The 3-year-old girl spoke, for the most part, in a language only she could understand after immigrating to the United States from France with her Iranian parents.

It was a mix of Farsi, French, and English, and mostly nonsensical to others, aside from perhaps her parents.

“My mom said I essentially couldn’t speak one specific language for a full year after moving to Chicago, so I was just speaking gibberish,” Sarvenaz Bagheri said. “It was hard for me to communicate with people and hard for them to communicate to me, so I think I found that I felt secure and safe with animals.”

More than two decades later, Bagheri is fluent in three languages – English, Farsi, and Spanish – and her connection to animals has only grown. She is now a neurology resident at Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

“Even though my verbal communication improved over time, still having that non-verbal relationship with animals stuck with me,” Bagheri said.

Bagheri arrived at WSU in the summer of 2019 after earning her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University. While she had never lived in a rural area, WSU was an attractive choice for the opportunity to train under some of the nation’s top veterinary neurologists and to be part of its pituitary surgery program. The Veterinary Teaching Hospital is one of only a handful of facilities in the country to offer surgical removal of pituitary tumors in dogs diagnosed with Cushing’s disease.

WSU’s three-year residency program is designed to provide veterinarians with supervised clinical experience, training, and educational opportunities to further their knowledge and qualify them for board certification.

Sarvenaz’s official mentor is Dr. Yael Merbl, but she also works closely with the hospital’s other veterinary neurologists, Drs. Annie Chen-Allen and Vishal Murthy.

Veterinary school is known for being challenging, and the demands do not lessen for residents. Bagheri sees a full caseload of scheduled and emergency patients.

“From morning to evening, 7-7,” she said, “it is dealing with emergency cases and appointments and trying to figure out what is going on, what we can do to help, and what the prognosis is.”

She enjoys the challenges of neurology and putting the pieces together to diagnose and treat her patients. The specialty also allows her to practice in both medicine and surgery. Earlier this spring, she performed her first back surgery.

“It is so amazing – the patient was paralyzed the day before and the day after it had a lot of movement in its hind legs. It is really rewarding,” she said. “It is an amazing feeling to see that.”

Bagheri is in the second year of her three-year residency. While she does not have concrete plans for when she leaves WSU, she is leaning toward joining a private practice, hopefully in the Chicago area.

“That’s the plan I have at the moment,” she said, “but things can change, so I am keeping an open mind.”