My conservation career motivated me to become a veterinarian

Russell Tucker
It was an early interest in falconry and my involvement in raptor conservation and management that motivated me to become a veterinarian. My experience with birds of prey gave me a unique set of skills and a pathway into the profession that culminated in a specialism in the imaging of musculoskeletal disorders.

While in undergraduate and graduate education, I worked with several influential individuals and veterinarians who were providing veterinary care and rehabilitation to wildlife. As a result, in 1975 I was a founding member of the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group, one of the first organisations to attempt to breed peregrine falcons in captivity for reintroduction into the wild.

This work is immensely important to me. We later joined national and international raptor conservation and management efforts through the Peregrine Fund and the World Birds of Prey Center. The combined work of these associations was critical to the survival and reintroduction of peregrine falcons, American bald eagles and California condors, whose numbers were then at a critical low, because of the use of agricultural pesticides throughout California, and the concurrent loss of habitat. Innovative research, captive breeding and the re-introduction of endangered species, coupled with intensive management of the remaining natural populations, means the wild populations of these wonderful raptors have partially recovered to numbers that could save the species.


"Three years working in private practice highlighted the importance of imaging, so I undertook a residency in diagnostic imaging"


After completing my first degree, I worked at the University of California, Davis (UCD) Raptor Rehabilitation Center, teaching students proper handling techniques and about the medical care of raptor species.

This propelled me into accepting a place at the College of Veterinary Medicine at UCD. I graduated in 1986 and entered private vet practice with a special interest in orthopaedics and wildlife medicine, continuing to support the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group as an avian veterinarian and surgeon.

Three years working in private practice highlighted the importance of imaging, so I undertook a residency in diagnostic imaging at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, which I completed in 1992, gaining my American College of Veterinary Radiology board certification as a veterinary radiologist. I developed a keen interest in veterinary orthopaedics and advanced cross-sectional imaging technologies, such as ultrasound, MRI, CT and nuclear scintigraphy.

Following my residency training, I accepted a faculty position at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University (WSU).

Veterinary radiology

My role as veterinary radiologist included teaching diagnostic imaging to veterinary students, interns and residents, performing multiple research activities and serving as a clinical radiologist for the veterinary teaching hospital.

Because of my interest in orthopaedics and wildlife, I was frequently asked to assist in cases involving diagnostic imaging of exotic species, including grizzly bears, many types of reptiles and wild and domesticated bird species.

Realising that there just wasn’t enough time in the veterinary curriculums to adequately cover diagnostic imaging – especially as technology advances – I developed several self-paced auto-tutorial interactive programmes to help students explore the many aspects of the subject in a time-efficient way. It was one of the most rewarding of my endeavours in veterinary education.


"I became the first veterinary radiologist to enter a research and clinical fellowship in human musculoskeletal imaging at the University California of San Diego Medical Center"


For 15 years, I served on a state-sponsored advisory committee for the development of biotechnology and medical devices, evaluating proposals for development of medical equipment and technologies with a diverse group of doctors, researchers and financiers. It was a fantastic experience, yielding insights into the craftsmanship of designing productive research and technology developments, founded on sound scientific principals and commercialisation potential.

I am also an active member of the Veterinary Orthopaedic Society (VOS), having been a member for 25 years. I served on its board from 2002 to 2006 and was president in 2011.

My participation in VOS has given me the opportunity to have critical and constructive discussions on surgical techniques/procedures with my orthopaedic colleagues. The synergistic interactions, bringing together diverse expertise and backgrounds, has often led to the advancement of veterinary orthopaedic practice.

Specialised training

During a sabbatical year in 2000, I became the first veterinary radiologist to enter a research and clinical fellowship in human musculoskeletal imaging at the University California of San Diego Medical Center.

It proved to be the most challenging and educational experience of my career, as I worked with leading authorities in musculoskeletal imaging in the human medical field. Returning to WSU, I was able to apply this specialised training to veterinary diagnostic imaging, especially in musculoskeletal MRI.

I retired from WSU in 2016 and now lecture on diagnostic imaging of large and small animals around the world. It is in this capacity that I am talking at the UK’s Vet Festival in June – discussing imaging in oncology, orthopaedics, internal medicine and neurology.

I also provide private teleradiology consultations from my home in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Teleradiology, the ability to transfer digital images from any diagnostic imaging modality to a specialist and/or board-certified radiologist for interpretation and treatment advice, has radically changed the practice of veterinary medicine. It is now possible to have immediate feedback, 24/7, on any diagnostic examination and benefit from collaboration and guidance from many specialists.

Without doubt, this is one of the greatest advances in the practice of veterinary and human medicine, as veterinarians anywhere in the world form diagnostic partnerships with the leading experts in the field of veterinary diagnostic imaging – as well as other areas of veterinary practice. It is the future and I urge all veterinarians to adopt it for the benefit of their patients and their practice.


  • 1974 - 1979: University of California, Santa Cruz – bachelor of field science

  • 1979 - 1982: University of California, Davis – avian science graduate

  • 1982 - 1986: University of California – graduated doctor of veterinary medicine

  • 1989 - 1992: University of Tennessee, Knoxville – radiology resident

  • 2000 - 2001: University of California, San Diego – research fellowship

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