20 Questions: Deborah Elaine Linder, DVM, Veterinary Nutritionist

Last Updated on June 27, 2022 by Laura Turner

Deborah Elaine Linder, DVM, is a board certified veterinary nutritionist and a research assistant professor at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. She received her bachelor’s degree in biological anthropology and anatomy from Duke University (2005), and her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine (2009). Dr. Linder completed a one-year veterinary medicine internship at VCA South Shore Animal Hospital in Weymouth, Mass., followed by a two-year veterinary clinical nutrition residency at Tufts.
Dr. Linder is a member of the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association, American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition, Boston Nutrition Obesity Research Center, American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians, and International Society for Anthrozoology, and she is a steering committee member of the Pet Therapy Group Tufts Paws for People. She has been published in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital AssociationVeterinary NursingBMC Veterinary ResearchAmerican Journal of Veterinary ResearchJournal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical CareVeterinary QuarterlyJournal of the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science, and Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
When did you first decide to become a veterinarian? Why?
I actually decided when I was studying abroad in Rome. I was on target to be a classical civilizations major (basically on course to be a Latin teacher). When I was at these historic sites in Rome, I was so taken by the stray animals at all the sites, it started a self-realization that while classical civilizations always interested me, it wasn’t my passion to pursue in a career path. Luckily, I had taken some science classes and had experience at the Duke Lemur Center, so I was able to double major and complete all my pre-vet requirements with summer courses in my final year and a half.
How/why did you choose the veterinary school you attended?
I always wanted to go back home to New England after college, so that was an easy choice to go to Tufts. I also loved their wildlife program, which was unique to many veterinary schools.
What surprised you the most about your veterinary studies?
I was most surprised by how interconnected everything was. In veterinary school, you are responsible to be a doctor to every species except one (humans). It always fascinated me that we are so much more interconnected evolutionarily and physiologically than we realize.
Did you choose to specialize—why or why not?
Yes, I did a small animal rotating surgical and internal medicine internship for a broad base of clinical knowledge, and then I completed a residency in small animal clinical nutrition. I was fortunate in my first year of veterinary to develop a love of a specialty early on and knew what I wanted to do from almost the start of my education.
If you had it to do all over again, would you still become a veterinarian? (Why or why not? What would you have done instead?)
This is a difficult question. I think I still would, but I would have made very different choices as I went through my education. I entered veterinary school when graduating students were being fought over for positions and almost always got their first choice of jobs on graduation. There was minimal discussion over financial management and limited career development training, because it wasn’t very needed at the time when the economy was booming. Unfortunately, the economy collapsed right as I was graduating in 2009 and it was a very difficult time for my classmates and myself. Now there is much more personalized career counseling and preparation for students based on some of our hardships, which is a great offering now. Graduating veterinarians should be aware of what their total debt really means (as in, if you have this much debt, you need this salary just to make minimum payments, and if you choose to do an internship or residency, postponement of payments will increase your interest and debt by this much when you are done).
Has being a veterinarian met your expectations? Why?
I think I didn’t know what to expect, but I’m very happy with how I’ve been able to take charge of my career and where I’m at now. I’m already doing things I never thought I’d get to do or be a part of, which is really exciting.
What do you like most about being a veterinarian? Explain.
The one thing I didn’t expect, but was pleasantly surprised about, was that having a veterinary degree opens the door to more different types of jobs than you can imagine. It’s much more than being tied to a typical clinical job and you will never get bored in this field if you look into different career paths within veterinary medicine.

What do you like least about being a veterinarian? Explain.
In my internship, the most difficult part of a being a clinician, especially in emergency medicine, was how to handle clients who couldn’t afford treatment. It is heartbreaking work, particularly when clients take their anger out on you for not providing services for free.
Describe a typical day at work—walk readers through a day in your shoes.
In the morning, we have patient rounds and we walk through our intermediate and intensive care wards, looking at cases of interest (those with prolonged anorexia or having specific nutritional needs) and reviewing medical records with our residents. In the middle of the day, I may be doing research or writing grant proposals for future studies or projects. In the afternoon, I see appointments, either rechecks having a weigh in, or patients having their initial appointment in the Tufts Obesity Clinic for Animals. Our day then ends with another set of rounds, meetings, or journal club.
On average: How many hours a week do you work? How many hours do you sleep per night? How many weeks of vacation do you take?
I work approximately 60 to 70 hours per week, however, this is mostly due to my position as a newer junior faculty member. I sleep on average six hours a night. I have four weeks of vacation afforded to me and I usually take them all, but likely there will be pages or intermittent emails while away.
Do you have family, and if so, do you have enough time to spend with them?
I do make it a point to spend time with my pets and loved ones, though it does require time management skills.
How do you balance work and life outside of work?
I will admit, when you are a junior faculty member and you’re in the process of establishing yourself, work-life balance is a little skewed. However, there are a variety of job options I could have taken, and I knew getting into academia work/life balance would be more skewed at the beginning.
Do you feel you are adequately compensated? Explain.
I feel I am adequately compensated, but that as a profession, we need to do a better job charging for the true values of our services.
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain? Explain.
Yes, this is one area I wish I had much more guidance on as a student. It is hard to comprehend the immense impact of student loans until you are out in practice and budget for yourself. Like I mentioned before, graduating veterinarians should be aware of what their total debt really means.
In your position now, knowing what you do, what would you say to yourself back when you started your veterinary career?
Spend your summers doing something you’ll never do again solely because it interests you – it will be your last chance to do something not related to your future career.
What information/advice do you wish you had known prior to veterinary school?
See the financial information above. Also, your actions from day one in veterinary school can help or hurt your future career, so even though you’re a student, consider your classmates and your professors your future colleagues. So many wonderful things happened to me because I treated my classmates and professors with respect, and I think that needs to be discussed more in the early stages of veterinary school.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in veterinary health care today? Explain.
There is a large concern that we are producing too many veterinarians and there is not a job market to support them. However, I feel there are still plenty of jobs available, we just can’t all be traditional small animal veterinary clinicians. Thinking outside the box will be critical to keeping our profession from a bursting bubble.
Where do you see veterinary health care in five years? 
I am hopeful that as a profession we encourage wellness and preventative care to reduce the cost burden on owners of preventable diseases.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
I am on the board of our university animal-assisted therapy group, Tufts Paws for People. I truly enjoy visiting with our therapy animals and providing educational outreach, as we do this as well.
Do you have any final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing a veterinary career?
Gather as much knowledge as possible about the financial implications of going to veterinary school, but also keep your career options open and you’ll do great.