Dr. Natalie Marks has always wanted to be a veterinarian. She didn't consider anything else.
Marks was born and raised in Sterling, Illinois, and had a good friend who lived on a horse ranch. After school and on weekends, Marks spent time at the ranch, which had horses, goats, chickens and other animals. Admittedly, she was a "fly on the wall when they worked [with the animals], and I loved it," she said. "I always knew that I wanted to be a vet."
She volunteered at a veterinary clinic through high school and then accepted a place in the animal sciences/pre-veterinary program at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and she went on to the University Of Illinois College Of Veterinary Medicine.
After graduation, Marks worked for five years in Atlanta, and while in Georgia, she contributed as a veterinary columnist for several monthly community magazines and more. She was the Veterinary Leadership Conference New Graduate Representative, president of the Greater Atlanta Veterinary Medical Society, and the Public Relations Chairperson for the Georgia Veterinary Medical Association.
Marks, 37, who has lived in Chicago for almost nine years and is married to husband Tod with three kids, is the co-owner ( since 2012 ) of Blum Animal Hospital in Lakeview. Marks this summer was named one of the 20 finalists from across the U.S. for "America's Favorite Veterinarian," a public contest run by the American Veterinary Medical Foundation ( AVMF ).
Blum is an award-winning veterinary practice serving a large contingent of LGBT pet-ownerswith a large group of LGBT staffand it has been in business for 62 years.
Marks said just being nominated is "very humbling, very surprising," and added that she is "eternally grateful" to her clients who nominated her.
Being a finalist, she said, "is a testament to all of the work that you put in to your profession. When you're passionate about something, you hope that you're making a difference and to me, just having been nominated by my clients, and concurred by very respected peers, tells me that I'm doing what I love and, in a lot of people's mind, I'm doing it pretty well, and making a difference for people, helping bring companionship, health and happiness into their lives. It doesn't get much better than that."
Marks said every step in her vet journey has been "exciting." She is a general practitioner, with a strong interest in ultra sound, oncology and internal medicine.
Marks is a board member of the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association and the Chicago Veterinary Medical Association. She was awarded Petplan's 2013 Veterinarian of the Year Award. Marks also received the prestigious Dr. Erwin Small First Decade Award, awarded to a recent graduate who has presented significant contributions and service to the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association.
"I encourage people that, having a companion [pet], be it a dog, cat, fish, potbelly pig, or whatever, there are certain ways that you can definitely live with that companion and derive the benefits of the human-animal bond in a healthy way," said Marks, who has offered support for Fred Says, the Chicago-based charity starring Fred ( a dog ) that benefits HIV-positive teens.
Fred's owner, Dr. Robert Garofalo, also is a customer of Marks.
"Dr. Marks and her colleagues at Blum Animal Hospital are total gems," Garofalo said. "Not only is she compassionate, professional, and caring, but she is committed to working with the community around her. She has been a huge supporter of our Fred Says charity, particularly as it relates to our When Dogs Heal project. She believes in the healing power of pets and has embraced the project we are doing documenting the healing power of dogs in the lives of HIV-positive people. I feel so grateful to have her here in Chicago and as Fred's vet."
Marks said she completely supports pets for HIV-positive Chicagoans.
"In the past, a lot of people, especially in this community, have been told by doctors that if you're suffering with HIV, you cannot have a pet. Well, that's totally untrue," she said.
Blum Animal Hospital has eight associate doctors and a staff of more than 50many of who sit under the LGBT banner.
Blum has had a float in the annual Chicago Pride Parade for years, and yes, Marks has participated, even in 2013 when she was eight months pregnant.
"We love the [Pride] Parade; it is so much fun," Marks said. "We look forward to the Pride Parade every summer."
Marks added, "We love being in Boystown and support [the gay community] as much as we can. We're very open, very accepting, very liberal practice. I love being here. So, our clients come from all walks of life, much the way our employees come from all walks of life.
"We just have a passion for pets."
[UPDATE: Marks finished in second-place, it was announced. "Although I was initially disappointed, I now can celebrate this very nice acknowledgement," she said.]