Sept. 28, 2023
Words and Photos by Jens Odegaard 

Dr. Kaitlyn Vander Pas just finished up her third month as a veterinarian. She earned her doctorate of veterinary medicine from the Oregon State University Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine in June. 

It’s an amazing accomplishment for anyone, but especially fulfilling for her.  

“I’ve always wanted to be a vet, but honestly I never thought I'd get this far because I had many adversities as a child growing up: experiencing homelessness for extended periods of time and family members that are on drugs and other just awful things,” Vander Pas said. “But graduating and even working my first months, I’m like ‘Wow, I’m really a doctor. I have a DVM after my name!’ It’s crazy. If I’d asked my younger self ‘Do you think you’re going to be a doctor?’ She would say, ‘Are you kidding me? Do you see what we’re dealing with? We won’t ever make it!’”

Dr. Kelsey Merrriam extracts rotten teeth from Griff while Dr. Kaitlyn Vander Pas listens to his breathing. 

Dr. Vander Pas, Dr. Jen Malter and Dr. Kelsey Merriam work together at Oceanlake Veterinary Clinic. Photo courtesy of Dr. Malter.

Dr. Vander Pas performs a physical exam on a patient.

Making It

Vander Pas grew up in the greater Portland metro area, and is the first college graduate in her family. Even getting accepted into Oregon State University as an undergrad felt like a miracle to her. From 2013-2017 “I worked really, really hard, and I had honors when I left,” said Vander Pas, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in animal sciences; pre-veterinary medicine. 

It wasn’t just academic hard work. Vander Pas paid the bills by working as a residence hall advisor during the academic year throughout her undergrad.

Though vet school was the next academic step after her undergraduate, Vander Pas felt the need to bolster her experience working with a veterinarian before applying to vet school. 

So Vander Pas started looking for work in the field as a veterinary assistant.

She applied at a ton of clinics, but only a few, including one owned by an Oregon State University alumna got back to her. 

Beaver Believer

Dr. Jen Malter is one of the biggest Beaver fans you’ll ever meet. There’s OSU décor covering the walls and desk space in her office, and most days her scrubs are Beaver Orange. Her dogs Emma and Nani, who hang at the clinic with her every day, also sport branded bandanas and collars. Though originally a southern California girl, Malter came north to the Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine for her veterinary studies. 

Though she’s fond of the college, Malter’s real love for the Beavers came from another kind of attraction. 

During vet school, Malter worked at Corvallis Cat Care where she met Mary Kincaid who came in as a client. “She was a women’s basketball coach at Oregon State. I went to a lot of women’s basketball games when I was a vet student. I would take my notes with me sometimes and study while she was coaching,” Malter recalled with a laugh. The couple have been together since, and college sports remains a prime topic of conversation both at home and in Malter’s work as a veterinarian where she uses sports talk as an easy way to connect with clients. 

After graduating with her doctorate of veterinary medicine in 2008, Malter moved to the southern Oregon Coast to work at a clinic in Brookings. In 2010, an opportunity opened up to move north to the central coast and purchase a building that had housed a closed-down veterinary clinic in Lincoln City, Oregon. It was in very rough shape. “It was kind of a sad little clinic, but it had a lot of potential for us,” Malter said.

Friends and family pitched in both financially and with sweat equity to help Malter and Kincaid purchase and do a complete overhaul. Pretty much the only thing they kept from the previous clinic was the name: Oceanlake Veterinary Clinic after the Oceanlake district of Lincoln City the clinic was located in. (History side note: in 1965, five towns – Oceanlake, Delake, Nelscott, Taft and Cutler City – merged to form Lincoln City.)  “Our friends would come up on the weekends and we would sleep in all the exam rooms. We just used them as bedrooms while we were working on the clinic,” she said. “We lived in the clinic for the first six months that we were there because we couldn't afford a house. Pretty much everything needed to be replaced, but it was a great little clinic for us.”

Eventually Malter and Kincaid were able to purchase a house in Lincoln City and settle down in the community. “We've had a lot of community support, and we've been really lucky because we really love this town. I mean, we genuinely love this town and the people that are here.” 

Nani and Emma in Malter's office.

Dr. Jen Malter almost always has a smile on her face. 

O.S.U. our hats are off to you
Beavers Beavers fighters through and through ...


Second Moms

Community and family are central to Malter’s philosophy of life, which became obvious to Vander Pas from the moment they met. 

After getting the callback from Malter, Vander Pas drove the hour and half from Corvallis for a working interview at Oceanlake. “We just clicked and got along, and I really liked it. At that time it was just Dr. Malter by herself,” Vander Pas said. “I moved out here, and I worked for two straight years as a veterinary assistant. But at that time we were so small I kind of just did everything: I started doing reception, moved into rooms, moved into surgery and treatment, even helping with billing.” 

By working at the clinic, Vander Pas earned the experience she wanted to apply to vet school. She only applied to the Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine. “Mainly because cost-wise, I didn’t think I could afford out-of-state,” Vander Pas said. “Magically I got in. I was so happy!”

During the summers in her first three years of vet school, Vander Pas returned to Oceanlake to work at the clinic. Malter and Kincaid opened their home to Vander Pas. “I lived with them and stayed with them through the years when I was working in the clinic,” Vander Pas said. “They’re like my second moms.” 

“She’s like family,” Malter said. 

More Space, Same Philosophy

As Vander Pas was working her way through vet school, Malter and her team at Oceanlake were busy expanding the practice. They completely outgrew the old original clinic and built a new 4,800-square-foot facility, which opened in 2021. 

According to Malter, the growth wasn’t driven from a desire to expand for expanding’s sake, but rather to better serve the community she and Kincaid hold dear. Veterinary care on the central Oregon Coast is in huge demand with few veterinarians to go around. Lincoln City only has one other clinic. “All of us are booked out almost a month or so in advance,” Vander Pas said. “We also see a lot of clients that are all the way out from Newport or Depoe Bay, and they say, ‘We can't get in anywhere else,’” Vander Pas said. 

Malter wanted to meet that need and offer her family approach to medicine to more folks. “Caring for pets like family is our motto. When we built this clinic it was super important for me that we didn't lose that warm feeling that we had,” Malter said. “I've made a lot of really amazing friends living here that probably mostly started as clients, you know? And that's the way that we approach medicine in this clinic.” 

Kyla Vrell started at Oceanlake as one of its first employees shortly after it first opened in 2010. She began as a receptionist, and with the encouragement and support of Malter, worked her way through different roles, earning her certified veterinary technician credentials in 2019. “Dr. Malter came in after hours all the time on weekends to do my clinicals with me – so much stuff that not every boss would do,” she said. “Dr. Malter started as a technician, so she understands all the different roles of the clinic. She’s very understanding and tries to make everyone’s work life really enriched.”

Dr. Malter and CVT Kyla Vrell do an exam on Neighbor Cat. 

Vrell credits Malter’s leadership with creating a supportive and caring environment for the staff that translates out to patient and client care even as the clinic has grown. “When I started it was the smaller clinic, so there was only like me and two other girls and just Dr. Malter, so it was a very small unit. I was worried as we grew that we'd lose that close family relationship,” she said. “But she's just kept the same model, the same attitude, even now with very full staff and a lot of clients coming in and out.” 

With the bigger facility, Malter was able to add a second veterinarian to the staff. Dr. Kelsey Merriam joined shortly after graduating from Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in 2021. And there were always plans for Vander Pas to continue working at the clinic after completing her veterinary studies. 

Today the Oceanlake team is the three doctors; certified veterinary technicians Vrell and Julie Mendoza; office manager Kim Lobdell; client services representatives Mary Greenwood, Diane Wright and Rylee Senner; and veterinary assistants Samantha Barrett, Jacob Lenander, Shelby Mandeville, Mary Ann Olson, Megan Smith, Sherrie Tenney, Macy Mullins and Elizabeth Kirkendall.

The Oceanlake crew at the grand opening of the new clinic. Photo courtesy of Dr. Jen Malter.

Community at the Coast 
As Vander Pas received her doctoral hood and walked across the stage during June’s graduation ceremony in Corvallis, her family, as well as her Lincoln City family, cheered her on. “I was a little teary eyed when she got up there,” Malter said. “We have all been really proud of her, and we kind of watched her grow up in the clinic.”

“I’ve always known that I'd come back to this clinic, one for the community and two, because I love the medicine we practice here and the standards we hold each other to and the freedom that we have,” Vander Pas said. “It's not such cookie-cutter medicine you see in other bigger hospitals. There's a lot of freedom to do what we want, which I like. But there's also mentorship if I ever have any questions or if I need Dr. Malter to scrub into a surgery, she'll do it.”

Malter is glad to have her back as well. “It's been really fun for us to have her back here. She knows the clinic, she knows the computers, she knows the clients. But more than that, she understands that this is how we like to practice medicine,” Malter said. 

“I just love everyone here. I really want this clinic to do well, and I feel a drive to do well for the clinic and do well for our community and serve our community, because I care for it so much. And it just kind of just feels full circle for me,” Vander Pas added.