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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

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Stories of Women Veterinarians

By Donald F. Smith
March 8, 2014 (International Women’s Day)

March is Women’s History Month. For veterinarians, it provides an opportunity to pause and reflect on the challenges women faced in gaining access to the profession until the mid 1970s; and the challenges they face even to the present to be involved sufficiently in the leadership of profession.

For the past year, I (and others) have written extensively on the subject of women veterinarians in general, and women’s leadership, more specifically. Here is a listing and brief overview of some of these stories in the hope that his repository will serve as an inspiration to women and men alike. 

Stories of Individual Women in the Early Years of the Profession through the 1960s

One of the early women to receive a DVM was Joanna Asmus, Cornell class of 1929. She was the daughter of the university’s farrier, a post that was held in very high distinction in that period. This story was researched and written by a veterinary student, Michelle  Pesce ’12.

Cornell admitted three women in 1935. Though it was during the depths of the Depression, this was the most women of any single class to that date. There was reluctance on the part of some faculty to admit women feeling that they were taking the place of a man who could be a family breadwinner. Nonetheless, the women were well-integrated with the 37 men, most of whom considered the women valued members of the Class of 1939. Each of these women had careers in clinical practice. Two also developed alternative pathways, one in zoo animal medicine (Halloran) and the other (von Decken Luers) in regulatory work in the Virgin Islands. Here are their stories.

Additional descriptions about life during the Depression can be found in a series of four stories at www.veritasdvmblog posted November 13, 14, 16 and 17, 2013.  Though none of these stories are about women, per se, they give the reader a sense of how challenging life was during that period and how precious a commodity a veterinary degree was for young people of either gender.

The University of Pennsylvania admitted its first woman in 1934. Josephine Deubler VMD, PhD led a remarkable career in teaching and research. An avid dog breeder and judge, the capstone of her career (in her words) was having the privilege to judge Best in Show at the 1998 Westminster Kennel Club show in Madison Square Garden.

During the 1950s and 1960s, it was common for veterinary classes to hold two seats per year for women. Admission committees would review all of the male candidates, then select a small group of women candidates for interview. Occasionally, a class would have three or four women, as in the Class that started at Cornell in 1956, of which Dr. Carolyn Comans was a member. Five years later, Dr. Linda Reeve Peddie was the only women in her Cornell class.

Stories of Women’s Leadership in Organized Veterinary Medicine

Dr. Eva Evans graduated less than two years ago from the University of Tennessee. Despite her busy life in clinical practice, she has already become involved with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) as a member of the Political Action Committee. She is considered a role model and mentor for other young women seeking to influence the profession through organized veterinary medicine.

Though still a relatively early career veterinarian, Dr. Karen Bradley is a well-respected veterinarian and one of the most influential women leaders in the profession. She is founder and president of the Women's Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative. Here is the story that I call simply, “Five Days in July”.

Dr. Andrea Dennis-LaVigne will assume the presidency of the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association this spring. She is deeply involved not only in the veterinary profession, but also in community service, most notably as a governor appointee to the Board of Trustees of the University of Connecticut.
Dr. Linda Tintle is a practice owner in the northeast who has served as her state’s association president. She is a strong advocate for practice ownership, as she emphasizes in this story from last August.

Through changes in policy and creative educational opportunities, Iowa Veterinary Medical Association advocates and promotes women and recent graduates to leadership position in its state organization. Some of their programs are jointly administered with Iowa State University.

At a national level, the profile of AVMA leadership positions demonstrates an unequal representation of women amongst the colleges of which they are alumnae.  Some colleges, notably Iowa State University and Washington State University have alumnae in greater numbers than colleges like University of California, Davis, or the Ohio State University, among others.

Stories of Women Deans in Veterinary Medicine

Though our student population has been over 50% female for almost three decades and now exceeds 80% at many colleges of veterinary medicine―the national average is 78%―there are only six women deans in the US (20%, similar to US Congress).

One of the great thrills of writing about leaders is interviewing them and finding out what makes them so successful, while recognizing that they are most often ordinary people doing exceptional things in an extraordinary way.  Here are the stories of two deans, Dr. Sheila Allen (University of Georgia) and Dr. Eleanor Green (Texas A&M University).

Not surprisingly, the deans credit mentors as one of the significant reasons for their success as veterinarians and as academic leaders.

Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative, and Courses in Women’s Leadership

The Women’s Veterinary LeadershipDevelopment Initiative (WVLDI) has sponsored and organized several educational programs in the last few months, and has exciting plans for the next year. Sponsors include the AVMA and CEVA Animal Health.

A successful women’s leadership development course for students at Cornell was held on March 1. Thirty-five first-, second- and third year students attended the six-hour Saturday program, with guest speakers from New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Participants in the First Student Course for Women's Leadership,
held at Cornell University on March 1st. Instructors in the middle of the front row are
Linda Tintle DVM, Julie Kumble MEd, Susan Wylegala DVM, and Andrea Dennis-LaVigne DVM
(Photo by the author)
With acknowledgement and thanks to the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative, led by Drs. Karen Bradley (President), Stacy Pritt (Vice President), and Douglas Aspros (Secretary-Treasurer); and the rest of the directors. 

Dr. Smith can be reached at