Alumni Spotlight - Ken Gorczyca
BS '79, DVM '83
Dr. Ken Gorczyca, born an 'army brat' in Philadelphia, currently resides in California, sharing his time between the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County and San Francisco. As an active DVM, Ken gives his time and talent to many areas in the field. Some of which are considered non-traditional. Ken is a nature-based veterinary artist and social activist, an End-Of-Life Doula, a researcher in the healing power of the human-animal bond, and an advocate of integrating spirituality into the work of veterinary science. Much of his inspiration and guidance comes from his deep connection with nature. Ken deems that the Earth, or Gaia, is a living being that we veterinarians can understand and help mend. He believes that many of life's challenges can be answered by nature. Through this philosophy, Ken continues to find inspiration for his artwork and his calling to bring healing to animals, people, and the environment.
Ken attended the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis in the 1980s, a particularly challenging time for a gay man, as this was also amid the AIDS pandemic. In response to the many trials that came with Ken's identity and sexuality at that time while also navigating his academics as a DVM candidate, Ken was resilient, ultimately transforming his pain and oppression into creative pathways for future DVM candidates with similar backgrounds and identities and the profession at large.
The School of Vet Med at UC Davis honors Dr. Gorczyca for building a more inclusive and stronger veterinary profession. He is a founding member of the Lesbian and Gay Veterinary Medical Association (LGVMA), now named Pride Veterinary Medical Community. Ken also is the founding veterinarian for Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS) in San Francisco which helps keep people with AIDS and their animal companions together. The PAWS program, now part of the Shanti Project, is still in existence today after serving San Franciscans for 35 years, helping keep people with all disabilities together with their beloved pets.
Ken's current workplace is with A Gentle Rest which provides in-home pet euthanasia services, where he fulfills his vocation as a compassionate healer, artist, and end-of-life doula. Here he accompanies those grieving from losing their faithful companions. Ken comforts clients by providing a ceremonial ritual for end-of-life transitions, a calling rooted in assisting many of his friends and clients dying during the early AIDS pandemic (Ken's research on this topic was recently honored as one of top 12 research breakthroughs of 2022 by the UC system. https://www.ucdavis.edu/health/news/pets-help-aids-survivors-through-2-pandemics) He also offers his artistic talent to those grieving the opportunity to have their loved ones memorialized through a custom-painted portrait. In addition, today, Ken spends much of his time furthering his art career and serving as a guest teacher at the University of Vermont Companion Animal End-of-Life Doula Training Program. Ken believes most veterinary professionals, especially front desk staff and veterinary technicians, are already death doulas as they serve their clientele with dying pets.
As a believer in nature having all of life's answers, Ken believes we must learn to work with nature, not against it, and is a proponent of students exploring more deeply what spirituality might mean to them as individuals in the sciences. This is especially true within the power of the human-animal bond for people and during the end-of-life for their pets. He believes this openness is essential in the education and formation of current vet med students, and it is unfortunate that many in the field can't see spirituality and the sciences co-existing.
Ken shares that it was a privilege growing up when he could bond with nature and go outdoors without his parents worrying, "it was a different time." Today, Ken frequents a spiritual practice called "vision fasting," where he spends time alone in the wilderness to help combat this reality. He encourages people to experience this, especially veterinary professionals who might be struggling with their purpose, which he hopes to facilitate for the veterinary community in the future. According to the School of Lost Borders (www.schooloflostborders.com), the vision fast ceremony is a modern-day rite of passage that helps navigate the complexity of these times and mark, honor, and celebrate life transitions. This involves time out alone in nature, with minimal or no food, and leaving behind distractions and daily routines. When we take the time to honor life's changing seasons and thoughtfully respond to the question "Who am I?" and "What do I have to offer?" we step into our true nature and a sense of belonging amongst the land and our communities. The results can be profound. Meaning and purpose can return, and life can become richer, clearer, and fuller.
As Ken continues to further his current vocational priorities, he hopes to share his wisdom and expertise with the younger generation to create a more just, compassionate, and sustainable world. For anyone interested in connecting with Dr. Gorczyca or exploring his art and professional work, please check out his art website www.KenGorczyca.com or contact him directly at info@KenGorczyca.com.
 (Gaia is the Greek goddess of all living things, and the Gaia theory is that the Earth, herself, is a living being with consciousness and the ability to heal. Rivers are like vessels, forests are the lungs, volcanos are like pustules, and weather is like the mind…. For example.)