen Kleiser). I let them and my mentor, Dr. Kebus, know that I was hoping to pursue a fisheries job after graduation and they were kind enough to alert me when this job opened up for applications. I also saw it advertised by some professional organizations.
5. What do you like about your current position?
I love the variety of species I get to work with (various salmonid species, muskellunge, northern pike, walleye, largemouth bass, lake sturgeon, bait fish, etc.) and the variety of work I get to be involved with. I most enjoy any opportunity to conduct clinical work or work with hatchery staff and biologists on fish health issues.
This job provides a great mix of desk work, lab work, and field work. I also like that my job provides the opportunity to work with and learn from fisheries professionals with a variety of backgrounds.
6. When and why did you first become involved with AFS and the FHS?
I only just joined when I graduated from veterinary school and started my job this past May. I use sampling standards outlined in the AFS-FHS Blue Book for regulatory testing and disease surveillance and frequently reference AFS publications. So, I felt that it would be important for my professional development to be a member of AFS-FHS. I’m hoping to attend a AFS-FHS meeting soon!
7. What are your long-term professional goals (FHS or otherwise)?
I want to continue developing opportunities for students (both veterinary and other graduate students) to get experience with fish health. I think a lot more veterinary students in particular would be interested in fish and aquaculture if they knew opportunities existed, had access to externships, and if more fish health education was provided in veterinary curriculums.
8. Do you have any tips or advice for others that may be looking for a job soon?
Don’t hesitate to reach out to mentors for help or advice in searching for and interviewing for jobs. My mentors were kind enough to keep an eye out for job postings. They also gave me great advice as I put together my resume and prepared for interviews. Try to shadow or work with people who have the type of position you are interested in so that you can get a good idea of what the day-to-day job is actually like. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to professionals with jobs you think you are interested in to ask for insight and advice. I’ve been amazed at and thankful for how enthusiastic people in this field are about helping students along in their journey to becoming fish health professionals!