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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Top Veterinary Stories for 2011

Dr. Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted December 29, 2011

World Veterinary Year (Vet 2011) - The world's first veterinary school was established in Lyon, France 250 years ago (1761) by French veterinarian Claude Bourgelat. It was commissioned by King Louis XV to promote the prevention of cattle disease, notable Rinderpest (cattle plague). A second school was started by Bourgelat three years later in the Paris suburb of Alfort. Veterinary colleges soon emerged in London and Scotland. The 150th anniversary of veterinary medicine in the United States will be celebrated in 2013.

Animals in Movies - Two  movies gave us much to consider regarding the use and abuse of animals in war and peace. Sara Gruen's novel-turned-movie, "Water for Elephants" provided a glimpse of  circus life during the Great Depression; and the release of  Steven Spielberg's "War Horse" on Christmas Day portrayed the enormity of loss of equine life during wartime. Though segments of these movies needlessly strain the limits of credulity, the central themes provide compelling stories of the need for animal welfare and proper veterinary care.

Supporting Pets after the Great Japanese Earthquake - Disaster preparedness and response for animals came to prominence after Hurricane Katrina. However, the magnitude of animal devastation resulting from the March earthquake and tsunami of Northeastern Japan far eclipsed anything we had seen here in America. Dr. Asako Shimamura took leave from her regular job and worked as an individual volunteer in some of the hardest hit areas. Coordinating efforts with local veterinarians, she collected and distributed medical supplies and food in the heart of the disaster area, and reunited animals with their human families. Because of the loss of communication, the most severly affected areas were often those not identified by the Tokyo headquarters. By mid May, Dr. Shimamura had made over 200 different trips into the disaster area within the Miyagi Prefecture. Her bravery, commitment, compassion and perseverance against incredible natural and human challenges is one of the great veterinary stories of the year.

Veterinarian Awarded National Medal of Science - Ralph Brinster, a veterinary professor at the University of Pennsylvania received the National Medal of Science "for fundamental contributions to the development and use of transgenic mice". This award is the highest honor bestowed by the United States' government on scientists and engineers. Dr. Brinster is the first veterinarian in the country to receive the award since it was established 50 years ago. The White House announcement acclaimed Brinster's research to have "provided experimental foundations and inspiration for progress in germline genetic modification in a range of species, which has generated a revolution in biology, medicine, and agriculture."

AVMA Accreditation of Ross University - The American Veterinary Medical Association granted Ross University's School of Veterinary Medicine full accreditation in March. A private institution located on the Island of St. Kitts in the Caribbean, Ross graduates over 400 students per year, 98% of whom are from the U.S. This represents about 10% of the total graduates seeking employment in the United States annually. Not since the then-proprietary Ontario Veterinary College (see footnote) attracted massive numbers of Americans to its for-profit school in Toronto in the late 19th century has a non-American veterinary institution trained so many U.S. citizens as veterinarians. The accreditation of Ross was followed several months later by similar recognition of St. George's School of Veterinary Medicine on the island of Grenada.

Rinderpest Eradication
On June 28, the 192 Member countries of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization adopted a Resolution declaring global freedom from Rinderpest. Referred to as cattle plague throughout much of history, this was an infectious disease of cattle, buffalo, yak and many wildlife species. Its devastation has been profound, producing massive starvation, economic ruin and political instability. For example, Rinderpest destroyed 90% of the cattle and millions of wild animals in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1890s. Rinderpest is the first animal disease to be eliminated by human efforts, and only the second disease of any kind, after smallpox in humans.

Footnote: The Ontario Veterinary College was established by Scottish veterinarian, Andrew Smith, as a for-profit college in downtown Toronto in 1862. It operated as a proprietary college for almost 50 years when it became a publicly-supported institution under the umbrella of the University of Toronto. Contemporary Scot, James Law, established the veterinary program at Cornell University in 1868 but his high matriculation and curriculum standards were out of reach of most American students so they migrated north of the border and returned to practice in New York and neighboring states.

Dr. Smith welcomes comments at

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Consider a Year-End Donation in Support of the Animals

Posted by Dr. Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
December 11, 2011.

If you are planning charitable donations this time of year, you may want to consider animal health and welfare programs among your causes to support. For those who don't know where to turn, I offer these suggestions.

The value of supporting the local community:
Local humane shelters are among the most money-strapped animal non profits in the country. They operate in local communities, providing critical services for adoption and education, as well as dealing with animal rescue, cruelty prevention, and pet overpopulation issues. I have always been impressed by the number of older veterinarians who leave a legacy of giving generously of their time and professional expertise for local shelters and, upon their death, have designated  that memorial gifts in their honor be made to a local shelter.

Supporting the Next Generation of Veterinarians:
Twenty years ago, the ratio of staring salary to educational debt for a graduating veterinarian was 1:1.  It is now almost 1:3, and the ratio is spreading. State financial support for veterinary colleges has been under siege for at least two decades, and has plummeted precipitously in the last four years. I recently estimated that the average level of operating support for veterinary colleges is less than $2.00 per capita. Many states provide no direct support for veterinary colleges nor do they provide even partial tuition support for students who attend out-of-state colleges because there are no veterinary colleges in their home state.

Cornell University's Graduating DVM Class of 2011 (May 2011)

Each of the 28 veterinary colleges in the United States has scholarship funds that would benefit from your donation. Consult the website of your favorite college, or contact me directly and I can provide you with the name and address of the appropriate contact at the college of your choice.

Support Veterinary Medical Research:
There are several reputable organizations that support research on animal health and welfare. Two that I consider among the most effective are: The Morris Animal Foundation  (supporting the health of pets and wildlife) and the Winn Feline Foundation (for cats).

Among my favorite conservation and wildlife programs are the Wildlife Conservation Society, which includes the world-famous Bronx Zoo where the West Nile Virus was isolated in 1999; and the Cheetah Conservation Fund, a scientifically-based program located in Namibia, Africa.  

As always, I welcome comments and questions at
All photos provided by the author.

Spielberg's Version of "War Horse"

Blog by Dr. Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted Dec. 11, 2011

Michael Morpurgo’s book, War Horse, which was transformed into a Tony-award winning Broadway play, opened on the big screen since Christmas Day 2011.

It is hard for us to fathom the massive loss of animal life in the history of war. Morpurgo humanizes the plight of military animals in WWI by making the horse, Joey, the narrator of his own story. He is a British boy’s beloved work horse who is sold into the British cavalry. Through an unusual twist of events, Joey ends up going into battle on the side of the Germans, as well as the British.

The emphasis on Joey’s  health is a subtext of the story. The critical service of both British and American veterinarians and veterinary stations are described many times throughout the book.

When the fighting ceased in 1918, Joey’s plight as a surviving horse on French soil is also chronicled as he and his emaciated equine comrads are auctioned for slaughter as horse meat. This characterization of war animals as “equipment” is repeated years later in Vietnam. At the end of that war, American military dogs which had served so faithfully to locate injured GI’s, warned of enemy ambushes, and searched out booby traps, were left to their own fate―including slaughter for food―as the troops were forced to return to the U.S. without their beloved canine service companions.

Though we instinctively imagine that the millions of horses lost in World War I would have been through combat, Morpurgo paints a more accurate picture where malnutrition, starvation and disease were the greater scourges. Joey’s near fatal encounter with tetanus following his recovery from life-threatening combat injuries is a vivid reminder that horses are highly susceptible to this dreaded infection.

American veterinarian Dr. D. L. Proctor served in India during WW II and was in charge of preparing horses and mules for service in the mountains and jungles of Burma. He told me of the problems with protozal diseases, lacerations, shrapnel wounds. But as far as tetanus goes, things had changed in the 35 years since WW I. “I never saw a case of tetanus while I was in the service because the horses and mules were all vaccinated”, he said. “And this is something because tetanus was the greatest cause of death in horses at that time.”

Animals are still fighting and suffering in war. The New York Times ran an article that captures some of the modern day impact of war on dogs. Titled “After Duty, Dogs Suffer Like Soldiers”, James Dao describes the post-traumatic stress disorder of military dogs in Afghanistan and Iraq.

What War Horse tells us is that animals don’t discriminate between the “good” side and the “bad” side. Joey fought for both British and German armies and received veterinary care from each side.

And this confirms my interview with  WWII Japanese veterinarian, Dr. Takehiko Takahashi, who cared for the war horses assigned to him in Burma with the same zeal and compassion as Dr. Proctor did for the American horses.

Veterinarians take an oath to prevent animal suffering, and in war as in peacetime, it should not matter where they were born or who owns them.

Above photos of the book cover and of the documentary describing the creation of the puppetry in the play version of the story are by Dr. Smith, who invites comments on this and all blogs at

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Students, Family and Mentors Celebrate Cornell's 2011 White Coat Ceremony

Posted by Donald Smith, Cornell University
December 3, 2011

When I asked Danielle Hein why so many members of her family had come to Ithaca this weekend to celebrate Cornell's White Coat Ceremony for third-year veterinary students, she said, "I think my family is just really proud and they are good at supporting and celebrating each other's accomplishments. I am certain that they deserve some of the credit for helping me get this far so the "white coat" is essentially for them."

Danielle Hein (center) and family at the 2011 White Coat Ceremony
Danielle's mentor, Dr. John Andresen (Cornell 1966)
and Mrs. Maribeth Andresen are to the right of Danielle.

The White Coat tradition that started eight years ago at Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine marks the beginning of the clinical portion of the veterinary curriculum. During the last one and one-half years of education, the students will be caring for clinical cases in the hospital wards and on farms and other ambulatory settings.

"I'm sure that my classmates would agree that we are extremely excited to finally be entering the clinical portion of our education", Danielle said. "I feel so enthusiastic about it, to finally see patients, to feel like I'm really helping animals and their owners, and applying the things I've spent years learning. It's the culmination of so much hard work. I just can't imagine anything more satisfying."

During the event, hosted by Dean Michael Kotlikoff, each of the students had a mentor officially coat them. Danielle chose Cornell alumnus, Dr. John Andresen, the veterinarian who piqued her interest many years ago and who has remained a mentor throughout her time at Cornell.

Kevin Render and his mother, Sheila Perry,
at Cornell's White Coat Ceremony
Kevin Render had eight family members drive from Buffalo to celebrate with him. He was especially grateful to his mother for her direction early in life. "My mother was a teacher even though she doesn't have a teaching degree. She taught me invaluable lessons even when she wasn't trying. Without a doubt, those lessons are why I have made it this far when so many in my neighborhood did not. Through her struggles, I learned willpower. Through her character, I learned individuality."

According to Kevin, "The start of clinics will be bittersweet. Sweet, because I'll have patients and put into practice all the learning I've had the past two years. Bitter, because clinics are a reminder that vet school is more than half over. Furthermore, because we are dispersed in the hospital during clinical rotations, I'll never be around all of my classmates in one place ever again."

Michael Robinson's father, David
flew from London, England to attend the ceremony.
Parents and family members came from all over the United States, and even from Europe. David Robinson, father of Michael, flew from London to join his son. The parents of Nate LaHue, both veterinarians, came from California.
Kathleen Molero's parents and also her mentor, Dr. Carlos Machado, arrived from south Florida. Kate Allen's parents flew in from Chicago. In some cases, parents or other family members who are also veterinarians, coated their children or siblings.

The capstone of the afternoon was the address delivered by Dr. Robert R. Marshak, dean emeritus of the University of Pennsylvania. A Cornell graduate (1945) and perhaps the most influential dean of the second half of the 20th century, Dr. Marshak portrayed the veterinary profession using a brilliant tapestry that evoked the rigors of science and the art of medicine and communication.

Dr. Robert R. Marshak, (Cornell 1945) 
professor and dean emeritus,
University of Pennsylvania
Dr. Marshak spoke glowingly of Cornell's rich tradition in excellence from our founding in 1868 by the Scottish veterinarian, James Law, to the present world-class faculty and student body. "You are a special group", he urged the students to remember.
And so they are and so they shall be, as they stood with other veterinarians in the great hall to recite the veterinarian's oath led by Dr. Jonathan May, president of the college's Alumni Association, which co-sponsored the afternoon's celebration.
Photos by the author.
Dr. Smith welcomes comments at

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Veterinary Euthanasia: Cultural Influences in Bangkok, Thailand

Posted December 1, 2011
Guest Author, Katherine Bibi
DVM Candidate 2015 (Cornell University)

During spring 2011, I traveled to four cities on three continents seeking to understand how various governments regulate their small animal veterinary clinics, if at all. Among my destinations was Bangkok, Thailand, where I spent an amazing two weeks working at Thonglor Pet Hospital. After arriving from Hanoi, Vietnam, where veterinary medicine was still in the early stages of development, I was unsure of what to expect in Bangkok. 

After only a few days of observing, I noticed something that astounded me: I had not seen one euthanasia procedure since my arrival. 

Thonglor Pet Hospital, Bangkok, Thailand
Photo by Author
Coming from an area in the U.S. where I was often used to seeing one or two euthanasia procedures each day, I questioned why this procedure was such a rarity.  Dr. Jakaphan Wannawong, one of the dermatologists at the Bangkok clinic, told me that he had euthanized only three pets over his entire career.

The veterinarians explained that euthanasia is rare, and there were some doctors who refused to perform it under any circumstances. The rationale was completely intertwined with their religious values and culture. The majority of the Thai people are Buddhist, and because of the value that the Buddhist religion places on life, euthanasia is avoided in the majority of cases.

The stark contrast between my experiences in the United States and Bangkok made me wonder if euthanasia is too frequently used in our culture as a “way out” rather than a last resort.  The Thai veterinarians were unwaveringly persistent in every case. For example, I saw them perform endless CPR on one dog and remove multiple tumors on a client’s hamster.

This begs the question: Does the elimination of euthanasia as a medical option compel the Thai veterinarians to provide better care and make them more determined to succeed? On the other hand, when does the value of life exceed the amount of suffering required to live such a severely compromised life?  Some patients received endless and uncertain palliative care while unable to stand and covered in pressure sores. At what point does it become important to compromise one’s beliefs and traditions for doing what may not be “acceptable”, but right?  This is a conflict that many of the Thai vets had to face.

Regardless of one’s position on euthanasia, it was obvious that Thonglor had the facilities to accommodate such extensive palliative care.  Though Thailand lacks the board certification program that exists in the U.S., the doctors’ specialty knowledge was impressive, and it was clear that each individual was motivated to learn more about his or her specific veterinary interest. This enthusiasm allowed for over 12 different specialty clinics within the Thonglor hospital, including a physical therapy clinic fitted with a hydrobath.  Though doctors informed me that Thonglor was more progressive than the average Thai clinic, I was astonished by how advanced the clinic was and how dedicated the veterinarians were to learning new procedures. 

Katherine Bibi is a first-year DVM student (Class of 2015)
at Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine.
Photo provided by Author.

Though I had originally set out on my journey to determine how governments monitor and standardize the procedures of veterinary clinics, I soon realized that I was focusing on the wrong leading authority.  It became apparent that it was the culture of each region, rather than the protocols set forth by the government, that was at the heart of each clinic’s practices. Veterinary clinics aren’t run in totality by management, by the government, or by the desires of the clients; rather, they are guided by the customs of their people. 

If we as veterinary students choose to make an impact on the veterinary world, we must first understand the cultural values that lie within its foundation.  

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

White Coat Ceremony at Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine

Posted November 29, 2011
by Donald F. Smith, DVM, Cornell University

Cornell’s 8th annual White Coat Ceremony for third-year veterinary medical students is Saturday, December 3. The concept of the “white coat” donning for medical students was inaugurated at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, and shortly thereafter adapted for veterinary students at Washington State University.

Cornell adapted the practice in 2004, but with a twist. Instead of holding the ceremony at the beginning of the four-year curriculum, we decided to mark students’ transition from the preclinical to their clinical education as they began their hospital rotations.

Canada honored Sir William Osler in 1969
on the 50th anniversary of his death with this
commemorative postage stamp.
Photo by author.
Historically, both medical and veterinary students were largely “book taught” until about 100 years ago when the curriculum was expanded to include one or two years of clinical education in the hospital ward (or at the farm or stable). Dr. William Osler, a physician at Johns Hopkins Medical School but who had previously worked at McGill University’s veterinary college, is credited with being the first medical school professor to bring students out of the lecture hall into the wards.

Osler observed, “He [or she] who studies medicine without books sails an uncharted sea, but he who studies medicine without patients does not go to sea at all”. “Listen to your patients”, he would tell his medical students, “he [or she] is telling you the diagnosis.”

Cornell professor Dr. William Hornbuckle is the quintessential small animal diagnostician. Like Osler, the respect he has from over four decades of students is legendary. Dr. Hornbuckle is a stickler for getting an exhaustive history from the client. But once that information is gathered, he is adamant that the student "concentrate on the physical examination. Don't get distracted by talking to the client or your colleague for this is your chance to listen to the animal and what it is telling you."

Because the white coat symbolizes the generic and traditional professional attire of the health sciences, we at Cornell decided in conjunction with our alumni executive board (the co-sponsors of the white coat ceremony) to follow the lead of our medical school colleagues. We did this while also recognizing that many veterinarians—large animal and wildlife practitioners, for example—do not typically wear white coats in their practices.

As the veterinarian mentors of the Class of 2013 formally robe or “coat” each student this Saturday, they are following the deep-rooted tradition of veterinary education at Cornell where faculty promote the essential role of patient-oriented learning. It is in the clinical environment—whether the hospital ward, the farm or stable, or the wildlife sanctuary—that observations of both illness and health are embedded in the new veterinarian’s memory, and that textbook knowledge is applied with relevance to the patient.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterinarian Frederick Douglass Patterson and the Tuskegee Airmen

Posted Veterans Day, November 11, 2011
by Dr. Donald F. Smith, Cornell University

This historical blog is in recognition of the 150th anniversary 
of the American Veterinary Medical Association (1863-2013).

Did you know that the Tuskegee Airmen program was established by a veterinarian? 

I didn’t until last May, when I interviewed Dr. Charles Robinson, the only African-American veterinary student to attend Cornell during the 1940s.

Charles R. Robinson, DVM (Cornell 1944)
and his wife, Yolanda. Picture by author, 2010

Robinson imbued me with a sense of wonder of the great accomplishments of his former boss, Dr. Frederick Douglass Patterson, who served as the third president of Tuskegee Institute (now University).

Frederick Douglass Patterson, DVM, MS, PhD
founder of the Tuskegee Airmen
President of Tuskegee Institute (now University)

Frederick Douglass Patterson (1901-1988) was raised an orphan by his sister who inspired him to get an education. And he did: a DVM and MS from Iowa State University, and a PhD from Cornell. Appointed president of Tuskegee in 1934, he founded the veterinary college (1945) and was the driving force in establishing the United Negro College Fund (1944).

Earlier in his presidency, however, he learned to fly. So committed was he to also providing that opportunity to other young African-Americans, he overcame the political and social impediments of the day―the military was strictly segregated at the time―and won a federal grant to establish a training site to teach young Black men to fly military planes. This gave birth to the legendary Tuskegee Airmen of the World War II U.S. Army Corps.

Nearly half of the Tuskegee Airmen served overseas as combat pilots during World War II. Historical records boast that they were so accomplished pilots that their 1,500 missions were completed with a single lost to enemy planes. The success of the Tuskegee Airmen program is also credited with hastening the eventual desegregation of the U.S. armed forces.
Congressional Medal of Honor

The next time you think about the Tuskegee Airmen, give credit to the Iowa State- and Cornell-educated veterinarian, Frederick Douglass Patterson, who had the fortitude and foresight to defy enormous odds and establish one of the most decorated group of pilots of WWII.

Dr. Smith invites comments at

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

War Horse: Veterinarians Supporting Animal Health in Wartime

Blog by Donald F. Smith, DVM, Cornell University
Posted November 8, 2011, in honor of Veterans Day

Animal lovers are captivated by the elegant puppetry of the Tony award-winning play, War Horse. The turning of the horses’ ears, the movements of their heads and muzzles, the expressiveness of their eyes all lend pure magic to an otherwise serious drama.

Albert is a young British boy who becomes separated from his horse, Joey, when British troops need horses on the fighting fields of France during World War I. Joey is caught in German fire and becomes entangled in barbed wire deliberately set to ensnare the horses. Captured by the enemy, Joey then serves for the German army until he finally ends up in no-man’s land where Albert (now a youthful soldier) is reunited with his injured friend.

Up to six million horses were used in World War I. They carried munitions and pulled heavy artillery and wagons, and conveyed men and supplies. The loss of life from combat injuries was horrendous, but millions more succumbed to disease and starvation. As in the American Civil War, where it is estimated that one million horses and mules died, the tactical value of a horse was sometime considered greater than that of a soldier.

Just as physicians were critical to the health of soldiers, veterinarians were deployed in the war effort to care for horses and other animals. Also like their human medical counterparts, there were veterinarians on both sides of the conflict. This becomes evident in War Horse when the injured Joey is attended to by both English and German veterinarians.

World War I was the last major international conflict in which horses were considered essential to all aspects of the war effort. By the Second World War, horses had been largely replaced by armored vehicles, airplanes and other motorized equipment.

There was at least one major exception, however, and that was the China-Burma-India campaign where both Allied and Japanese forces used mules (U.S.) and horses (Japan) to traverse the almost impenetrable jungles and mountains of Burma.

U.S. veterinarian Dr. Kenneth Gumaer attends to a pack mule
on the trail in Burma, 1944. Photo provided by Dr. Gumaer.
Dr. Gumaer died in 2008 at age 88.
The commitment of both American and Japanese army veterinarians to the health of horses and mules who served in the Burma theater (1941-44) became evident in my interviews with veterinarians from both sides. American veterinarian Kenneth Gumaer spoke of his role in transporting 267 mules in the hold of a ship that left New Orleans in December 1943, was torpedoed off the coast of Florida and endured such heavy seas in the transatlantic crossing that many mules developed massive hematomas. “We only lost one mule in the entire 87-day crossing”, he proudly reported.

Japanese veterinarian Dr. Takehiko Takahashi describes his role in
transporting horses from China to Burma during WWII.
Dr. Takahashi died in 2011 at age 94.
Photo by author, 2010.
Japanese veterinarian, Dr. Takehiko Takahashi, encountered different challenges with his load of horses that left China in 1941. Despite his protests, the ship left port before the horses could be vaccinated, and he recalls another boat chasing them down and hoisting the life-saving anti-Strangles serum onto the deck where he vaccinated the horses in transit. To prevent the animals from succumbing to the sweltering heat and humidity of the ship’s hold as they coursed through the South China Sea, Dr. Takahashi fashioned a series of hoists to periodically raise the horses onto the deck for ventilation and exercise.

Both Drs. Gumaer and Takahashi related the unimaginable horror on the mountainous trails and jungle passages in Burma. Starvation and parasites took huge tolls on the lives of both man and beast. Animals carrying heavy packs sometimes lost their footing on the narrow mountain trails and fell to their death. Many Japanese horses were killed by low level strafing of British aircraft.

By the time the victorious American forces captured the key airfield of Myitkyina from the Japanese in spring 1944, only one-third of the thousands of mules had survived. All of the Japanese horses died.

War Horse is a cogent reminder that the military exploits of warring nations exact an enormous toll on animal life and that the veterinary care for all military animals―it is more likely to be dogs now than horses―is as essential today as it was during conflicts of previous decades.

On Veterans Day, pause to remember the animals that are casualties of mankind's wars. And as the Holiday season approaches, consider seeing the spectacular show, War Horse. It plays at Lincoln Center in New York City.

Dr. Smith invites comments at

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dr. Elaine Watson named dean of Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine

Posted October 26, 2011 by Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Ross University’s veterinary school on the island of St. Kitts in the Caribbean is having a banner year. In March, they became accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association, and yesterday they announced the hiring of Dr. Elaine Watson as their next dean.
An internationally-recognized scholar in veterinary reproduction and seasoned administrator―she has served as dean of the veterinary school at the University of Edinburgh since 2003― Dr. Watson will bring experience in international veterinary medicine to a program that has until now been largely U.S. focused. She succeeds Dean David DeYoung.
The veterinary program at Ross University is one of three medical schools in the region owned by DeVry, Inc., the other two being Ross University School of Medicine and the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine.
Ross admits three classes of veterinary students each year and graduates approximately 420 students per year (most veterinary colleges on the mainland graduate 80-140 students per year). Because they do not have a comprehensive teaching hospital, Ross students complete their clinical training in an accredited veterinary college in the U.S.
Most Ross students are American citizens, and return to the United States to practice clinical medicine. Over 60% locate in just eight states, either in the northeast (11% of their graduates are in New York State), or in Florida, California, Illinois and Ohio.
Ross University rides the crest of a “back to the future” wave in veterinary education. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a substantial proportion of veterinarians graduated from private, for-profit veterinary programs. These schools all disappeared by the late 1920s but a similar model for professional education has again emerged with Ross being the largest and best known.
Historically, the most successful of the early proprietary veterinary schools was the Ontario Veterinary College, founded in 1862. American students flocked to Toronto to receive a veterinary degree from the Edinburgh-educated Andrew Smith. Over a century later, another Edinburgh icon, Elaine Watson, has assumed leadership of the largest and most successful private veterinary school serving U.S. students.
Dr. Smith invites comments at

Friday, October 21, 2011

Dr. Mitch Kornet and A Tradition of Mentoring

Guest Blog by Michelle Pesce, Cornell DVM Class of 2012
Posted October 21, 2011

Careers for Veterinarians Series

When Mitchell Kornet took his 89-cent hamster for a six-dollar veterinary appointment in 1968, he was making an investment in a good deal more than the rodent’s well-being. Dr. Albert Drolesky’s kind attention that evening was what first led 13-year-old Mitch to direct his aptitude for science towards veterinary medicine.

The 1979 graduate of Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine considers himself fortunate to have had a series of mentors throughout his education and early career. Their guidance helped him establish a successful small animal practice with loyal clientele, as well as a deep-rooted sense of benevolence towards students pursuing a career in veterinary medicine.

Dr. Mitch Kornet CVM (Cornell '79) examining
his own dog, Ferrous, at the Mid Island Animal Hospital.
As the first of his family to attend college, Mitch was apprehensive about attending Cornell as an undergraduate. After finding his footing academically in his freshman year, he sought experience in the large animal clinic as a sophomore. Dr. Lawrence Kramer, who had recently been appointed as head of the clinic, offered Mitch a job in the pharmacy dispensary and took a special interest in his development as a prospective veterinary student.

Following his first year of veterinary college, Mitch returned to the practice he had visited years before with his hamster. The new practice owner, Dr. Richard Lange, helped Mitch understand the workup on cases and also shared with him how much fun one can have being a veterinarian.
Dr. Kornet had been among the youngest students in his graduating class, and his youth was recognized by clients when he took ownership of Mid Island Animal Hospital in Hicksville, NY in 1983 at age 28.
I received a hostile call from a client one afternoon… she proceeded to give me a list of demands that included which employees to retain and hours that I should be open. I listened carefully and was very polite. Then Mrs. Weber said, ‘and one more thing young man…..’ That didn’t sound right to me and I had to take control of the conversation – quickly. So without thinking, I said, ‘That’s enough Mrs. Weber, from now on when you address me, you will call me Dr. Young Man.’”
Mrs. Weber hung up on “Dr. Young Man” that day, but did eventually return to the practice. Mid Island Animal Hospital evolved into a busy American Animal Hospital Association-accredited small animal practice as hours were extended, emergency appointments were invited, and the employee base expanded.
In 1998, Dr. Kornet began volunteering as a member of the Long Island Veterinary Medical Association’s Disaster Preparedness Plan. A far cry from anyone's expectations, the plan was put into action following September 11th, 2001.
Mid Island Animal Hospital, Hicksville, N.Y.
In the ensuing two months, Dr. Kornet assembled teams of veterinarians and technicians who worked 12-hour shifts around the clock at veterinary triage site for search and rescue dogs. For his efforts, Dr. Kornet was honored as Long Island’s Veterinarian of the Year.
As a student in Dean Smith‘s “Versatile Profession” course in February 2010, I took great interest in his reference to Dr. Mitch Kornet, and wondered if his practice would merit a visit. I mailed him a letter and a copy of my résumé, and what followed was one of the most worthwhile summer jobs I’ve ever had, redefining my concept of a model small animal practice.
At Mid Island Animal Hospital, the greatest care and attention is provided to every patient, whether routine or unusual, and the legacy of mentorship that had  begun many years earlier was passed onto my generation of veterinary students, as well as aspiring animal health technicians.  
As Dr. Kornet reminded me: “What’s remarkable to me is that no matter what generation we are in, we are all the same. Veterinarians want to learn, do well, and be good doctors for the sake of our patients. We love animals, and we have unending energy to make the lives of our patients better. And because of the broad scope of our training we are capable of doing some extraordinary things.

Author Michelle Pesce, Cornell's DVM Class of 2012, and Dr. Mitch Kornet '79
Michelle grew up in Massapequa, N.Y. on the southern shore of Long Island.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The First Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in the U.S.

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted October 7, 2011.

Everyone has to start at the beginning, even if that person is destined to become one of the most famous veterinarians in history. On this date, October 7, 143 years ago, Daniel Salmon began his veterinary studies when Cornell University opened its doors for the first time. He would become the nation's first D.V.M. graduate.(1)

Celebrating what came to be known as the university's Inauguration Day, founder Ezra Cornell said, “I hope we have laid the foundation of an institution which shall combine practical with liberal education …. [and] which shall prove beneficial to the poor young men and poor young women of our country.” Wisely, Ezra Cornell also insisted that veterinary medicine be among the subjects to be taught from the very beginning of his new university.

Daniel Elmer Salmon
(Photo by Cornell University)
James Law, an eminent Scottish veterinarian had arrived in Ithaca only weeks earlier to become the nation’s first university professor of veterinary medicine. Though Professor Law had several students who became leaders in veterinary medicine and animal health research in the late 19th century, none was more famous than Daniel Salmon.

When the Bureau of Animal Industry was established in 1894 to promote the health of livestock, and to establish a national standard for meat inspection, Daniel Salmon was chosen as its first director. He is also attributed with the discovery of the bacterial organism that bears his name, Salmonella.

The students who started their veterinary education at Cornell in August of this year have a special kinship with every new veterinary student who has entered this university since Daniel Salmon. Though they are now immersed in the challenging studies that are necessary in the making of a veterinarian, they can also look with pride at the man who started on a similar journey 143 years ago today.

(1) Salmon actually received his veterinary degree in 1872.  At that time, the degree was called the B.V.M. and he was the the second Cornell student to be so recognized.  Salmon then did postgraduate work in Europe and Cornell to qualify for the DVM degree in 1876.  In the modern era, that additional work would roughly quality for what we now designate as the PhD. So, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Salmon received his equivalent of the DVM in 1872, and the modern equivalent of the PhD in 1876.

Dr. Smith invites comments at

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Veterinary Student's Summer Experience with Mountain Gorillas in Africa

Guest Blog by Matt Marinkovich, Cornell Class of 2014
Posted September 27, 2011

I sometimes tell veterinary students that the most important course they will take in their first year is not at their college, but what they decide to do during the summer. Especially in today's competitive job  environment, students have an invaluable opportunity to experience the real world and learn from people whose life stories may open up new prospects for career opportunities. Matt Marinkovich spent summer 2011 pursuing his career goal in conservation medicine in Africa. This is his story.        
Donald F. Smith

With a desire to see what role veterinary medicine plays in modern-day conservation, I traveled to East Africa and spent seven weeks with the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP). For 25 years, this program has sought to protect the world’s remaining 750 mountain gorillas that live in Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Mountain gorillas are currently the only great ape with increasing population numbers, and their success is owed in large part to the work of the MGVP. Veterinarians with the MGVP understand that sustainable conservation will only be effective if they work closely with people in the communities that surround the gorilla habitat. Monitoring disease outbreaks, caring for orphan gorillas, and removing poachers’ snares require the support of the indigenous populations because the efforts of the MGVP do not end at the boundaries of the national parks where the apes live. By adopting a “One Health” approach, they have also launched programs that address human health and livestock herds as well as protection for the great apes.

I learned many lessons this summer, but one stands out: conservation is about communities.  Conservation in the developing world has often failed in the past because it did not incorporate members of the local community in efforts that can only be sustainable by their commitment and long term practices. The people in the local communities surrounding the national parks now realize that the only mountain gorillas alive today are in their own backyard. They recognize that their national parks have a resource that is unique in the world and they now stand with the MGVP to counter poaching, and to support the disease surveillance and treatment work of the veterinary staff.

During the summer, I witnessed the bravery of the conservationists and rangers working in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Over 140 rangers have lost their lives since 1996, protecting the broad biodiversity and pristine habitats of Virungas. When one Congolese conservationist was asked how he is able to work in these conflict-ridden areas, he replied simply, “When I am in rebel territory, I am a rebel, and when I am on government lands, I stand with them.”  Being around these men and women, who are nothing short of heroes, was humbling and a true inspiration.

In early June, I attended the “Gorillas Across Africa” inaugural conference in Uganda that brought together 40 researchers, conservationists, and veterinarians who work to protect the various gorilla species and subspecies throughout Africa.  I was struck by the incredible diversity of nations represented.  These passionate conservationists from all over Africa came together for the collective purpose of protecting vital gorilla habitats in their countries and beyond.

Some of attendees at the "Gorillas Across Africa" conference in Uganda.
Matt Marinkovich is second from left in back row.  (Photo @ Martha Robbins)
Though there were representatives from many of the large international conservation organizations like the Wildlife Conservation Society, Max Planck Institute, and San Diego Zoological Society, 75% of the attendees were Africans. This testifies to the critical role that indigenous communities play in effective conservation. The phrase “capacity building” is popular in conservation literature, and the idea encourages organizations to develop skills within the local communities so that the work can be handed over to them when the time is right.  It was amazing to see the theory of “capacity building” not only in action, but bearing incredible fruit in conservation across Africa. For example, of the 13 veterinarians in the MGVP, only one expatriate is on the ground full time -- the other veterinarians are all African.

Dr. Jan Ramer is MGVP’s Regional Veterinary Manager and is ultimately in charge of the health of all mountain gorillas alive today. She works tirelessly with a group of highly skilled great ape veterinarians in each of the three countries where the mountain gorillas live, ensuring that this species has the optimal opportunity to flourish.  

Matt Marinkovich examining an anesthetized gorilla.

The summer experience left me optimistic about the state of conservation for the mountain gorillas, and for African wildlife in general. Continuing challenges remain, but having witnessed the passionate work of sustainable organizations on the ground, especially MGVP, I am very hopeful for the future of conservation in the developing world.

The experience has helped to show me what it is like to be a veterinarian on the front lines of species conservation, and it has fueled my passion for the field of conservation medicine even more.  My dream to pursue a career in this field is now reinforced by a realistic and practical understanding of the challenges in modern-day conservation.  I hope someday to have the chance to work face-to-face with these incredible gorillas once again.

I acknowledge and extend my gratitude to the Expanding Horizons Program at the Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine for the generous financial grant that made this trip possible.  (Photos above by author, except group picture provided by Martha Robbins).  Matt Marinkovich.