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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What Glenn Gould Taught Me About Leadership

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
April 15, 2015

On February 9th of this year, I posted a story about how the classical pianist, Glenn Gould, shaped my thinking about surgical technique. I promised to write a follow-up story about how his construal of Bach also inspired me to think about leadership.

Gould was the premier interpreter of J.S. Bach in the second half of the 20th century. While his rendition of the Goldberg Variations thrust him onto the international stage early in his career, it was his elucidation of the Bach fugue that had always been more fascinating to me.

The fugue is a contrapuntal form of music that is played or sung by more than one voice or instrument, often three or four. The first voice presents a short theme (subject), and the second repeats the theme with variation and in a different pitch; and each successive voice likewise. The voices build upon each other, not as objects stacked vertically, but in flowing cascades of ever-complex sounds, working in synchrony. Each voice complements the others as the subject flows in an interwoven linear fashion towards its conclusion. As mentioned in the previous article, what is so impressive about watching or listening to Gould’s recordings is the unique mastery of equal strength, independence and co-dependence of each of his ten fingers.  The manner in which each complements the others is simply breathtaking.

While moving through the ranks of department chair and associate dean at Cornell, I dutifully read many of the standard leadership books. These contained worthwhile material and, though much of it was similar book-to-book, I benefitted from the repetition of themes presented in different contexts. However, moving from theory to practice tests different skills, and leading and empowering teams to work together towards a common goal was always the most difficult challenge for me. Like many leaders, I struggled finding ways to capture the creativity and accord of strong-willed people working in an environment with a finite set of resources.

In the quiet moments I was able to carve out for myself, I started to reflect more and more on the Bach fugue, to which I had been listening in one form or another for years. Why not move beyond the leader-follower theme, I reasoned now that I was dean, and encourage the voices to work for each other rather than in competition? Instead of having one voice carry the dominant theme and be supported by the others, perhaps I could evaluate department chairs on the success of the other departments, rather than the success of “their” department? Would that not create a climate in which department chairs and directors became more committed to the overarching priorities of the college, especially as they leverage their allocated resources  for the greater good?

The Front Cover of Glenn Gould. A Life and Variations
Otto Friedrich (Random House, NY), 1989
(Photo by the Author) 
I held a mini-retreat for department chairs early in my term as dean. We had changed the college’s departmental structure, moving from eight departments of different sizes, to five which were more evenly balanced. We also mixed up some of the disciplines: creating a mild form of chaos that always encourages original thinking.

Several of the chairs were new hires, including two from outside the college, and we were in a rebuilding stage with new academic initiatives that crossed departments, with the focal theme of translational medicine.  Several new positions and supporting resources would be allocated to three interdepartmental themes: cancer biology and oncology, comparative mammalian genomics and medical genetics, and infectious pathogenic diseases. If we were going to build successful programs that crossed departmental lines, there needed to be a managerial structure that encouraged chairs to work for the common good, and rewarded such behavior.

I shall always remember standing at the white board in the summer of 2000, attempting to explain the benefit of a contrapuntal form of governance as we implemented these new initiatives, and explaining why I felt the department chairs should move from a primary relationship with the dean, to a primary relationship with each other. “I shall still evaluate you relative to the strengths of your individual departments,” I remember saying, “but I will also judge you on what you provide as value-added to each of the other four departments.”  

If we were going to move towards a contrapuntal (fugal) style of management, we also needed to change the form and frequency with which we interacted with other. Consequently, I advised the chairs to start meeting together, without me or any other member of the dean’s office. We also reduced the length and frequency of my meetings with the group of chairs from weekly for two hours, to biweekly for one hour. I added a regular one-on-one monthly meeting with each of the chairs, in their respective offices. Issues like allocation of space and common resources became topics for the chairs’ meetings, though I never did learn the full scope of their deliberations, or even how they developed agendas or who presided over the meetings. I don’t recall ever seeing a set of minutes from the meetings that continued for several years.

While I am not suggesting that this system was superior to a more traditional top-down form of dean-to-department chair relationship, it proved to be a viable alternative, and it worked for me.  I also believe it promoted a sense of joint responsibility and program ownership by the chairs. While allocation of space and shared resources is never perfect nor fully equitable, we moved the center of gravity away from the dean’s office, and created a system whereby chairs were better able to understand the pressures across the college, and explore ways to resolve problems amongst themselves.

I believe the college benefited greatly, and we made substantial progress on many fronts, including the three academic areas mentioned earlier. Most importantly, the shared understanding between the clinical and basic sciences departments led to a stronger commitment for developing ways to support programs in translational medicine. 

Contrapuntal management is a form of teamwork, I suppose, but I don’t look on it that way because it is so much more. The fugue as Bach perfected it (and Gould interpreted it), was developed upon a single musical theme, with progression of that theme articulated over and over again by voices with different, but equal, strengths. Each voice is absolutely critical to the whole and each voice is equally valued.  Importantly, the voices are all playing in a linear fashion, rather than as notes stacked one upon the other. In its most elegant and highly-developed form, the fugue is an incredibly complex composition which adds creative expression to its mathematical foundation. It draws up the highest level of expertise of each voice working in concert with the others. 

In the previous article on Glenn Gould, I told the story of the British surgeon who never proceeded to perform a major operative procedure without first listening―with his patient―to a recording of Gould interpreting Bach. I also recall once hearing of a physician who would often commit time to listening to a Gould recording before starting his day. There are many fine recordings of Glenn Gould playing a Bach fugue, but a great place to start is with the annotated and interpretive interview called simply, Glenn Gould An Art of the Fugue.

I recently learned that 60% of Harvard medical students have music in their backgrounds. Though the percentage may not be quite as high among veterinary students, there seems to be a strong correlation between medicine and music. Though the relationship may be built somewhat upon the organization of information and the discipline of practice, I suspect that it represents a more complex interplay of cognitive forces and emotional energies. What I suggest here, though, is that the relevance of music to medicine should not stop with the practitioner, but also engage the realm of organizational behavior.

Dr. Smith invites comments at

Friday, April 11, 2014

James Law: He Helped Establish a University and Build a Veterinary College

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted April 11, 2014

A referenced version of this story, in two parts, is at

James Law, the third of the trio of Scottish veterinarians who came to North America in the 1860s, had a mission that went beyond animal and human medicine. Unlike Andrew Smith and Duncan McEachran, who established veterinary colleges in Toronto and Montreal, Law was a founding faculty member at a major university, and he spent his career deeply committed to a broad range of disciplines that extended beyond medicine and agriculture.

Law graduated from the Edinburgh Veterinary College in 1857, four years before Smith and McEachran. Guided by his mentor, the scholar-scientist John Gamgee of the New Veterinary College in Edinburgh, Law did not rush into clinical practice. Instead, he spent a year at Edinburgh’s medical college, then moved to the European continent and studied at the French veterinary colleges in Lyons and Alfort. He then returned to Edinburgh and accepted a professorship with Gamgee. He developed a strong background in scholarly writing and research, and even followed the college when it closed in Scotland and reemerged in London as the Albert Veterinary College.

Meanwhile in a rural community in upstate New York, a wealthy farmer and state senator named Ezra Cornell joined forces with the academic (and also senator), Andrew Dickson White, to establish the State’s land-grant on a tract of land in Ithaca. A stockbreeder with one of the best herds in the country, Cornell realized the importance of animal health and that an accident or disease could wipe out an investment of many hundreds of dollars for prize stock just as easily as it could the livelihood for a farm family with grade animals. Education was the key to successful farming, he realized, as he lamented the death of a prize Hereford calf. He had medicated the listless calf with various preparations, including pennyroyal tea, linseed oil and milk, and linseed oil and allows, but to no avail. “We should have physicked her on Sunday, if not bled her also; but ignorant of the disease I did not know what remedy to apply.

Despite his wealth, Cornell was also a practical man with a vision for educating the local farmers. Having already built a public library for them for the princely sum of $100,000, he wanted to extend education even further and insisted that a “horse-doctor” be among the first faculty of the university that would bear his name. As the lead benefactor for the institution, Cornell got his way and White (the first president) was tasked with recruiting a veterinarian among the inaugural faculty.

Fortune smiled on White as he had met Gamgee while the British veterinarian was in the US at the request of the federal government, investigating a severe cattle disease known as Texas Fever. Gamgee was well aware of the Toronto Veterinary College run by competitor Andrew Smith, and he wanted nothing more than to see his own star protégée, James Law, lead the new university in upstate New York. The deal bringing Law to the US was consummated that summer, and he arrived in Ithaca in time for the opening of Cornell on October 7, 1868.

Law’s approach to science was similar to McEachran’s in Montreal. His academic standards were even higher, however, both in admission requirements and in length and rigor of the curriculum (it was four full years). In the first 25 years of his instruction only four students completed the Bachelors of Veterinary Medicine (BVM, roughly equivalent to the DVM degree which was implemented after 1896). Meanwhile, most New York and New England students either went north to Toronto or Montreal, or to Harvard or one of the veterinary colleges in New York City. A few went to the University of Pennsylvania after the veterinary school there opened in 1879.

James Law, Cornell University
James Law, Cornell University
Professor of Veterinary Medicine (1868-1908)
Director (Principal) New York State Veterinary College (1894-1908)
(Photo, Cornell University)

Like other veterinary teaching programs across the country, operating resources were a perennial challenge and Law was not only single-handedly teaching, but writing and lecturing throughout the community and the state. He held a strong presence as a leading scholar in infectious diseases of livestock with special emphasis on diseases that could be spread to people. His understanding of disease transmission and epidemiology made him a particularly important national figure.

The breakthrough for James Law and his veterinary program at Cornell came in 1894 when he and the university president, Jacob Gould Schurman, successfully convinced the New York State legislature to provide resources for the veterinary college. In the most unusual administrative coup, the publicly-funded college was to be administered by the private institution, Cornell University. Law assembled a faculty of six (including himself) and accepted the first class of students in 1896. Enrollment grew rapidly and by the turn of the century the class size was reaching ten to twenty students per year.

James Law (bottom row, center) and the first faculty of the New York Veterinary College, 1896
James Law (bottom row, center) and the first faculty of the New York Veterinary College, 1896
(Photo by Cornell University)

One of the greatest threats to his new college was from within Cornell. In 1903, Liberty Hyde Bailey, dean of agriculture, proposed to President Schurman that veterinary medicine should be absorbed by the agricultural college. As often occurs in academic politics, hostile takeovers are justified by sophistic arguments of efficiency and economy. In this case, Bailey additionally argued that the merger would be consistent with the federal government’s model of animal health as part of agriculture.

Law was a temperate man but not without conviction, and he articulated his views in sweeping detail, leaving no doubt how he felt about Bailey’s proposed takeover. He opened his written defense for the continued autonomy of his college by declaring that “Veterinary Medicine is closely allied to the Medicine of man; not to agriculture. As well make medicine subsidiary to agriculture, manufacturing, engineering, mining, etc… No veterinary college has been successfully conducted, nor conducted at all, as subsidiary to a college of agriculture.”

This proclamation, which has served as a guide for deans and faculties to the present, was vintage James Law. Twenty-five years earlier, he had reported to the Pennsylvania Board of Agriculture, arguing the virtues of what we now call One Medicine or One Health. “Now that veterinary medicine has been established on a scientific basis, the time has come when the bonds that unite the students and practitioners of human and veterinary medicine should be knit more closely, and the two branches be brought into more intimate relationship.”

The issue of the merger lay unresolved for five years until, at the time of Law’s retirement in 1908, the Board of Trustees voted to reject Bailey’s takeover attempt and veterinary medicine continued its trajectory as a separate college.

Returning to Law as a university builder, perhaps the greatest tribute was given by A.D. White in his 1905 autobiography. White was opining on the great difficulties the university had in establishing a college of agriculture, and how critical Law, the veterinarian, had been in buttressing the programs of the university as they went through several attempts to recruit a worthy professor of agriculture.

And with special gratitude should be named Dr. James Law of the British Royal Veterinary College, whom I had found in London, and called to our veterinary professorship. Never was there a more happy selection. From that day to this, thirty-six years, he has been a tower of strength to the university and has rendered incalculable service to the State and Nation. His quiet, thorough work impressed every one most favorably. The rudest of the surrounding farmers learned more and more to regard him with respect and admiration, and the State has recently recognized his services by establishing in connection with the university a State veterinary college under his control.

If James Law had a blind spot, it was his unwillingness to accept the critical importance of functioning within an urban setting. Both Montreal-based Duncan McEachran and New York City-based Alexandre Liautard urged Law to consider moving the veterinary college to a more populous site. In a magnanimous gesture that perhaps presaged his own return to Europe, Liautard even generously suggested New York. Similarly, when the concept of a state-supported college was floated in the early years of the 20th century, Law and his successor, Veranus Moore, vigorously fought it. For a man who had argued strongly in his earlier days for a national policy for veterinary medicine, he unfortunately took a position on the wrong side of medicine on this issue. The breadth of Cornell’s potential impact in veterinary medicine has been constrained by that short-sightedness.

Some will argue that this is overly harsh criticism, and perhaps it is. But none will disagree that Law was a giant among giants in the early days of North American veterinary medicine. True to his personality and his passion, his foremost achievement was probably as a teacher, and his greatest legacy was in the accomplishments of his students. Beyond the scope of this story, students such as Daniel Salmon, Theobald Smith, Cooper Curtis, and others, will occupy space in a future posting.

Dr. Smith welcomes comments at

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Andrew Smith and the Ontario Veterinary College

By Donald F. Smith
Posted April 5, 2014

Among the most successful private veterinary colleges on the late 19th century, Andrew Smith’s Toronto Veterinary College heads the list. It surpasses the two Chicago colleges and Kansas City Veterinary College in number of graduates and, though it is hard to quantify quality, Toronto also had its share of high-impact graduates. Most importantly, when Andrew Smith affiliated his college with the University of Toronto in 1897, he in essence guaranteed its future transition from a for-profit equine college to one that would be sustained once the horse disappeared from the urban scene. Its successor is the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, Canada, a well-recognize center of excellence for veterinary education and research on the North American continent.

Like McEachran whose illustrious career was the subject of a recent story published here on April 4th, Andrew Smith was a 1861 graduate from the Royal Dick College in Edinburgh, Scotland. Smith and McEachran vied for the lead veterinary position that was established by the Board of Agriculture of Upper Canada (Upper and Lower Canada would be renamed Ontario and Quebec after Confederation in 1867). With the increasing value of livestock and the need for someone to safeguard against disease and also to develop a school to train veterinarians, the principal of the Edinburgh College chose the more dignified and less-headstrong Smith over the his rival. Both men were academically-sound, but Smith was more practical, “whose interest in education was with the veterinary art, not the science of veterinary medicine.”[1]  McEachran, an early proponent of the germ theory of disease, was a strong advocate for the science of veterinary medicine and, “perhaps long before it was practical, for higher entrance requirements, for a three-year course, and for a close affiliation with the medical faculty and with research scientists." [2]

Smith vs McEachran embodied the age-old antinomy [3] that persists to this day: art vs science, practice vs theory, pragmatist vs principled.  Feeling that Smith would be better qualified to manage the people and resources for a new college, he was chosen over McEachran for the new position in Upper Canada, and began practicing equine medicine in leased buildings in Toronto in January 1862. 

Smith's first veterinary lectures were delivered the following month and were open to the public. In 1864, the lectures had developed into a course which consisted of two six-month sessions over two years (similar to the British model). To complement the infirmary that he ran for equine clients, he added anatomic dissection facilities for the students. His first three graduates in 1866 were allowed to place “V.S.” after their name, making them distinct as veterinary surgeons from farriers and others with no formal training. [4]

Almost immediately, Smith’s for-profit college was successful. There being virtually no academic prerequisites, would-be veterinarians enrolled in huge numbers. And the curriculum wasn’t just for Canadians, as hundreds of US citizens flocked across the border to be trained by Smith, then returned to practice. In doing so, they hopped over James Law’s program at Cornell University, from which only four veterinarians graduated between 1868 and 1896. McEachran, who had been a close personal friend of Smith, taught with him for a couple of years, then parted ways and opened a rival college in Montreal.  Smith successfully withstood pressure for a more rigorous curriculum until 1906, when he finally announced that the course would be extended to three years. Two years later, the college (now the Ontario Veterinary College) became a provincial institution and he retired. For almost half a century, Andrew Smith ran the college in a way that reflected his personal views of admission, curriculum and practice more than any other contemporary figure in veterinary education. He graduated over 3,300 students. By comparison, McEachran graduated about 300 in the same time period, and James Law (Cornell) fewer than two hundred.

Andrew Smith's famous image embodied in his memorial medal,
awarded annually to Ontario Veterinary College graduate
(Photo by the author)
It is easy to be a critic of Andrew Smith’s unwillingness to embrace a more scientific aspect of veterinary medicine, and I have certainly been among that group at various times in my career. However, as I have studied the history of veterinary medicine, I have become more understanding of the reality of antinomy, whether it be land grant vs private college, research vs service or, as in the case of Andrew Smith, the practitioner vs the scientist.

Sure, I would have liked Smith to have been more willing to add a greater degree of rigor to his admission standards and curricular offerings. However, the sheer numbers of his graduates, and the positions that some of them attained in academia and practice, cannot be scornfully swept aside. Whom among us cannot celebrate the accomplishments of the great veterinary anatomist, Septimus Sisson (V.S. 1891); or the three sons of the legendary Edward Thomas Hagyard who graduated from Toronto between 1875 and 1888, and continued the legacy of what would become incomparable Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Kentucky.

The Toronto Veterinary College was renamed the Ontario Veterinary College and it moved 50 miles west to the rural town of Guelph in 1922 where it partnered with Agriculture and, later, Home Economics. Degrees were conferred through the University of Toronto until 1964 when the University of Guelph was formally inaugurated as a degree-granting institution.

The veterinary profession in North America derived a great deal of its influence and excellence from the three Edinburgh-educated Scots who arrived in Canada and the US in the 1860s, and Andrew Smith deserves an equal part of the legacy with his two more scholarly peers.

[1] Gattinger, F. Eugene. A Century of Challenge. The History of the Ontario Veterinary College. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Canada, 1962. P18.
[2]  Ibid.
[3] Two equally valid concepts that are mutually exclusive and essentially considered irreconcilable.
[4] A.M.Evans, "SMITH, ANDREW," in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Universite Laval, 2003, accessed March 28, 2013, 

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Dual DVM/MD Program is Established in Montreal, Canada

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted April 4, 2014
See also

Montreal, Quebec
Veterinarians can now become physicians with just one year of extra study!! To emphasize the growing understanding that human and veterinary medicine are complementary and that they are founded upon the same scientific principles, the dean of the Montreal Veterinary College has joined forces with a leading physician who has just returned from a tour in Europe. The two renowned academics also share the same avant-garde philosophy of medical teaching. With the veterinary dean’s consent, Canada’s foremost physician, will initiate a research program in comparative medicine and also develop a joint teaching program for medical and veterinary students.

Under the program, veterinary student instruction in physiology, pathology, chemistry and microscopy will be shared with physicians from the McGill University Faculty of Medicine.  In these courses, the content will be the same as that for medical students, and the examinations will be identical.

Students who complete the veterinary curriculum in good standing will be able to take one additional year in the McGill medical curriculum and will qualify as physicians as well as veterinarians.[i]

As you may have guessed if you read this far, the above report is not contemporary. Rather, it is from the 1880s when novel strategic thinking about the health sciences was more prevalent that it is today. And it was only made possible because it was between two of the most brilliant and opportunistic medical minds of the late 19th century.

The physician of the duo was William Osler, then still at McGill (before he went to Philadelphia and from there to Baltimore where he helped establish the Johns Hopkins Hospital). Osler was America’s first comparative pathologist and he even convinced the dean of the Montreal Veterinary College to rename his institution the Faculty of Comparative Medicine.

The veterinarian is someone whose name few will recognize. Many more people know the reputation of his classmate, Andrew Smith, who also graduated in 1861 from the renowned Edinburgh Veterinary College.  Others will know of Cornell’s first veterinary professor, James Law, also a contemporary student from Edinburgh. This third member of the distinguished Scottish trio, and the man with whom Osler felt such a close affinity, was Duncan McNab McEachran.

Duncan McNab McEachran
(Photo from Dictionary of Canadian Biography, see reference 1, below)

Though McEachran was probably the most brilliant of the three veterinarians, and certainly had the career with the greatest versatility, the college he founded in Montreal would only last until 1903 when the continued decline in public funding, and McEachran’s continued insistence on very high academic  standards, led to fewer and fewer students. Though he arranged for teaching sections in both English and French (actually that was another challenge because of the need for faculty in each language), the enrollment continued to fall until McEachran was forced to close. 

Nonetheless, a total of 315 students graduated from the college that many considered one of the best, if not the best, veterinary institution in North America at the time.

McEachran had a multifaceted career in additional to his role as an educator.  He developed the first animal quarantine system for Canada at a time with increased transatlantic movement of livestock was increasing and foot-and-mouth disease was present in Britain. In 1876, he was appointed the chief livestock inspector for Canada and set up quarantine stations that later become a model for the US system. Four years earlier, New York City authorities had invited McEachran to find ways to combat the severe influenza outbreak in horses that had paralyzed the city in what was often referred to as the great equine epizootic of 1872.

By the 1890’s, McEachran branched into controlling tuberculosis through tuberculin testing.  Twenty years before the practice was accepted, he recommended a system for producing and distributing milk in Montreal. Within the professional organizations for veterinary medicine, he worked with Andrew Smith to improve the training of graduate veterinarians, and to reduce the possibility of charlatans from plying their trade. His writings and political action were instrumental in creating the Board of Veterinary Surgeons for the Province of Quebec.

In later life, his entrepreneurial spirit led him to areas of financial profit as a stockbreeder, when he helped establish two of the largest ranches in western Canada.

Like so many other events in veterinary history, sometimes programs close and other times the full expression of peoples’ talents and passions are never realized for other reasons. I think of the untimely closure of Harvard’s Veterinary College in 1901, the dismissal of Daniel Salmon from the Bureau of Animal Industry in the same decade, the death (was it really of natural causes?) of Pennsylvania’s Dean Leonard Pearson, the decision to keep Cornell’s veterinary college in Ithaca, rather than have it join its partner medical school when it moved to New York City, the tragic rule of anti-Semitism over rationality in the closure of Middlesex University in the 1940s. The list goes on.

The closure of McGill’s Faculty of Comparative Medicine is one of the great tragedies in the history of veterinary medicine.  Another way to think of McEachran’s lost impact could be imagined if he had come to the US after the turn of the century, and landed at one of the veterinary colleges in New York City (perhaps Columbia or New York University, for example) or at the University of Pennsylvania, or maybe even in Washington, what a different world veterinary medicine would be today.  One can only dream of the impact he could have had on the development of veterinary medicine and One Health, both as an individual, and through his continued association with physicians like William Osler.

Dr. Smith welcomes comments at

[i] Adapted, with some literary license from the Biography of Duncan McNab McEachran. Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Volume XV (1921-1930), University of Toronto/Universite Laval, 2005

Friday, March 28, 2014

Women's Leadership for Veterinary Medicine: A Course for Veterinary Students

Co-author: Julie Kumble

On the one hand, it was just another elective course proposal. On the other hand, it could also be described as an experiment in teaching and learning within the context of one of the most vexing issues in veterinary medicine, the continuing gap in women’s leadership.

So, we asked the question:

Would veterinary students at Cornell University
be interested in a course in women’s leadership?

If so, it would be the first of its kind, anywhere.

Since the formation of the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative (WVLDI) last fall, we have felt that we needed to test the waters to see if there would be interest in a student symposium directed specifically at women’s leadership. An email was sent to all Cornell students on December 23rd asking them if they would be interested in devoting a weekend day in March to the topic.  

Within a few hours, half a dozen students had sent emails requesting to be enrolled and justifying why they wanted to take the course. Responses continued to come in over the break and well before the January 5th deadline we had reached the course limit of 25 students. We subsequently increased the limit, enrolling 35 students, including three men, to participate in the six-hour symposium on March 1st.  

Student Course in Women’s Leadership, Cornell University
Screenshot of the Title Slide for the Opening Presentation
(Prezi presentation designed and prepared by David Seader ‘16, who also participated in the symposium.)

Being a Saturday morning, we opened with a continental breakfast. To facilitate introductions, the morning session began with a dozen students sharing their rationale for taking the course.

We then gave a 90-minute presentation about women’s leadership, drawing heavily upon our research in the four areas of organized veterinary medicine, clinical practice, industry, and academia. Our goals were to raise the awareness about the gap in women’s leadership, promote understanding of the need to have women in leadership positions, and share best practices from both within and outside veterinary medicine.

Within the domain of organized veterinary medicine, we presented data on women in leadership positions at the national level (American Veterinary Medical Association, AVMA) and the local and state levels, with emphasis on states like Iowa which have instituted numerous policy changes to promote leadership of women in particular and younger veterinarians in general.

Considering clinical practice, we shared information from the 2013 National ResearchCouncil study that documented significantly lower return on educational investment for associates compared to owners. This topic would be the focus of the noon panel which featured three practice owners. We also presented data from various sources showing lower levels of compensation for women, beginning with starting salaries and continuing throughout their careers.

For the discussion of industry, data were drawn from Fortune 500 companies, to major veterinary companies. Emphasis was on the need for a critical mass of women (generally viewed as 30%) to be present at the top leadership of companies in order for the culture of that company to reflect good business practices for men and women alike, as well as to enhance profits and achieve better standing in their respective industries. We also posited that it was important for transparency of leadership at the top and noted that this deficit in some private companies where there is no legal requirement for board members to be identified publicly.

Finally, we discussed academia where, despite over three decades of affirmative action policies, we still have only six women deans in the US, a mere 20% in a domain that one would expect to be leading the way. Furthermore, the last five dean appointments have all been males. We used academia as a prime example of the “leaky pipeline” where the percentage of women tends to decrease as appointments are made into more senior positions.

Having considered the current state in these domains, we turned our attention to identifying and explaining some of the barriers to women’s leadership drawn from substantive research in the field. We talked about:
  1. ·         systemic barriers, such as the lack of term limits in many positions in organized veterinary medicine;
  2. ·         cultural barriers, such as differences in women’s personal and professional priorities, and gender stereotypes;
  3. ·         psychological barriers, the lack of self-promotion and the so-called “perfection complex” and self-assessment traits of women compared to men;
  4. ·         economic barriers, showing disparity in salaries as well as differences in negotiation styles between men and women, and promoting the concept of paid family leave policies.

Student Course in Women’s Leadership, Cornell University
Screen shot of the Introduction to the Subtitle, “Overcoming the Barriers”
(Prezi Presentation by designed and prepared by David Seader ‘16, student participant)

After presenting data on the current state of the profession and then identifying barriers for women’s leadership, we tapped the bank of our research and presented specific examples of how women have overcome obstacles.  For organized veterinary medicine, we drew heavily upon the experience in Iowa mentioned above. We then focused at some length on mentors and their impact on one’s career, using examples from organized veterinary medicine (Dr.Eva Evans) and academia (Deans Sheila Allen and Deborah Kochevar).

Relative to practice ownership, we talked about women, including the guest presenters who each owned their practices, to others who overcame some of the logistical barriers of single ownership by joining with others (often women) to co-own or multi-own practices. 

We highlighted industry-based strategies, such as programs at Zoetis and Hill’s Pet Nutrition, which have been successful in developing women leaders.  Again, we used specific examples from our interviews with women leaders in industry, such as Dr. Christine Jenkins (Zoetis).

The last segment of our presentation, entitled, “Bridging the Leadership Gap,” was intended to provide a greater degree of clarity for how the percentage of women leaders can be increased in the next few years. We gave specific examples, such as how some gender stereotypes and cultural biases do, in fact, create a climate where fewer women either run for elected office, or are appointed into leadership positions. Men, we argued, need to be aware of these issues as much as women if we are going to be able to see a truly balanced profession that will benefit all veterinarians.

We counseled female students to challenge their “perfection complex,” giving examples of how women can confidently perform admirably in leadership positions (just like men) even if they don’t have the entire skill set in place at the onset. We encouraged self-nomination for office and ignoring the fear of not getting a position.

To complete the presentation, we focused on developing leadership competencies. This included taking formal training programs to enhance leadership competencies such as financial and management acumen, negotiation and public speaking skills, and building a strong mentoring support system.

Student Course in Women’s Leadership, Cornell University
Guest presenters at front are Drs. Linda Tintle (speaking), Susan Wylegala and Andrea Dennis-LaVigne
(Photo by the author, 2014)

During the working lunch, the three invited veterinarians formed a panel, describing their experiences in private practice and business, and in organized veterinary medicine at the state level. They gave substantive presentations and were amazingly upbeat.  “You have a veterinary degree and you can do anything,” was the recurring theme, and they provided example after example based upon their real-world experiences to prove their point. The panelists were Dr. Linda Tintleowner of Wurtsboro Veterinary Clinic and past president of the New York State Veterinary Medical Society (NYSVMS), Dr. Susan Wylegala, owner of Cheektowaga Veterinary Hospital and Executive Board member of the NYSVMS, and Dr. Andrea Dennis- LaVigne, owner of the Bloomfield Animal Hospital and President-Elect of the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association.

This one-hour segment generated questions on a wide range of topics from how to do clinical research while running a practice, to asking if the panelists would be willing to open their books to students interested in knowing more about running a business. The session energized and, at times, electrified the students. Two-thirds of them later reported it as the most informative and helpful segment of the day.

Student Course in Women’s Leadership, Cornell University
Student group working on developing a plan for mentoring
(Photo by the author, 2014)

The third segment of the course returned to the issue of “essential skills” in becoming an effective leader, and the steps to reach that goal. We focused primarily on networking, mentoring, and role models. This took the form of a working session where the small groups of students, assisted by the guest presenters, worked to articulate goals and expectations for developing an individualized mentoring program.

The capstone of the afternoon was completion of an exercise in which each student wrote down her or his specific goals, and the time frame for achieving them. They were written on specially-made bookmarks identifying the course name and date, and then the bookmarks were inserted inside a copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, which was given to each of the students and guest presenters at the close of the day.

As the students mingled and talked to the guest presenters and amongst themselves afterwards, they began to plan the development of a Student Chapter of the Women's Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative. As we write this story less than a month later, the Cornell student chapter is not only about to become reality, but chapters are is also about to be established at two or three other colleges. The excitement and enthusiasm are palpable.

Dr. Smith invites comments at

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Difference Between Mentoring and Advocacy: The Story of Dr. Olive K. Britt

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted March 27, 2014

A recent story at by Cornell student Sarah Khatibzadeh, entitled "A Memorial Tribute to Dr. Charles W. Raker",  described the late professor and surgeon as the consummate teacher and mentor, in addition to acclaiming his transformation leadership in equine surgery. He was the principal founder of New Bolton Center at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1960s and was largely responsible for its success during its  formative decades.

I was privileged to be among the many veterinarians Dr. Raker mentored when I was a large animal surgical resident in the mid-1970s. But 15 years before I and others flocked to New Bolton Center, Dr. Olive Kendrick Britt broke the women’s barrier in equine medicine and surgery. Dr. Raker was her mentor, and also her advocate.

In a book on women in veterinary medicine published in 1991 (WOMEN in Veterinary Medicine. Profiles of Success), Dr. Britt wrote about her December 1958 interview with Dr. Raker.

Dr. Charles Raker interviewed me over the Christmas holidays. “I’d love to have you,” he told me, “but it’s going to be a whale of a battle with the board of regents. I must get them used to the idea that a woman can do what I think you can do. If I win, you’ll know by March."

Olive Britt was born in London, England, when her father was stationed there during World War I. She grew up on a half-million acre ranch in New Mexico with 25,000 head of cattle and horses. “I remember learning to ride in this rugged country without borders,” she later wrote. She would ride anything from a cow to a mule. “I have a photograph of myself, barely three, sitting on Antelope [the family’s Jersey milk cow] and holding a chicken in my arms.”

Olive was an expert horsewoman and experienced a number of career adventures, all involving animals in one way or another, before she enrolled in the College of Veterinary Medicine in Athens, Georgia, in 1955 as one of the two female and 58 male students. "I was thirty-eight years old, but no older than some classmates who were veterans of World War II and Korea." 

Class of 1959, University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine
Olive K. Britt is in center, fourth row.
(Photo courtesy of University of Georgia, 1959)

By the time Dr. Britt was nearing the end of her four-year DVM program in Georgia, Dr. Raker was establishing his postgraduate program at New Bolton Center. These were the early days of dedicated clinical training that would, by the mid 1960s, become more formalized into programs eventually serving as qualification for admission into the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

While Dr. Britt felt that she had enough practical experience to start her own practice, she felt that she did not have the knowledge to be a “good equine practitioner.” Upon the advice of a friend who was just finishing his internship at New Bolton Center and who had recommended Olive to Dr. Raker, she was invited to New Bolton Center for an interview. Though she felt her meeting with Dr. Raker had gone well, she knew the competition was overwhelming and that the chance of her getting the only position available at the time, was remote. She made sure that she had several backup plans for employment available.

When the letter from Dr. Raker arrived in March, she carried it for a long time, mustering the courage to open it. She was overjoyed to read the opening sentence, “You have been accepted as our first woman intern in the large-animal clinic and are to report July 1.”

Dr. Britt stayed at New Bolton for two years, completing what was then referred to as an internship-residency. Though she had many fine teachers, she attributed her success to Dr. Raker. “He fashioned in me the knowledge and confidence to become an accomplished equine practitioner.”

As her mentor, Dr. Raker was active in all aspects of advancing Dr. Britt’s career, whether it was helping her learn new surgical techniques or insisting in the company of clients, who were unwilling to let a woman work on their valuable horses, that she was up to the task. “Olive, you do a beautiful job,” he once said almost under the nose of a reluctant client. “These people have to realize that they are not to look at you as a woman but as a veterinary surgeon. If he doesn’t want you to do it [the surgery], he can take his horse elsewhere.”

And that is where Dr. Raker upped the ante from mentor to advocate. Here was one of the country’s leading equine surgeons, and the person most responsible for building New Bolton’s reputation as the premier equine facility in the country. Two years earlier, he had put his reputation on the line by advocating to an unenthusiastic Board of Regents that it was time to break the gender barrier so he could hire a woman as his only intern. Having watched his resident develop into a clinician who had gained his confidence, he could now advocate for her to work as the primary surgeon on his cases. It would have been so easy for Dr. Raker to tell a skeptical and reluctant client that he would (albeit under protest) do the surgery himself, with his trainee assisting. But instead, he translated his confidence in Dr. Britt into action.

That is the definition of an advocate. As a mentor, Dr. Raker had shared knowledge and experience with his trainee. But as an advocate, he put his personal reputation and the reputation of the institution on the line. He did that, not only because he had the ability to assess accurately the level of competence of his staff, but also because he was a great teacher and a great leader for all of his trainees.

Veterinarians need mentors throughout their lives. But those who are so fortunate to have even one true advocate, especially early in their career, are greatly blessed.

Following her residency at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Britt went on to a distinguished career as the first women equine practitioner in Virginia. She practiced for many years both as a solo practitioner, then with a partner, Dr. M.D. Kingsbury. Together, they built a clinic and an equine practice that employed as many as five doctors. She returned to solo practice in 1985.

Dr. Britt passed in March 2006, at the age of 88.

Dr. Smith can be reached at

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Veterinary Student Interviews Practicing Veterinarians to Help Prepare for Her Career

Guest Author: Elizabeth Newsom-Stewart

Note: The original and complete version of this story 
will be posted on March 19 at

Editor’s Note: Elizabeth Newsom-Stewart is a second-year DVM student at Cornell University who recently interviewed a veterinarian to fulfill her assignment in a class I teach, Veterinary Medicine: The Versatile Profession. I chose her paper to reprint here because it speaks cogently to the important issue of whether or not new graduates need to do an internship to feel qualified to enter veterinary practice.  Because of Elizabeth’s desire to become involved in the leadership of the profession through organized veterinary medicine, she interviewed another veterinarian who has provided leadership at the regional and state levels in New York.
Donald F. Smith

There are two aspects of the veterinary profession that are important to me: being an excellent clinician who practices high quality medicine and surgery, and being a leader in organized veterinary medicine. Those issues were best addressed by veterinarians in two different stages of their careers; therefore, I interviewed two different women. First, I interviewed Dr. Angela Silva (Indriolo), a 2011 Cornell graduate, and we discussed issues relating to transitioning from the role of a veterinary student into that of a practicing veterinarian. I also interviewed Dr. Linda Tintle, a 1981 Cornell graduate, regarding leadership in organized veterinary medicine.

Elizabeth Newsom-Stewart, Cornell DVM Class of 2016
Photo Taken during Rural Area Veterinary Services Rotation
(Photo provided by Ms. Newsom-Stewart)

I chose to interview Dr. Silva because, as a relatively recent graduate, I felt that she would have a helpful perspective on how to develop oneself into the best veterinarian possible, especially during the crucial first few years post graduation. Dr. Silva spent two years as a small animal general practitioner at Bond Animal Hospital, a busy general practice in White Plains. She has now transitioned to a practice that is closer to her home. Dr. Silva is a certified veterinary acupuncturist, is certified in stem-cell therapy, and has completed a course at Colorado State University in client communication, called the FRANK program.  Dr. Silva now lives with her husband and two standard poodles in Somers, New York. As I did an externship with her in the past, I know that she is an excellent veterinarian who also maintains a healthy work-life balance, and I therefore felt that she was a perfect person to interview.

Because I am questioning whether or not to do an internship, I asked Dr. Silva her opinion. She feels that an internship is an appropriate choice if a student does not feel confident enough to practice upon graduation, but she insists that one can become an equally excellent clinician without one.  She explained that, for a new veterinarian who really cares about their patients, the first year of practice is “like an internship, with a much higher salary.”  By this she meant that a new graduate will need to spend hours every night speaking with specialists and diagnostic laboratories; and doing research in order to provide the best patient care.

The negatives of doing an internship also include that they may not be as relevant to what a general practitioner may encounter. For example, she explained that one of her friends finished an internship “being able to easily formulate a ten-drug treatment plan for kidney failure, but unable to do a cat spay in under an hour.”  Interns may also gain little experience in the practicalities of general medicine, such as client financial constraints, client communication, and moving in a “step-by-step manner” that moves with the client’s needs instead of in opposition to them.

Very notable to me was her statement that, “You graduate knowing how to practice good medicine, but not how to work with your clients [towards a common goal].”  She explained that client communication is one of the most critical aspects of practice, but is not effectively taught or learned until after graduation. A helpful tip that she gave me was to pursue additional training, such as the FRANK program that her employer, Dr. Aspros, sent her to Colorado State University to obtain.
On a similar note, Dr. Silva also emphasized the importance of mentorship—finding a practice owner who is aware of the challenges faced by new graduates, and who is willing to mentor as needed. Although it seems obvious, many new veterinarians also do not seem to realize how important it is that they find an employer who practices high quality medicine and surgery, because a new graduate will be following most of their practice policies and recommendations for several years. We also discussed issues such as the importance of continuing education, being proactive about honing skills, maintaining a work-life balance, and working well with technicians, staff, and practice owners.

Although interviewing Dr. Silva was extremely helpful for me, I still had questions with another aspect of veterinary medicine; that is, becoming a leader in the veterinary profession as a whole. To that end, I decided to interview Dr. Linda Tintle, founder and owner of a small animal general practice in Wurtsboro, New York.  Dr. Tintle is very active in the Hudson Valley Veterinary Medical Society, the New York State Veterinary Medical Society (NYSVMS), and is a past member of the Dean’s Advisory Council at Cornell. She is president of the Orange County Animal Emergency Service, and is active in the Shar-pei community, having been involved in research of breed specific disorders and the Chinese Shar-pei Club of America.

My many questions for Dr. Tintle may seem very basic, but I truly did not know the answer.  For example, what does being involved in “organized veterinary medicine” actually mean?  What, practically, does one do on a daily basis?  What is the purpose of the state society?  What about the regional society?  How does one get involved?

Dr. Tintle was patient and knowledgeable. She described how the regional society is mainly involved in local issues, including continuing education and the addressing of ethical complaints or issues between veterinary colleagues.  At a state level, she told me how the state society is essentially a liaison between veterinarians and the New York State government, which establishes laws, policies, and regulations that influence the way veterinarians are permitted to practice.  For example, issues regarding the legitimacy of equine dentists, a bill making debarking illegal under any circumstances, and restrictions on having compounded doses in a clinic have a very real effect on veterinarians, and the state society works to make the impact of these laws as minimally detrimental (and hopefully as beneficial) as possible.

The NYSVMS also tries to assist its members in other ways, such as providing health insurance, educating its members on legal matters such as those described above, as well as more managerial issues like hours and employee restrictions. They provide continuing education opportunities through biannual conferences in conjunction with Cornell, and also have run a veterinary accreditation program to help clinics meet the New York State practice standards and abide by all the legislation that applies to them.

Because it is very important to me to be involved in organized medicine, I asked Dr. Tintle how one can go about that as a new graduate. She said that many regional associations are eager to find new people to serve. She explained that there are so few veterinarians interested in being involved that many members remain in the same position for several years out of necessity.

Additionally, she told me of a great program offered by the NYSVMS that is aimed at developing the leadership abilities of new graduates. It is run by the Committee for Leadership Advancement, and essentially helps new graduates transition into leadership roles. The program can also help with other issues facing new graduates. If I practice here in New York, I will absolutely take advantage of that opportunity; if I go elsewhere, I will know what to look for in whatever state I work.

I found both of these interviews to be very helpful, and an excellent opportunity to answer questions that will help me build my career in the future. Mentorship is so important in becoming a great clinician, and in being productive member of the profession as a whole. I will absolutely remember the advice that both women gave me, and put it into action as I move out of the student role into the role of a practicing clinician and member of the national veterinary community.

By Elizabeth Newsom-Stewart, DVM student, Class of 2016, Cornell University