Carrie Wheeler

Heading in a Different Direction

Sometimes things don’t work out like you plan them.

Dr. Carrie Wheeler is just such an example. Focused on equine medicine while at Iowa State, Wheeler set her goals on pursuing an equine surgical residency.

“I was always on the pathway that included an equine internship,” Wheeler said. “At the time I graduated, finding equine positions was very challenging and a residency even more so.”

Still, Wheeler didn’t give up. She completed an internship at New Jersey Equine Clinic and enrolled in a master’s degree program at Kansas State University where she focused on orthopedic surgical research. 

In that program, Wheeler worked with a large animal research group primarily with goats and some cattle. That experience and other factors led her away from seeking a residency and towards an equine ambulatory position.

“Jobs at the time were still very scarce but thanks to my internship I was able to find a position,” she said.

Wheeler worked at Edelson Equine Associates in her home state of Pennsylvania for eight years before a back injury and burnout has led her in a different direction.

Today, Wheeler is a supervisory public health veterinarian part of the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service in Pennsylvania, a position she has held since May 2021. In her new role, Wheeler manages a team of food inspectors and consumer safety inspectors that monitor sanitary conditions to ensure the nation’s food supply.

Wheeler travels among multiple establishments to monitor the safety of meat and poultry production.

“My primary focus is the humane slaughter of cattle, pigs, turkeys and chickens,” she said. “I am also involved with further meat product processing to make foods such as hot dogs, sausages and meat pies.”

“So far, I am very excited and engaged in my new job. It is certainly not what I ever envisioned myself doing with my degree, but the change has been welcome. That bit of random large animal experience at Kansas State has certainly helped the transition, but overall, it has been really rewarding to get out of my comfort zone.”

The fact Wheeler sought to be an equine vet in the first place surprises even her. She grew up in a very “non-horsey” family.

“I am really unsure what drove me to continue to ask my family to see horses,” she said. “After I began riding lessons at a young age I was hooked and began to not only learn to ride but learn horsemanship.”

She actively participated in 4-H and Pony Club. She has had her horse, Iron Image, since she was 14 years old. His complicated medical history was the spark that drove her to equine medicine. 

Today Wheeler doesn’t ride competitively after Iron Image was retired due to his injuries. Now given her own back problems, she doesn’t want to risk further injuring herself, so she has curtailed her own pleasure riding.

But with her new USDA position, Wheeler has more time to spend with Iron Image. 

“Now that I’ve gotten a break from practicing equine medicine and I am finding more free time in my schedule, I am certainly beginning to enjoy hanging out with my horse and grooming him.

“Perhaps my riding career will enjoy a resurgence in the future.”