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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Western Veterinary Conference Hosts Women's Leadership Symposium

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
February 27, 2014

Last week’s symposium on Women’s Leadership in Veterinary Medicine at the Western Veterinary Conference (WVC) in Las Vegas attracted over 100 people during the four-hour presentation. The audience included recent graduates, like Dr. Eva Evans, a Las Vegas practitioner who graduated just 20 months ago from the University of Tennessee, and Dr. Sarah Coburn, a Public Health Officer and practicing veterinarian on the North Slope of Alaska. She graduated from Colorado State University in 2009.

Most of the attendees were already experienced leaders in the profession. Jennifer Durenberger, DVM (2002), JD, is the Director of Racing for Massachusetts. Colonel Robin K. King, DVM, PhD, Dipl American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine, another mid-career veterinarian, told me that she came to the symposium because she wanted to learn more about women’s leadership opportunities in the military. Dr. Dave Gerber, as practitioner in Idaho, excitedly told me he “gets it” —that is, he understands the need for more women in leadership. He shared with me his interest in reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In,” given to him recently by one of his daughters.

Besides Dr. Douglas Aspros, immediate past president of the AVMA and one of the four speakers, other senior AVMA executives included Dr. Ted Cohn, president-elect, and Dr. Janet Donlin, CEO of the AVMA’s Professional Liability Insurance Trust.   

Also present was Dr. Karen Padgett, Chief Operating Officer of Ceva Animal Health, LLC. At the midway juncture of the morning’s presentation, she presented a check for $15,000 to Dr. Karen Bradley, president of the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative (WVLDI). This extraordinary financial support—the first of its kind from industry and just six months after the WVLDI was established—provided an unquantifiable boost to morale for those who have worked tirelessly to launch the initiative.  Just two months ago, the American Veterinary Medical Association provided $25,000 in program support. This support from Ceva and the AVMA allows the WVLDI is to launch several new initiatives, and make plans to reach broader audiences of veterinarians.

As I listened to Dr. Padgett speak to the WVLDI directors later that day in a joint strategy meeting, I could not help but remark publically that I had seldom met anyone whose leadership skill was so evident in personal style, commitment, and action. What an honor for the group to benefit from her company’s support and encouragement. 

Lea-Ann Germinder of Germinder & Associates, Inc, one of the leading communications specialists in veterinary medicine, announced the attendance of many representatives of the media, in including the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association and DVM360.

Dr. Karen Bradley, Onion River, Vermont

The program featured four presenters. Drs. Aspros, Dr. Bradley and I represented organized veterinary medicine, practice ownership, and academia. Julie Kumble of the Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts represented the broader domain of women’s leadership in society.

Julie Kumble and I lectured for the first two hours under the title, “Minding the Gap and Sharing Solutions,” referring to the gap between the large percentage of women in the profession as a whole, and the relatively small percentage who occupy senior leadership positions. We presented data and anecdotal information gathered from interviewing over 40 leaders in the veterinary profession—including several men—to raise the awareness of leadership challenges (we used the prevailing term, “leadership gap”) in the four areas of organized veterinary medicine, academia (especially the dean level), industry, and clinical medicine (especially ownership of veterinary practices).  

Dr. Douglas Aspros, New York
One goal of our presentation was to describe challenges women face in attaining leadership positions by examining institutional and systemic barriers to women’s advancement. We also shared information about those gender-based perceptions and personal traits that sometimes hinder attainment of leadership positions for women. To give concrete examples of success stories gleaned from our many interviews, we shared best practices from within and outside of the veterinary profession. For example, we presented data on how Iowa State Veterinary Medical Association has made institutional changes to assure greater representation of women and also younger veterinarians in their leadership team in the past 12 years.

Ms Julie Kumble, Massachusetts
The second part of the symposium, presented by Drs. Bradley and Aspros, was aptly named, “Women of Vetlandia, How to find personal and professional success in the world of organized veterinary medicine.”  By tag-teaming in an entertaining and informative manner, they outlined how veterinarians can get involved in the professional affairs at a regional, state, and national level. They described the number and variety of opportunities in a manner that made it appealing for veterinarians in all stages of the profession, as well as how to balance day-job responsibilities with broader service. As the more recent graduate, Dr. Bradley shared personal insights into how this balance could be achieved, even as a mother, wife, and co-owner of a three-doctor practice.

During the final hour of the symposium, the audience was invited to sit in the front of the auditorium. The four speakers and two additional directors of the WVLDI (Drs. Rachel Cezar and Stacy Pritt) convened a more direct exchange, providing the opportunity for everyone to participate. For many attendees, this was the most interesting part of the session.

Dr. Cezar, who also served as moderator of the program, had the additional responsibility of collecting and summarizing the evaluation forms completed by attendees. She identified several issues that should be addressed before a similar program of this nature is presented in the future. For example, we need to provide greater clarity about what the WVLDI can provide for women veterinarians, such as information on leadership training programs and mentoring. We were also urged to provide information on women in a broader array of specific segments of the profession, such as the military. Some asked how students can get involved; and others were disappointed that we did not provide more opportunity for interactive participation.

We also received many positive comments: “THANK YOU, THANK YOU”; “Every vet should be here [attending];” “This has been a long time coming;” and “Looking forward to getting involved.” Both constructive criticism and positive responses provided encouragement and guidance for moving forward.

For me, the capstone of the feedback was a comment the following morning by Dr. Joni Samuels, a practice owner from southern California and incoming director of the WVC, as we rushed past each other to our respective meetings. A friend for many years, and one whom I can depend upon for being thoughtfully observant, Joni said, “You guys have the right approach and are on track. Now all you need to do is find answers!

With guidance from people like Dr. Samuels and other leaders in the profession, I think we shall find answers and help move veterinary medicine forward.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Charles W. Raker, VMD: A Legend in Equine Surgery

By guest author Sarah Khatibzadeh (Cornell University DVM Class of 2014). Reposted from a blog originally written on March 1, 2012. Dr. Raker died on February 16, 2014.
Full interview available at

A private practitioner and academician, clinician, master surgeon, teacher and mentor, a friend to horses and horse owners alike, Dr. Charles W. Raker has done it all.

After spending a childhood surrounded by animals in southeastern Pennsylvania, Dr. Raker attended the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and graduated at the top of his class in 1942.  He was a mixed animal practitioner initially, then returned to University of Pennsylvania as an assistant professor. 
Dr. Raker became Chief of Large Animal Surgery at New Bolton Center in 1956.  He held that position for almost 30 years, pioneering new surgical techniques, particularly in the realm of upper airway surgery. He set the standard for New Bolton’s approach to client communication, and mentored many interns and residents, some of whom are today’s renowned equine surgeons. 

Dr. Charles Raker (R) examining a horse by endoscope, circa 1980
Photo provided by University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine

Dr. Raker was as fine a teacher as he was a surgeon.  Many established equine veterinarians speak fondly of Dr. Raker as their instructor and mentor during veterinary school. Even today, he continues to mentor veterinary students, offering advice on coursework and careers in equine medicine.  
Dr. Charles Raker at his home in
Honey Brook, Pennsylvania, 2011
(Photo by the author)
Dr. Raker has received numerous accolades for his achievements. In 1993, an endowed professorship in Equine Surgery was established in his name. Two years ago, he received the prestigious "Beyond the Call Award" from the American Association of Equine Practitioners at their annual convention. He was only the second veterinarian to receive this award. Dr. Raker is also the recipient of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons Award and the Bellweather Medal for Distinguished Leadership from the University of Pennsylvania.

While his professional accomplishments are extraordinary in their own right, what equally impressed me during the course of my interview with him was this man’s youthful energy.  At 91, Dr. Raker looks and sounds like someone at least ten years his junior.  He exercises regularly, his memory is excellent, and he speaks with more clarity and poise than many trained orators. 
Dr. Raker is self-assured but surprisingly modest for a person of such great stature in equine medicine. Unlike many veterinarians of his generation, he promoted the inclusion of women in large animal practice, and mentored the first female large animal surgical residents. When I asked him about his career achievements and awards, he described them in a matter-of-fact tone, occasionally even poking fun at himself.   
Author Sarah Khatibzadeh
(Photo by the author)
Though I am not a Penn veterinary student and had met him for the first time, Dr. Raker offered me insight into veterinary school and beyond. I am honored that he became an unofficial mentor to me in just a few hours of conversation.

I invite you to read and also be mentored by this fascinating story of a wonderful and inspiring legendary equine surgeon.  His professionalism, kindness, and humility are traits to which all veterinarians should aspire.
By Sarah M. Khatibzadeh.

My Mentor's Amazing Path to the Veterinary Profession

By Stephanie Gambino, Cornell DVM Candidate Class of 2015.

Like other undergraduate pre-veterinary students trying to gain the best possible experience to prepare me for a future career in veterinary medicine, I searched for an animal hospital near my home of Brooklyn, New York. Thankfully, I found a good one and, in the fall of 2008, I began working at the Brooklyn Veterinary Group in Bensonhurst. I worked under the direction of two doctors; one was the owner/director of the practice, the other the associate veterinarian. Almost every Monday another doctor would come in, but I was always unsure of his position.

This doctor was Dr. Anthony Miele and he would become a primary influence in my aspirations in veterinary medicine. It turned out that Dr. Miele played a subtle role in the practice at the current time, but was “the man who started it all” way back when Brooklyn Veterinary Group was first created. His story is quite intriguing.

Born and raised in New Jersey, Dr. Miele came from a blue-collar family. No one in his family had attended college, let alone professional school. As a young kid, he had a strong interest in the sciences and medicine, and had a love for animals. When it came time to sort his life out and decide what he wanted to do, veterinary medicine seemed to just fall into his lap. He graduated from St. Peter’s College in New Jersey in 1972 with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry.

While attending college, the United States was amidst the Vietnam War, and the draft was in place. Many young men were doing whatever it took to stay out of the draft, including getting into professional school. Entrance into one of the only 18 US veterinary colleges at the time seemed out of reach. Though international schools were also difficult and competitive, Miele knew his best bet was to attempt to get into veterinary school outside of the US.

His options at the time included colleges in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, the Philippines, and Italy. Though the curriculum was taught in English in the Philippines, the dictatorship at the time made it less appealing for him. Because Dr. Miele was of Italian heritage, he felt that attending school in Italy would be the best fit for him.

After graduating from college, Dr. Miele made his way to Italy to begin his veterinary education at the University of Naples. Though he spoke not one word of Italian, he enrolled in classes immediately. The Italian veterinary curriculum is a five-year program, commencing right out of high school. However, the curriculum was designed in such a way that you could set a pace for yourself and take exams when you were ready rather than in a lock-step manner. If you failed an exam, you would re-study and take it when you were better prepared.

Dr. Miele described his first encounter with a veterinary textbook as one of pure frustration. He went through the first page line by line and translated what he read. An hour had passed by the time he had completed the first page. Realizing how difficult and time consuming this was going to be, he closed his books and immersed himself in society. Within four months, he could speak Italian at the level of an elementary school student and within a year could speak at the level of a high school student.

At this point he returned to school, now armed with the Italian language. Although he did much better in school, exams were still extremely difficult as they were given orally, and in Italian. This meant that he could not take time to process information, translate it to English, come up with an answer, and then re-translate it back to Italian, but instead he had to maintain a conversation in Italian that demonstrated he had a fair understanding of the material. This was a huge obstacle for him, especially when he knew what he wanted to say but had difficulty figuring out how to say it.

Dr. Miele persisted and graduated in 1980. He returned to the US to sit for the veterinary boards but failed at his first attempt, eventually passing a couple of years later. In the meantime, he landed a job working with Standardbred horses at the Yonkers and Meadowlands raceways. His primary interest was in companion animal medicine, though, and after a year and a half, he got a job in Brooklyn working at a small animal clinic. He spent three years working there, and in 1985 opened Brooklyn Veterinary Group. He had a concept that involved a team approach to veterinary medicine and named the practice a “group” with the intention of opening more practices that would each bring different strengths to the profession as well as create a supportive environment. Over the next ten years, Dr. Miele opened eight other New York City hospitals with the group.

Dr. Miele now works in a couple of the veterinary hospitals including Brooklyn Veterinary Group and Boulevard Veterinary Group, but is still an integral part of the collaboration. He has also opened a 24-hour veterinary hospital in Rome, Italy. Though an entrepreneur, Dr. Miele has also been heavily involved in organized veterinary medicine in the New York-New Jersey area, and his contributions and leadership have been recognized through various professional awards.

Stephanie Gambino and Dr. Anthony Miele
Stephanie Gambino and Dr. Anthony Miele
Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, White Coat Ceremony December 2013
(Photo provided by Ms. Gambino)

Dr. Miele has been by my side through my undergraduate curriculum, my application to veterinary school, my current experience in veterinary school and, I am certain, will be an integral part of my future. From the start, he went out of his way to teach me, show me, engage me, and give me advice— he has been there every step of the way for me.

He is an incredible person who has done many creative and adventurous things, and he will continue to do so. His perseverance and outstanding accomplishments inspire me; I want to make as big of an impact in veterinary medicine as he did. But I think it is his belief in me that has touched me most. I will always carry with me the words he once said to me: “I saw the twinkle in your eye and I knew you were special.”

I strive to be the amazing veterinarian and person he believes me to be. I will forever be thankful for his presence in my life.

This story is reprinted from Reprinted from

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Come to the Women's Leadership Symposium at the WESTERN VETERINARY CONFERENCE

By Donald F. Smith
February 11, 2014

As millions turn on their television sets tomorrow morning to watch the fierce US-Canada women's hockey rivalry play out in Sochi, an expert in the sport says there may be something else to watch for than fast skating and great stick handling.

A.J. Mleczko2
A.J. Mleczko, former Harvard hockey standout,
and member of the 1998 USA team that won gold in Nagano

Mleczko comments on what many hockey fans have observed in women's and men's style of hockey. Besides the lack of checking--that is a non-no for women--the former Harvard star says that women tend to pass the puck to teammates more than men, to ensure the best possible angle or opening for a goal. Also looking for the greatest likelihood of a shot going into the net, they sometimes delay too long and thereby get too close to the net where the chance of finding the opening is snuffed by the goalie or other defensive players. 

Men, on the other hand, are more inclined to take low-yield shots, many from further away from the net. They are less concerned with teamwork than women from the standpoint of passing the puck to get the perfect shot by a teammate, or finding the perfect angle or opening from which to release the puck themselves. 

Does this sound familiar?

Join the directors of the Women's Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative (WVLDI) for a four-hour interactive symposium on Women's Leadership in Veterinary Medicine at Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas. It takes veterinary leadership to a new level. Join us, please.

Monday, Feb 17, 2014; 8:00am - 12:00pm

Presenters: Karen Bradley, Julie Kumble, Douglas Aspros and Donald Smith

For additional information, please go to

We are grateful to the American Veterinary Medical Association and 
also CEVA Animal Health
for their commitment and generous support.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Learning Surgery from a Master Musician

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted February 9, 2014

Glenn Gould was a household name while I was growing up in Ontario. A child prodigy classical pianist, he was well-known throughout Canada while still a teenager. When he arrived in New York City in 1955 in his early twenties and recorded the previously obscure Goldberg Variations (Bach, 1741), he became an overnight sensation and from that moment onward, was recognized one of the greatest classical musicians of the 20th century.

Gould was 17 years my senior, and besides a love of music, I had little in common with him except perhaps the desire to seek refuge in nature. As a young child, I aspired to be a pianist myself, but I realized by the age of eleven that it was well beyond my reach. I nonetheless continued to follow Gould's career closely. Though I didn't realize it at the time, his understanding and interpretation of J.S. Bach, especially the contrapuntal form, and his ability to perform it in ways that were unique, unusually creative, and breathtakingly masterful, was to have an enormous impact on my professional career.

More than any other person, Gould's recorded performances taught me more about the art of surgical technique (I would become a boarded surgeon), and later how to lead a college as dean. Though I never met him, Glenn Gould would become my most important mentor. To this day, I return to his music episodically, sometimes listening to recordings over and over again.

Among the tributes at his death in 1982--he was just fifty years old when he suffered a fatal stroke--is one that I always thought personally relevant. It was that of a heart surgeon in London, who "made it a practice to operate only after he and his patient had both listened to Gould recordings." (Otto Friedrich, Glenn Gould, 1989)

What is it with Glenn Gould, the man whose interpretation of Bach was selected to be placed on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977 so that potential forms of life some 500,000 years from now could understand life on earth?

In this blog, I describe what I consider to the relevance to surgical technique.

Photo from the back cover of Glenn Gould. A Life and Variations,
by Otto Friedrich, Random House, NY 1989
(Photo by the author)
If you watch recordings of Gould perform pieces like the Goldberg Variations, you are struck by the independent power of each of his fingers.You immediately are overwhelmed by the strength, the power, and clarity of sound that is generated by the normally weak fourth and fifth fingers of the non-dominant hand (the left, for him and most of us). His childhood friend, and later a woman whom he loved and who loved him, talked about how the strength of his "weak" fingers was simply amazing, yielding a powerful and fully-united force in all of his fingers.

Second, you note the independence of his fingers, each working dynamically as a completely separate machine, yet creating a horizontal energy that produces a linear flow of music. In his later years, Gould commented upon Bach's ability to combine the linear contrapuntal flow that looks back to the Baroque period, with the horizontal harmonic sound of the coming romantic era. More on that in a subsequent story of how Gould's interpretations formed the basis for my administrative style as dean.

Finally, you notice that the position of his seat, several inches closer to the floor than the average pianist, forces his elbows into an acute angle and his hands appear like claws hanging over the keyboard. As unkempt as the appearance is to the first-time observer, what this position demonstrates is the strength of the hands and fingers, whether working separately or together.

These strengths, and the independence and codependence of the fingers, didn't just happen. As a teenager, Gould would routinely practice with his mentor, Alberto Guerreo, late into the night, often past two or three in the morning. His was an amazing example of the love and interpretation of musical sound, coupled with the development of manual dexterity at the highest level.

The best surgical trainees, whether in human or veterinary medicine, spend several years mastering operative technique and manual dexterity at the side of master surgeons. A sinlge hour watching Gould playing Bach would be a wonderful supplement.

One hundred hours could very well change your life, and in more ways than surgical technique. It did mine.

Dr. Smith welcomes comments at

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Women's Leadership in Veterinary Medicine to be Featured at the Western Veterinary Conference

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted February 8, 2014

Join the directors of the Women's Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative (WVLDI) for a four-hour interactive symposium on Women's Leadership in Veterinary Medicine at Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas.

Monday, Feb 17, 2014; 8:00am - 12:00pm

Presenters: Karen Bradley, Julie Kumble, Douglas Aspros and Donald Smith

Karen Bradley, DVM, President WVLDI
Partner, Onion River Animal Hospital, VT
Julie Kumble, MEd
Interim CEO, Women's Fund of Western MA

Douglas Aspros DVM, Past President of AVMA;
Partner, Bond Animal Hospital and
Pound Ridge Veterinary Center
Major Symposium Themes include:
  • Understanding the gap in women's leadership in all professions, with special emphasis on veterinary medicine.
  • Explaining why 30% women in leadership positions in organized veterinary, college administrations, and veterinary corporate boards is critical to maximizing productivity and promotion a diverse and work-friendly environment.
  • Identifying and overcoming some of the factors that contribute to the gap between male and female financial compensation.
  • Identifying the advantages of pursuing opportunities for leadership in the AVMA and state associations, and describing how veterinarians can prepare themselves for these positions.
  • Providing case examples of state organizations, veterinary colleges and corporations that are advancing women's leadership, and describing institutional and other changes that made this possible.
  • Understanding how to develop personal skills to increase the likelihood that you will be prepared for leadership positions.

Please accept my personal invitation to attend part or all of the symposium.

We are grateful to the American Veterinary Medical Association and 
also CEVA Animal Health
for their commitment and generous support.


Dr. Smith can be reached at