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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.