After her senior year residency in veterinary medicine provided the chance to help perform vision restoration surgery on a blind Labrador Retriever Dr. Rachel Mathes ’01, DVM, knew she had found her career niche.
“When the dog woke from surgery I knew from the look on her face that she could see again, and I knew that’s what I wanted to with the rest of my life,” recalled Mathes.
Mathes holds a Franklin College bachelor’s degree in biology and is a graduate of the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine. She completed her comparative ophthalmology residency at the University of Georgia, where she also received her veterinary clinical and biomedical science master’s degree.
Mathes, who graduated from high school at age 16, said her penchant for math and science was an asset throughout her education, but she also found having a liberal arts background advantageous.
“In veterinary school, a lot of my classmates already had animal science degrees and more experience than I working with animals, but it didn’t take long until they started lagging behind,” Mathes said.
“Many of them had never taken more than 15 credit hours whereas I was used to taking 20 hours of liberal arts classes. Even later on when we had to do public speaking and work in groups, I was more prepared than my classmates. They didn’t have prior experience, and they suffered as a result. The drop-out rate was extremely high.”
Mathes still stands out from her peers. She is one of only 400 individuals practicing in her specialty field, according to the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists®.
“Being a specialist always presents challenges because you’re expected to be at the forefront of your field. Aside from surgery, a significant part of my job is staying informed about research and techniques that could help bring comfort to my clients,” said Mathes.
Mathes said there are many similarities in ophthalmology services for humans and dogs.
“We use virtually the same surgical equipment and microscopes,” she said. “There’s a large body of work that can be translated from the human side to animals.”
Mathes has published multiple articles in professional journals and given many peer lectures, including one in Denmark on her corneal research at the University of Georgia. She has also developed a technique in private practice involving the harvest of a patient’s ear cartilage for eye globe reconstruction.
“Anytime you can harvest a patient’s own cartilage there’s less chance of rejection. In this case, the patient had a tumor that caused vision loss. After the tumor was removed, cartilage was used to reconstruct the eye, and it incorporated perfectly. The patient’s vision was restored,” she said.
One of the reasons Mathes enjoys the field of ophthalmology is its instant gratification.
“You can literally change an animal’s quality of life in one day,” she said. “It’s very rewarding to hear from owners about the positive changes their animals go through after a procedure. A dog, for example, might resume playing with toys that hadn’t been touched in years,” she said.
After earning her veterinary degree in 2005, Mathes served with an animal hospital in Atlanta, where she started as an associate veterinarian and advanced in her position to hospital director. She later moved to Maine, where she worked for a small practice with several other specialists. In September 2014, she returned to Carmel, Ind., her hometown, and began working for Circle City Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Hospital. You could say her career has come full circle.
“It’s been a crazy, awesome journey. Every day being an ophthalmologist is good,” she said.
For more information about what a degree from Franklin College can do for you, contact the Office of Admissions at (800) 852-0232.
Founded in 1834, Franklin College is a residential, liberal arts institution with a scenic, wooded campus located 20 minutes south of downtown Indianapolis, spanning 207 acres, including athletic fields and a 31-acre biology woodland. The college prepares students to think independently, to lead responsibly and to serve with integrity in their professions, their communities and the world. The college offers its approximately 1,000 students Bachelor of Arts degrees in 55 majors from 25 academic disciplines, 41 minors, 11 pre-professional programs and four cooperative programs. In 1842, the college began admitting women, becoming the first coeducational institution in Indiana and the seventh in the nation. Franklin College maintains a voluntary association with the American Baptist Churches USA. For more information, visit www.FranklinCollege.edu.