When New York City native Dr. Erika Gibson was a little girl, she knew she wanted to be a veterinarian. Today she’s not only living her dream but also making history.
Gibson, 43, is a veterinary neurosurgeon at Garden State Veterinary Specialists in New Jersey, where she deals with brain, spinal and balance issues in animals. Gibson is also the first African-American board-certified veterinary neurosurgeon.
Spending her days with cats, dogs and other animals, she has a strong passion for her work, going as far to say that her favorite thing to do is brain surgery and how she likes that she never knows what the day will have in store for her.
“I get to work and I am around animals all day,” she said. “My job everyday is to help animals, and it’s rewarding and humbling.”
Born and raised in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Gibson said she’s known since she was as child that she wanted to be a veterinarian. She also developed a love for the brain and nervous system and wanted to fuse the two together. She made the decision while attending Horace Mann School, setting on the goal of becoming a veterinary neurologist—a targeted area in the profession.
While a teenager, Gibson was referred by a friend to Black veterinarian Dr. Julie Butler of the 145th Street Animal Hospital in Harlem. There she volunteered in the office, getting down the basics about caring for animals and learning about the field of veterinary medicine. She also volunteered at a vet’s office for a summer in California.
“It all just kind of said to me said ‘yes, this is the right path,’” Gibson said. “Dr. Butler taught me technical work, and I learned a lot from her over the years. She was a real friend and mentor for me, and she still is.”
Gibson would go on to college at Duke University, earning a degree in biology. However, it was at the historically Black Tuskegee University where she studied veterinary medicine. Tuskegee is the only HBCU veterinary school and is also the alma mater of Gibson’s maternal great-grandparents.
She’s currently preparing to visit Tuskegee, where she will teach veterinary students about animal neurology.
“Tuskegee was a one-on-one, nurturing environment,” she said. “I got the ability to look up and see other Black veterinarians, and it was really inspiring.”
After Tuskegee, Gibson went on to do her rotating internship in small animal medicine at Michigan State University Veterinary Medical Center. She then worked at a general and referral practice in New York alongside two veterinary neurologists.
In 2005, Gibson began a residency in neurology and neurosurgery at the Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, which she completed in 2008, becoming the first African-American board-certified veterinary neurosurgeon. Before coming back to the tristate area, she worked for several months in Newmarket, England, as a neurologist and neurosurgeon.
Gibson said, “My goal is to be the best that I can be in what I do, be in a working environment and being the best veterinary neurologist that I can be.”