A word that comes to mind when describing Caroline Smith is passion. Her passion for animals, her passion for Nashville and her passion for, well, LIFE. A veterinarian with a specialty in animal acupuncture, her path was filled with a drive that comes only from true devotion. She serves on committees for Land Trust of Tennessee and Cheekwood, she’s committed to her practice, she’s beaten breast cancer, and she’s a friend to all those she meets. Without further ado, meet Caroline Smith, our newest FACE of Nashville!
Tell us about your background. Have you always lived in Nashville?
I was born and raised right here. When I left for college, you could still get sausage biscuits at the CY market and park in front of the Station Inn. Fresh out of the University of Virginia, I went to New York City to work for an acupuncturist, cleaned kennels, assisted vets, walked dogs, interned for the Wildlife Conservation Society in Central Park Zoo — basically anything that I could do to learn and still pay my rent. When my year was up, I headed south to Knoxville for veterinary school at UT College of Veterinary Medicine.
In my four years there, I studied my tail off. There are many species to know, and as medicine continues to advance, the textbooks get thicker. Veterinary medicine is not for those who just love animals. It is for those who decide that they want to be scientists because they love animals, and love the people who come along with the animals (thank you, psychology degree).
After I got my DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree), my first job was in the foaling barns and breeding sheds of central Kentucky, which quickly became my home away from home. I lived on Arthur Hancock’s Stone Farm. I knew that there was a science behind raising a racehorse, and by watching Mr. Hancock, the real deal of horsemen, I saw that there was an art to it too. My morning commute was a walk to the foaling barn — until, all at once, my phone, pager and text would ring to tell me that there was an emergency in whatever county I had to dash to. On went my insulated coveralls and off went my mobile vet unit — seriously, this is what it was like, moment to moment, and I loved every single minute of it. I cut my teeth in Bourbon Co. and learned how to be a doctor from a few of the best mentors in the world of equine care. Spending my 30s delivering racehorses, treating emergencies and watching a morning workout with a trainer at the track was not half bad for a Pony Club gal who grew up in the saddle with a dream to be a veterinarian.
Somehow, through love lost and then found, I made my way back home. I worked in a small animal clinic, a research lab at Vanderbilt in a post-doc fellowship, did a brief stint with the USDA, beat the heck out of breast cancer, all the while continuing to provide veterinary acupuncture and hatching my plan to start my own integrative veterinary practice.
How has all that you have done led you to your current career?
From Montessori school to graduate school, I have always loved working with my hands. Simply put, veterinary medicine is a vocation for me, and a specialty in acupuncture was a natural progression because it allows me to use my hands for point location and comparative anatomy. Who doesn’t love to touch an animal and help heal them from the inside out?
But I didn’t specialize in acupuncture right away. I spent a couple of years lying on my belly delivering foals by night, becoming a sound veterinarian by day by doing an internship in equine field care, and then staying on as an associate with a 65-doctor firm in Kentucky. In veterinary medicine, you must be a DVM before you can be an acupuncturist. So while the desire to learn acupuncture was present for years, I had to get to a place in my career where I was comfortable as a western practitioner before I brought anything else into my practice, eastern or otherwise. The moment I knew that I was ready, my soon-to-be teacher told me a Chinese proverb: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears,” and I traveled to the Chi Institute in Ocala, Florida. There is so much to learn from a form of medicine that is 4,000 years old – now an added tool in my toolbox.
We have to know more about dog and horse acupuncture. What can acupuncture do for animals?
Acupuncture can help animals with anxiety, arthritis, disk disease, lameness and other neurologic, ophthalmologic, orthopedic and reproductive problems. Sometimes it is as simple as regulating a breeding mare’s cycle, inducing ovulation or just preventative medicine. Equines have been receiving acupuncture for thousands of years, and there are many classical equine points that we can use diagnostically.
I always examine the entire animal, assess pulse quality, tongue color and then treat by placing tiny needles in acupoints, called dry needling. I am a conservative practitioner — I treat with the fewest number of points that will maximize the effects and allow the animal’s own body to do the healing work that it knows how to do. I am there to guide the process.
You’ve seen the impact of pet and owner relationship. Can you share a story about the effects you’ve seen of pets on their owners?
I work a lot with the canine geriatric population and see the power of the human-animal bond, each unique and beautiful. I know (all too well) that loving an animal fiercely makes it much harder to say goodbye, so I help people through the decision-making process in end-of-life care. It doesn’t always make things easier, but together we can give meaning to a process that can be confusing and painful, at best.
I support people while they listen to their animals and make decisions with fewer regrets. I spent the first part of my career bringing life into this world, and helping my clients gracefully love them out of this world is equally important. It is the yin and the yang. It is part of what calls me to this work … the appreciation, the gratitude, the hope of souls reuniting.
Do you have any pets yourself?
Freya. As a pup, she cried and howled and carried on when I picked up any of her siblings from the whelping box. When I lifted her up, she would go limp on her back and just look at me, waiting for my next move. All I can say is that while I was offered the pick of the litter, she is really the one who picked me, and my life forever changed. She is the kind of dog who looks you in the eye and holds you accountable. She knows how to comfort me, make me laugh, make me play and, best of all, she loves those whom I love. We are each others’ excuse to get outside as fast as we can each morning and set our rhythm to the wag of her tail. We start our day happy. She also snuggles pretty well. My life is exponentially better because of the animals that I have loved.
What is your favorite hidden gem in Nashville?
Middle Tennessee Pony Club, the first Pony Club in the U.S., was founded by Nashville’s own Margaret Warden. Our home barn was in Warner Parks, and it was here that I learned discipline, responsibility and independence (parents were not allowed). I learned about hard work and that things don’t always come easy, that grit and perseverance come from the core, that a good horseman is both kind and gentle — and always a good sport.
Some others … Dozen Bakery has the best chocolate chip cookies money can buy. The annual winter night when Greensky Bluegrass comes to Nashville to play at the Mother Church. Debbie Dover’s salon chair. Kimchi rolls from AVO. Lyle Harvey’s acupuncture table. Yes, I do practice what I preach.
What’s your best piece of advice?
When I look at a patient, I hear Doc Cheney’s voice, “Keep your eyes and ears open, and your mouth shut.” When I look in the mirror, I hear my mother say, “You can do everything that you want in your life, you just can’t do it all at the same time.”
Aside from faith, family and friends, what are three things you couldn’t live without?
Gosh, you hit the big ones for me. But, after that, without hesitation, it is love letters from my husband, fresh-squeezed orange juice and good blue jeans — in that order. I think most people would agree that this is pretty on point.
Thank you for sharing with us, Caroline, and thank you to Leila Grossman for these beautiful photos!
In 1979, Gina Bullington stepped into what was then a two-room, four-bed emergency room at TriStar Horizon Medical Center in Dickson, Tennessee. Forty years later, she’s Chief Nursing Officer in the same hospital, now with 25+ ER beds. Learn more about her amazing journey as she climbed the ranks. Meet our newest FACE of TriStar. Click HERE.