Staff Spotlight: Dr. Laura Ellsaesser, Veterinarian

One of our volunteer Technician Assistants suggested recently that we add a “Staff Spotlight” to the DLC’s monthly volunteer newsletter. We loved the idea so much that we’ve expanded it into monthly blog posts as well! Many friends of the DLC know us in passing, but may not know what led us to our careers or what we love most about working here. What a fun way for everyone to learn more about the Lemur Center’s wonderful staff!

Here, DLC veterinarian Laura Ellsaesser kicks off the Staff Spotlights series.

Dr. Laura Ellsaesser (right) examines a blue-eyed black lemur infant. 

I’m the Duke Lemur Center’s staff veterinarian and have worked here for nine months, living the dream! I knew from a very young age I wanted to be a veterinarian and have always been drawn to zoos, wildlife, and conservation. I completed my undergraduate degrees in Zoology and Wildlife Science at Auburn University. While at Auburn, I worked extensively with raptors at the Southeastern Raptor Center as a rehabilitation volunteer.

After graduating, I was introduced to lemurs through a six-month husbandry internship at the Lemur Conservation Foundation, where I became fascinated with lemurs and developed a soft spot for mongoose lemurs in particular. When I started vet school at North Carolina State University, I knew the DLC was just down the road and started looking for every opportunity to make it over here to continue working with these incredible animals. Initially I had hoped to volunteer; but a busy school schedule didn’t allow for that, so I took advantage of every class and rotation that brought NCSU vet students to the DLC.

I spent my first year out of school at Texas A&M University for a year-long internship in small animal medicine and surgery. While I was there, I got to spend some time working with the zoo service to keep my interest alive while I was really honing my skills in dog and cat medicine and surgery. As I approached the end of my year at A&M, I started looking for a job that would bring me closer to home and accepted a position as a small animal ER doctor in Suffolk, VA. At the time the ER schedule was rather appealing because I had every third week off. What better way to spend that week off than to come back to the Triangle to visit friends and spend time with the vet department at the DLC?! Fortunately, DLC veterinarian Bobby Schopler entertained my request and allowed me to come down when I was free.

After about 18 months, the grueling overnight and weekend shifts were just too much, so I took a job in a small animal general practice for a better work-life balance. I gained invaluable experience during my time in small animal emergency and general practice, but I always knew it was not where I was meant to spend my career.

At the same time I was considering it was time to make my next career move, Bobby called to tell me the staff veterinarian position was opening up at the DLC. I was floored. Had I just received a phone call telling me my dream job was opening up and asking if I would be interested in applying?! This is the stuff that happens in the movies, this couldn’t possibly be real! After a long three-month application and interview process, that dream came true and I started making plans to move back to North Carolina and never look back.

I couldn’t be happier at the DLC! I’m surrounded by the best in the business and genuinely great people. I get to work with students, and I get to practice the best medicine for any given case, including consulting and working with specialists when things get complicated. I get to tap into advanced technology resources in the area, including CTs and 3-D printers; and I get to do all of this for the most incredible animals around, lemurs (and lorises)! I would be hard-pressed to pick a favorite lemur (or loris) because they are all so interesting in their own unique ways.

Outside of work I enjoy anything that will get me outside; music of all kinds; reading and movies; nerdy math puzzles; and spending time with my family. I’m lucky to have found the love of my life, the greatest fiancée ever, Rita, and cool soon-to-be stepson.  We have our four rotten fur-babies who are a source of endless entertainment: three cats, Sokatra, Linguini, and Tilt; and one yorkie mix, Chanz. Life is good!

Dr. Ellsaesser and DLC senior veterinarian Bobby Schopler examine aye-aye Ozma’s teeth during a routine exam.