Residency Program in Zoological Medicine

Dr. Mary Thurber examining a Sichuan takin at the San Diego Zoo.
Dr. Mary Thurber examining a Sichuan takin at the San Diego Zoo.

Residency Program in Zoological Medicine

The Zoological Medicine Residency Program offered through UC Davis and San Diego Zoo Global is a 3-year ACZM (American College of Zoological Medicine) compliant post-doctoral specialty training program for veterinarians.  This program is a highly mentored and rigorous three-year post-doctoral clinical residency designed to prepare trainees for future employment and ACZM specialty board certification.  The program emphasizes clinical approaches for non-domesticated zoological species and wildlife under human care, such as those in zoological collections, conservation programs, or wildlife rehabilitation settings.

This program is a collaborative effort made possible through long-term partnerships between the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, San Diego Zoo Global, the Sacramento Zoo, and SeaWorld San Diego.  These partnered institutions in conjunction with additional affiliated organizations provide a rich learning environment for trainees to gain clinical skills, knowledge, and robust experience in Zoological Medicine.  The program emphasizes high quality clinical training while providing didactic educational opportunities, mentored self-directed study, research experience, and guidance in scientific publication and presentation.  Successful completion of this program by a trainee requires completion of a research project and publication of a minimum total of three first-author publications that fulfill requirements for credentialing to take the ACZM board certification examination.



Dr. Kristen Phair assisting with an elephant exam at the San Diego Zoo.
Dr. Kristen Phair assisting with an elephant exam at the San Diego Zoo.

The Zoological Medicine Residency Program offered through UC Davis and San Diego Zoo Global is a 3-year ACZM-compliant post-doctoral specialty training program for veterinarians.  Although trainees work at a variety of facilities throughout the training period, each trainee remains an employee of UC Davis for the duration of the three-year program.  The first year of the program is based in Northern California. Transition to Southern California occurs at the end of the first year, for completion of the second and third years of the program.  Typical work weeks are 5 days per week (approximately 40-60 hours total per week) with at least 4 hours per week allocated for office/study/research time and may vary depending on clinical caseload and availability of learning/training opportunities.  On-call duty is required for weekends and holidays on a rotating/assigned basis.  Schedules, rotations, and leave allowance are subject to change.

Program Year

Primary Training Sites

Year 1

UC Davis/Sacramento Zoo (Sacramento/Davis, CA)

Year 2

San Diego Zoo/SeaWorld San Diego (San Diego, CA)

Year 3

San Diego Zoo Safari Park (Escondido, CA)

First, Second and Third Year graph



The first year of the program, which is based in Northern California (Primarily Sacramento/Davis area) is designed to provide trainees with a strong foundation of hands-on clinical experience, primary case management, opportunities to develop technical skills, veterinary knowledge pertinent to zoological species, and exposure to research design/methods that are important to advancing the field of Zoological Medicine.  Throughout the year, residents participate in clinical rotations at the Sacramento Zoo, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, and The Marine Mammal Center while also having the opportunity to gain experiences at a number of additional zoological and wildlife facilities/organizations/agencies affiliated with the program.  In addition, this year also provides networking opportunities and collegial discourse with a large number of prominent veterinary specialists outside the field of Zoological Medicine.  It offers experience working with complex referral cases in a tertiary care environment and provides opportunities to develop didactic teaching skills in an academic setting.  This first year prepares the resident for the rigors of clinical training that occur during the second and third years of the program.  It also helps broaden, complement, and augment the overall repertoire of experiences provided by the program as a whole while simultaneously setting up the trainee for success towards meeting requirements for becoming board certified by the American College of Zoological Medicine.


The second or “John R. Peterson Zoological Veterinary Medicine Residency” year of the program is based in Southern California (Primarily San Diego area) and is designed to build upon the trainee’s foundational first year by providing additional rigorous high-quality clinical experience with primary case management spanning a broad taxonomic representation under the mentorship of numerous Board-Certified Specialists in Zoological MedicineTM and highly experienced zoological veterinarians.  Residents spend the majority of the year working as a member of the veterinary teams at the San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld San Diego with supplementary rotations in pathology provided for a well-rounded experience.  This year expands the trainee’s taxonomic exposure and clinical repertoire with additional opportunities for participation in clinical research endeavors, professional networking, and further preparation for board certification. 


The third year of the program, which is also based in Southern California (Primarily Escondido/San Diego area) is designed to expand upon the trainee’s first two years of experience by providing additional primary case management opportunities and exposure to species not as frequently encountered during the first two years of the program.  Residents spend the majority of this year working as a member of the veterinary team at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.  This year emphasizes further development of the trainee’s clinical case management skills and also broadens experience in the areas of population/herd health, remote immobilization, non-domestic ruminant medicine/reproduction, and megavertebrate medicine/anesthesia.  The resident is mentored by a team of knowledgeable zoo veterinarians and Board-Certified Specialists in Zoological MedicineTM throughout their third year.


Programs and Goals


Upon completion of the residency program, successful trainees will have achieved the following and each receives a certificate signifying successful completion of these requirements.

  • Completion of a minimum of 100 ACZM mentored clinical/research training weeks
  • Completion of a minimum of 3 peer-reviewed publications as required for ACZM credentialing (may complete prior to or during residency)
  • Completion of a research project including grant proposal, plan, IACUC/animal use approval, and manuscript (during the program)
  • Presentation of research at UC Davis House Officer Day Seminar and at a professional conference (such as AAZV, WDA, IAAM, etc.)
  • Participation in UC Davis 10-week Zoological Medicine Course with delivery of didactic instruction (minimum of 2 lectures) to veterinary students
  • Active participation in resident journal seminars including Zoo Journal Seminar, Companion Exotic Animal Medicine Journal Club, and Zoo, Exotic, and Wildlife Pathology Rounds
  • Development of and progress on a personal study plan for the ACZM board-certification examination
  • Attendance at AAZV conferences and ACZM exam preparation courses (as schedule and resources allow)
  • Demonstrated satisfactory performance in clinical proficiency, communication, and professionalism based on formal mentor evaluations



  • Zoological Medicine Service and Sacramento Zoo
    • Dr. Jenessa Gjeltema, Dipl ACZM (Residency Director)
    • Dr. Sean Brady
  • Companion Exotic Animal Medicine and Surgery Service
    • Dr. David Guzman, Dipl ACZM 
    • Dr. Michelle Hawkins, Dipl. ABVP (Avian Practice)
    • Dr. Joanne Paul-Murphy, Dipl ACZM and Dipl. ACAW 
    • Dr. Esteban Soto, PhD, Dipl ACVM, CertAqV
    • Dr. Danielle Tarbert
  • Other Services/Centers
    • Dr. Kirsten Gilardi, Dipl ACZM
    • Dr. Linda Lowenstine, DACVP
    • Dr. Kevin Keel, DACVP
    • Dr. Lisa Tell, Dipl ACZM


  • Dr. Nadine Lamberski, Dipl ACZM
  • San Diego Zoo
    • Dr. Meg Sutherland-Smith, Dipl ACZM (Program Coordinator)
    • Dr. Beth Bicknese, MPVM
    • Dr. Deena Brenner, Dipl. ACZM
    • Dr. Matt Marinkovich
    • Dr. Ben Nevitt, Dipl ACZM
    • Dr. Cora Singleton, Dipl ACZM
  • San Diego Zoo Safari Park 
    • Dr. Lauren Howard, Dipl ACZM (Program Coordinator)
    • Dr. Jack Allen, Dipl ACZM 
    • Dr. Meredith Clancy, MPH, Dipl ACZM
    • Dr. Matt Kinney, Dipl ACZM
    • Dr. Jeff Zuba
    • Dr. Ryan Sadler, Dipl ACZM


  • Dr. Elsberg "Tres" Clarke, Dipl ACZM (Program Coordinator)
  • Dr. Todd Schmitt 
  • Dr. Kelsey Seitz-Herrick


  • Dr. Cara Field, PhD, Dipl. ACZM




Selection of residents for this program follows UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine policies and occurs annually through the VIRMP (Veterinary Internship and Residency Matching Program).  The VIRMP typically requires completion of an application, official veterinary school transcripts, a personal statement, a curriculum vitae, and 3-4 standardized letters of reference.  Please visit the VIRMP website for more details about the application process and schedule.  The Residency Application and General Information page provides additional details about basic minimum requirements for UC Davis residents. 


  • Graduation from an approved/accredited School of Veterinary Medicine
  • One year of high-quality clinical practice (internship or private practice)
  • Ability to obtain an active California Veterinary License (or equivalent University Veterinary License) and USDA (Category II) Veterinary Accreditation
  • Ability to obtain a valid California driver’s license (with participation in Department of Motor Vehicles Pull Notice System/provision of DMV records) and reliable transportation
  • Successful completion of background investigation including criminal history and identity checks
  • Foreign applicants may have additional requirements and are encouraged to review the Information for Foreign Applicants page for more details


  • Two or more years of high-quality clinical practice (internship or private practice)
  • Clinical experience working with zoological species
  • Proven academic excellence and clinical proficiency in veterinary medicine
  • Excellent verbal and written communication, interpersonal skills, work ethic, and professionalism
  • Demonstrated research interest and aptitude as evidenced by research engagement, collaboration, project design, professional presentation, and/or publication
  • Demonstrated sustained interest in the Zoological Medicine field and specialty board certification through the American College of Zoological Medicine


Qualifying applications from candidates are provided through the VIRMP process, and application materials are reviewed and ranked by participating residency mentors from partner organizations.  Formal interviews are not given to applicants.  References of top applicants are contacted for input on the candidate’s qualifications. To facilitate a fair selection process, applicants are restricted from visitation during the VIRMP ranking period (typically October to February each year).  Open houses are available annually at UC Davis for applicants to learn more about the program.


Please contact the Residency Director (Jenessa Gjeltema, DVM, Dipl. ACZM at or the UC Davis House Officer Affairs Coordinator (Corey Vermilion at for more information or any questions related to this program.