Veterinary Care and Education in the Wild

In the remote expanses of northwest Canada and Alaska, Dr. Michelle Oakley travels thousands of square miles to bring veterinary medicine to those living in the desolate wilderness. Her travels are documented in the television series Dr. Oakley, Yukon Vet, now in its eleventh season on Nat Geo Wild with previous seasons available on Disney+.

Equipped with a ZEISS Primostar microscope, Dr. Oakley performs a wide range of immediate diagnostics while out in the field.

The microscope’s wireless capabilities help Dr. Oakley engage and educate animal owners, students and her television audience by letting them see and experience details not visible to the naked eye.

Dr. Michelle Oakley with her mobile ZEISS Primostar.

Dr. Michelle Oakley with her ZEISS Primostar microscope

From mice to moose

“I treat all creatures wild and wooly, everything from mice to moose and bears, along with farm animals and pet dogs, cats and hedgehogs,” Dr. Michelle Oakley explains. “I started my training as a zoo vet and as a wildlife vet for Yukon Fish and Wildlife, and then developed a mixed mobile clinical practice that added another layer of difficulty. Here in the Great White North, it’s the mobile part that is especially challenging.” She further notes that the weather is often extremely harsh, the transportation options are very limited, and WiFi and cell service are rarely available.

Left Image: From a helicopter, Dr. Oakley aims a tranquilizing dart at a bison. Right image: Dr. Oakley performing surgery on a bear.

Self-sufficient, all-purpose generalist

Although veterinary medicine is becoming increasingly specialized, Dr. Oakley usually needs to function as an extreme example of a self-sufficient, all-purpose generalist. “I see a lot of dogs, for example with various lumps and masses, and I would love to be able to send samples to an oncologist, but that would usually take a week or more. I need a timely diagnosis so that I can treat the animal without delay.”

The availability of a high performance microscope has been critically important to her practice. The sharp images that the ZEISS Primostar microscope and ZEISS Axiocam 208 camera produce enable her to take better advantages of telemedicine with far away specialists. 

Example images of veterinary clinical samples taken with ZEISS Primostar. Left: Cytology ear discharge identifying yeast and bacterial infection. Center: Fecal floatation identifying a roundworm egg. Right: Fine needle aspirate of a benign cystic mass.

She is also better equipped to accurately and quickly perform a broad range of techniques: urinalysis, parasitology, microbiology and cytology on her own, avoiding the delays and risks of transporting samples. Urine samples, fresh hair plucks and skin scrapings may not travel well to distant laboratories.

The real transformative impact of the microscope has been in the field, where portability and battery power are essential.

Dr. Oakley will take her team by boat along the coast to a half dozen remote villages, sometimes under harsh conditions, relying only on the human and equipment capabilities that they bring with them.

The team does what they can, knowing that it will be a year or longer before they will be able to return.

Dr. Michelle Oakley shows her ZEISS Primostar on a boat traveling through the remote Canadian and Alaskan wilderness.

Dr. Oakley’s ZEISS Primostar as it travels by boat to her remote patients.

A natural educator

Her microscope, like her television series, inspires and engages. “I have observed a noticeable difference in compliance when I am able to show and explain details to pet owners and farmers,” she explains. “They can see and understand better, rather than just listening to my explanation.”

Left: Dr. Oakley shows a kitten’s owner an image of ear mites that were collected from her pet. Right: Image of an ear mite collected with ZEISS Primostar.

“More dramatic is the impact on students. Up here in the Yukon, young people do not have museums and IMAX theaters.

The ZEISS Primostar microscope with the handheld display opens up whole new worlds to them, sparking interest in science and their natural surroundings. They become intellectually engaged and excited by the opportunity to actually participate in my work with animals.

I am happy to be able to pass on this wonderful gift to them.”

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