By AnneMarie Hunter
“I call myself the wandering cardiologist,” said Dr. Ryan Baumwart, who joined Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in May 2020.
Baumwart, a full-time professor in cardiology service, arrived in Pullman with a vast spectrum of experience, a vision for advancing animal health, and a lifetime of caring for animals.
This passion for healing was kindled in Baumwart’s childhood, and it started at Highland Veterinary Clinic in Arapaho, Oklahoma. Founded in 1981 by Ryan’s father, Dr. Alvin Baumwart, the clinic’s mission has been to give ‘every patient the same loving attention and care as if they were the doctors’ own pets.’
“My brother, sister, and I grew up around animals and worked in our dad’s clinic,” Baumwart said. “Though we worked with him and loved animals, he always encouraged us to pursue other careers. We all looked into different professions, but the three of us gravitated back to veterinary medicine. Our father was a role model for us and we loved the work. That’s why we pursued it.”
Today, Baumwart’s brother, Chad is an equine surgeon at his father’s clinic and his sister, Angie is serving on a veterinary medical mission in Indonesia.
Prior to joining WSU, Baumwart’s educational and professional journey was paved with a variety of learning and life-changing experiences that took him from coast to coast.
In 2002, he received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Oklahoma State University (OSU). He then completed a one-year internship in small animal medicine and surgery, along with a four-year residency in cardiovascular medicine at Ohio State University.
Following this residency, he worked at a specialty hospital in Idaho for nearly four years. While in Boise, Baumwart was also an adjunct faculty member at WSU. After Idaho, he headed to a veterinary specialty clinic in Charleston, South Carolina for three years and then back to OSU’s Veterinary Medical Hospital for seven years.
BAUMWART DISCOVERS A PASSION FOR CARDIOLOGY
Among his stops on the journey to WSU was a cardiology rotation at the California Animal Hospital in Los Angeles. This experience was one of many in Baumwart’s life where his vision for serving animal health converged with an unforeseen opportunity.
“My mentor at California Animal Hospital was Dr. Steve Ettinger,” Baumwart said. “One afternoon, a famous rock musician brought his boxer to the hospital to be seen by Dr. Ettinger, a cardiology specialist. He took one look at the dog, examined him and diagnosed him immediately with a serious heart disease. An ultrasound confirmed his diagnosis.
“At that moment, I knew I wanted to do what Dr. Ettinger did. I thought to myself, ‘I want to be able to do a physical exam and know what these animals have.’ That day, I truly fell in love with cardiology and haven’t looked back since.”
Along with his deep connection to service and healing, Baumwart also arrived at WSU with plans for a research project he first mapped out while in residency at OSU. The project was a study to evaluate any adverse effects of Gabapentin, an oral medication commonly given to cats for sedation, or prior to veterinary visits to reduce their anxiety. Little did Baumwart know the funding for this project was waiting for him at WSU. Once again, his vision and opportunity converged.
The AFLAC Memorial Feline Cardiology Endowment Fund, established by Dr. Richard Carter in honor of his cat, Aflac. This endowment provides funds to the cardiology unit of the hospital for research. Baumwart discovered the support was available shortly after joining WSU.
Not only did the AFLAC fund dovetail perfectly with Baumwart’s original research protocol, the fund was available – and in the amount Baumwart had originally estimated for the project. Baumwart was awarded the funding in late 2020 and his long-term plans for this research were transformed into reality, thanks to Carter’s gift.
Carter was initially inspired to create the fund by veterinarians who had cared for Aflac at Green Lake Veterinarian Clinic in Seattle.
“Aflac received exceptionally good care at the Clinic,” Carter said. “When I asked them about making a donation of support and gratitude, they suggested WSU.”
From that important conversation, Carter connected with Lynne Haley, senior director of development, Veterinary Medicine, to launch the AFLAC Fund. Carter’s endowment is an example of how a donor’s passion can unite with student and faculty aspirations for scholarship, exploration, and discovery through the WSU Foundation.
After Baumwart received the award, he reached out to Carter to say thank you and discuss plans for the Gabapentin study.
“Ryan’s communication gave me a strong sense of being recognized, being important in furthering research for the well-being of cats, and being appreciated for my contribution,” Carter said. “It was very kind of him to reach out to me.”
In addition to this project, Baumwart has authored several publications on cardiovascular disease and teaches multiple classes in cardiology and pulmonology where he explores future research ideas with his students. “It’s a lot of fun to talk about projects, stimulate students’ thoughts and look at not only what has been done, but what can be done,” he said.
When he contemplates the future of solution-based veterinary medicine research, Baumwart acknowledges the significance of donor contributions for projects like the Gabapentin study.
“Donor funding is essential,” he said. “Support, like the AFLAC Fund, is absolutely beneficial for research projects that can provide answers to real-world problems. I hope we can get more people excited to donate and help, because we can do some very important work with this support.”
Like Baumwart, Carter also has hopes for new solutions to existing animal disease and illness, such as those that afflicted his beloved Aflac.
“Aflac was a wonderful companion. By establishing the AFLAC Memorial Feline Cardiology Endowment Fund at WSU, and continuing to occasionally add additional funds to it, I have kept my fond memory of Aflac alive,” he said. “My hope is that the Fund will further research on felines that will ultimately help cats to live longer and better lives.”