New Ridgeview vet Cori Hoffman finds joy in medical detective work
March 13, 2022
New veterinarian Cori Hoffman's eyes brighten in his pale, angular face when he talks about the joy he finds in analysis – in solving the mystery of an animal's suffering, and figuring out how to ease that suffering. Despite the life and death stakes of his work, he's a gentle conversationalist; his voice has a slight lilt that's especially noticeable when he acknowledges another's input, a noise meaning "yes, I hear you" that ends in an optimistic up-note.
He seems the gentle, preoccupied scientist, kind-hearted and ethical.
Cori Hoffman graduated from Oklahoma State University School of Veterinary Medicine last May, "so coming up on a year ago," he said.
He graduated, and within a month he and his wife, Lydia, had moved to Alva to begin work – both of them – at Ridgeview Veterinary Hospital. Lydia runs the front office.
Hoffman has worked at Ridgeview before. He did his undergrad work at Northwestern (where he played basketball), and for his last two years at the university he also worked at Ridgeview, doing some technician work.
"It's kind of how I decided I really liked veterinary medicine," said Hoffman. He also met Lydia, his future wife, here, and everything just fell into place. "So I went off to vet school at Oklahoma State and then came back here."
The Book-Learning Phase
The first three years of vet school is all in the classroom. It begins with more generic courses in the first year, obviously, going into more depth in the second year, and taking elective courses in the third year. The fourth year is all clinical rotation, Hoffman said, done at the teaching hospital next to the vet school. In addition, the vet school students have 12 weeks of something like internships, where they spend a few weeks at different clinics around the state to get a sense of the different kinds of work done in different settings. Hoffman did his 12 weeks in several places, including Alva, the Texas panhandle, and other places in Oklahoma.
The 'Thrown In the Deep End' Phase
"Nothing prepares you fully for being thrown out into the world practicing medicine," said Hoffman. "You learn the foundation for what you do as a DVM (at vet school), and after that you spend every day learning until the day you retire. One of the best aspects of being a veterinarian is that you always have more to learn, you always keep learning more."
Hoffman spent the first three months just figuring out how to apply what he's learned in school and integrate what he's learned from first-hand experience, and come up with an understanding of a good, efficient way to move through the day. Those months meant "figuring out how much of what you were taught is practical for the place where you're at, and how much you have to adapt to make things work," he said. Different people do various procedures differently, so a new vet might wind up learning five ways of doing the same procedure, and he or she has to figure out which of those works best for them.
And that's in the first three months, which Hoffman admitted was "stressful." But now, almost a year in, things have smoothed out considerably.
That's when it really starts to get fun, he said – once you've got all the hands-on skills down, got them practiced until you're solid, and then you can begin to really refine them, perfect them. "Then you get more comfortable and that's when it really starts to become fun, because you can enjoy things a little more. Not that the first three months weren't enjoyable, but they definitely were stressful," he said.
Finding a Nice Groove
But now it's feeling better? "Yeah, it is. I feel I've got a nice groove, I feel like I've assimilated pretty well. I knew the vast majority of people beforehand, but everyone really accepted me really well. I had classmates where that wasn't the case. It makes the transitioning and learning process a lot easier. Right now I've kind of hit a stride."
Hoffman and the senior vet at Ridgeview, Dr. Lohmann, do all the surgeries in the morning.
"At first it took me significantly longer to get through my surgeries than it does now. Now it feels more comfortable, more efficient. Those mornings have gotten much less stressful for me.
"Then in the afternoon we do a lot more appointments for sick animals, large animal stuff. There really is no rhythm to those. You learn your diagnostic capabilities, what you want to run, what you're looking for, the common diseases for the area – and being here for almost a year we've seen quite a bit so I'm getting a feel for the common things you run into out here. That makes the diagnostic process a lot easier."
His favorite thing about his profession is the intellectual challenge.
"I really like how every case is kind of a mystery, kind of a puzzle. And every case is different. Even if it's the same disease process, every case is going to be different. So it's always something new and different. And then seeing things improve is always great. That is really rewarding."
But science is a reliable joy for Hoffman.
"I've always enjoyed the research side of almost anything I've done, where you try to come up with all the different scenarios for any given problem." He even took an analytical approach to playing basketball at NWOSU, he said laughing. "Medicine is very numbers-driven, very analytical, so I fit very well into that atmosphere."
Emotions can be a less peaceful side of the job, though.
When an animal is suffering and Hoffman can't help, "it's difficult, it is," he said. "And I don't know why it is, but they tend to come in groups, groups of animals that respond well to treatment, and groups of animals that don't. If you have three patients in the hospital and none are responding to treatment, that gets you down really fast. And the only way to combat that is to remember there's always going to be another patient. You have to take what you've learned from the non-responsive cases and apply those lessons to other cases. So even in non-responsive cases, I try to focus on that aspect of it and it helps me see that it's not all a loss."
He paused a moment, then smiled.
"And then trying to find things that aren't related to veterinary medicine helps a lot, too. Especially in a practice where this is all you do, all the time. That's how those first three months of work, that's how it was. It was good for the moment because I had to develop my skills rapidly, but boy it takes a toll on your mind. So, learning to take time to decompress helps with that."
To decompress, Hoffman likes to do woodworking.
"It's calm and controlled. I have very little control in what happens here (at the hospital). So I also like to braid different tack, some rope, some whips. So everything has a sense of control with it, and that helps a lot."
And, of course, nothing helps more than some free time with pets.
"We have our animals at home, so they're fun to go home to and have healthy animals to play with. That's really fun," he said, grinning.
Building for the Future
Right now, the Hoffmans are spending their evenings getting their first real home put together the way they like.
"When you finally get a house and you're there to stay, everything takes a lot longer," he noted. The couple doesn't have any kids yet, but they are "getting closer to that stage," said Hoffman.
Regardless, the pair plan to stay in Alva for good.
"I can't imagine living anywhere but Alva. Lydia grew up here. Her dad is Dr. Steve Thompson, who teaches biology at Northwestern. Her mom, Margaret Thompson, worked for the newspaper. So Lydia's been here her whole life essentially. We got married right before our senior year here at Northwestern (Lydia graduated with a degree in ag business), and then she got me through all of vet school by working at Enterprise. Boy, that's a great help," he said emphatically. "A lot of my classmates didn't have anyone by their sides. It really helped a lot."
And she's continuing to make his life easier, he said, working at Ridgeview with him.
"I have to have someone tell me what to do," he said, smiling. "I'm not a very good planner. I like to have a list of things I need to accomplish and I just get those done. She's the list maker and I just accomplish the list. It's gone really well. She spends the majority of her time up front and I'm mostly in the back. When we go home we talk about the day a little bit, but we tend to just move on to house things at that point. It's been really fun."
Hoffman isn't part of any local groups yet, he said; he just needs to get everything situated first. But being immersed in this community is definitely in his future.
"I knew from when I first came here, Alva's just a special place," he said. "And they accepted me so quickly as an athlete and someone who didn't live here; they're just such a great community. They'll do anything to help you. And coming back as someone who can help other people, too – I really enjoy that aspect of it. I enjoy life here. It's a great place to live and it has wonderful people. So I plan to stay here for a really long time."