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Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Value of Mentoring for a Successful Veterinary Career

As an undergraduate student at Cornell in the mid 1950s, Patricia Thomson was often discouraged from following her dream to become a veterinarian. Her Cornell pre-vet advisor flatly informed her, “You won’t get in.” A career counselor concurred, suggesting that medical school would be the better route for someone with her excellent grades. Trish persisted, however, and became one of three women to receive the Cornell DVM in 1960.

Positive mentors and role models are critically important to young people as they pursue career aspirations. Trish had several mentors, in addition to her wonderful family. An early supporter was her local veterinary practitioner, Dr. Stanley Garrison, who frequently visited the Thomson farm and surmised that Trish would make a fine veterinarian. “Doc was the finest mentor one could have. He played an important role in my developing veterinary interests, and even hired me to work with him during my summer vacations while at college.

Dr. Patricia Thomson and Dr. Don Herr, 2010

Cornell veterinary professor, E.P. Leonard, also saw Trish’s potential and supported her. During her final year, most notices advertising jobs for graduating veterinarians were written something like, ‘Want new male graduate to practice’. At a time when the majority of veterinary practice owners would not even interview a woman, Dr. Leonard informed Trish of a place in Summit, New Jersey, where women applicants were welcomed. That’s how she secured a job with Dr. Joseph Engle, one of the leading small animal practitioners of his generation. “Dr. Engle was one of the founding American Animal Hospital Association members, so it was a great place to work. From there, you could get a job, or start your own hospital, or do whatever. It was a great experience.

Two years later, Dr. Leonard went a step further, inviting Trish to return to Cornell as an instructor in the small animal hospital. Perhaps he considered the fact that her new fiancé was finishing up veterinary college, or perhaps he just wanted a good intern, but Dr. Thomson returned to Cornell and taught for one year while her husband, Don Herr, completed his veterinary studies.

After getting married, they moved to Don’s home town of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, built a hospital and practiced together. “I practiced under the name, Dr. Thomson. That was something that Dr Engle told me, ‘You’re going to marry a man named Herr. And you’re going to be Dr. Herr, and he’s going to be Dr. Herr, and you’re going to be hearing from clients, Do you want the Him Doctor Herr or the Her Doctor Herr? So that’s just another example of good mentoring!”

Though Dr. Thomson's mentors are now deceased, they would be proud to recognize the extraordinary pesonal and professional achievements of the woman they encouraged and supported during the formative stages of her career.

A more complete biography and of Dr. Thomson’s interview with Cornell veterinary student, Dana Peirce ’13, can be found at the following link,