Phone: (757) 473-8560
Fax: (757) 473-1568
4608 Pembroke Blvd.
Virginia Beach, VA 23455

Mon - Fri: 8am - 5pm
Sat: 9am - 1pm


Our Team

The team at Independence Veterinary Hospital is comprised of highly trained and experienced animal health professionals who have a genuine love for working with pets. Our staff treats every patient with the highest quality of medical care as well as a gentle touch.

Derrick Kier, DVM

As a young boy, Dr. Kier enjoyed interacting with any animal he could get his hands on, both domesticated and wild. He enjoyed reading books written by James Herriot, a British veterinary surgeon and obtained the Veterinary Science merit badge on his journey to become an Eagle Scout. By the age of 12, Dr. Kier knew he wanted to be a veterinarian when he “grew up”.

Dr. Kier attended Virginia Tech where he earned a Bachelor of Science with a major in Wildlife Science and minors in Animal Science and Biology. During his undergraduate studies, Dr. Kier volunteered at the New River Valley Wildlife Center and had a summer internship with the veterinary service at the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aviary. He also worked at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine where he met Dr. Smithwick.

After graduation, Dr. Kier worked in a research lab studying parasites of companion animals and livestock. A few years later he taught a veterinary assistant program at a trade school before attending Ross University School of Veterinary, located on the island of St. Kitts, in the West Indies. His senior year studies were completed at the University of Georgia.

When not working at the hospital, Dr. Kier enjoys fishing, boating, camping, hiking, rugby, soccer, skeet shooting, and darts. Although he is a veterinarian now, Dr. Smithwick feels he still hasn’t “grown-up”.

Karen Smithwick, DVM

“I have lived with animals my entire life; I owned my horse for 21 years, my childhood dog for 15 years, and my beloved cat for 20 years. I hang on tight. The pleasure of rehoming a foster pet, or rehabilitating injured animals warms my heart. My dad had a soft spot for cats, so there was always one in the house. My grandparents would feed strays at thier farmette in Matthews County. My husband, Dr. Kier, and our children have fostered many cats, dogs, birds, rabbits, and turtles".

Karen Smithwick, DVM is a native of Virginia. After attending Old Dominion University for her undergraduate studies, she went on to the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech. She has been practicing small animal medicine focusing primarily on emergency and critical care, with interests in preventative care, surgery and geriatric patients. Dr. Smithwick loves building strong client and patient relationships and helping the human-animal bond thrive through health and wellness.

Dr. Smithwick and Dr. Kier met and married at Virginia Tech, and have raised three children in Virginia Beach. They have two rescue dogs, an Australian Shepard (Bindi) and an Australian Cattle Dog (Opal), plus a Maine coon cat, and three additional cats of dubious lineage. In her spare time, she enjoys walking with her dogs on the beach, traveling, gardening, boating, and reading. She looks forward to growing the practice and serving the community.


Richard B. Johnston. B. S., D.V.M

Dr. Johnston started with us in 2013. After an overwhelming amount of client praise, he decided to come and be our new full-time doctor in May of 2015. Dr. Johnston got his undergrad and his degree for Veterinary Medicine from the University of Florida (Go Gators!).

Dr. Johnston has been caring for animals for 30+ years. If you haven't met Dr. Johnston be sure to come say hi!

Morgan Huffman

Practice Manager,
Licensed Veterinary Technician

Morgan is originally from North Carolina but has called Virginia Beach her home since 2005. She is a Licensed Veterinary Technician with more than 17 years of experience working in veterinary medicine. She received her AAS degree in Business Management from Tidewater Community College in 2010 and her AAS in Veterinary Technology from Penn Foster in 2016. She believes in compassionate animal care and strives to make each patient feel safe, loved, and comforted during their vet visits. She is currently working toward a Fear Free certification. Her favorite things to do in our hospital are diagnostics, dental hygiene procedures, and client education. In her free time, she enjoys scuba diving, deep-sea fishing, and riding motorcycles with her husband. She has 2 spoiled cats named Atreyu and Magi.

Reception Staff



Office Administrator

Christine is our head receptionist/ superstar of the front desk. She started here in September of 2014 and has brought smiles to everyone's face ever since.

Christine went to Tidewater Community College and Hampton University (Go Pirates!) and studied science.

Christine loves all pets and has two of her own. She has a cat named Alice and a dog named Tyrion.


Amanda joined our team in March 2021. She has been working with animals since 2008 when she became a certified groomer. After 5 years, she decided to expand her knowledge and switched her focus to the medical side. She started out as a receptionist and eventually crossed-trained as a veterinary assistant. Amanda loves to help out wherever she can in our hospital. Her primary role is receptionist, but she jumps in to help our groomer and nursing staff regularly. She loves all cats and dogs but has a soft spot for anything tiny and super fluffy. Amanda moved here from Chicago in 2017 and loves to explore the area with her fiancé. While she doesn’t have any cats or dogs right now, she does have a hamster named Scout.

Nursing Staff

Patty Trainum

Licensed Veterinary Technician

Most of our long time clients have come to know our technician, Patty Trainum, very well. She has been with us since 1992 and is an extremely valued member of our team. Many of our animal lovers have asked us, what is an animal technician and how does her position differ from that of an assistant? An animal technician receives a college degree in Veterinary Technology and must pass both national and state boards in order to receive certification. In order to stay certified, a technician must take six hours of continuing education yearly. Veterinarians rely very much on their technicians to perform many specialized duties in the same way that a medical doctor depends on an R.N.. Patty became an L.V.T. in 1981. She began working here with Dr. Gearheart in 1992 and stayed on when Dr. Hastings bought the practice in 1994. We are all very fortunate to have such a dedicated and skilled person caring for your beloved family members.


Samantha joined our team in early 2019. She previously worked for the veterinary services on Sigonella base in Sicily. She is currently studying to be a Licensed Veterinary Technician. Sam has a love for all animals and is frequently seen carrying one of our patients or boarding pets around with her on her breaks. We are so happy to have found such a caring person to take care of your pets.


Noah has worked with us as a veterinary assistant since fall of 2019. He is currently attending Tidewater Community College with plans to go to vet school to become a Veterinarian. In his free time he enjoys skateboarding, playing video games, soccer and football. He has 2 Pugs named Sadie and Huckleberry and a German Shepherd named Blossom.


Rachel is a veterinary assistant who joined our team in May 2021. After 2 years as an assistant, she was encouraged by many colleagues to become a licensed veterinary technician. She is currently a student of the Veterinary Technology Program at Tidewater Community College and expects to graduate 2022. As an animal and nature enthusiast, Rachel likes to spend her free time outside exploring parks, painting animals or sitting in the sun with a good book. She has set a personal goal to visit a National Park and hike it’s trails every year; so far, she has hiked Yosemite and Acadia National Parks. Rachel has two spoiled dogs named Phoebe and Ellie and a handsome cat named Simon.