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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Male Veterinary Student Reflects on a Course in Women's Leadership

Guest Author: Drew Enders, Cornell University, Class of 2015
Posted April 30, 2014

Editor’s Note:Drew Enders is one of three male students who joined 32 female colleagues in a one-day symposium on Women’s Leadership in Veterinary Medicine held at Cornell University on March 1, 2014.1 A requirement of the course was to interview a woman veterinarian regarding her experiences in some aspect of the profession. Drew’s takeaways from the course and his summary of the interview with Dr. Jessica Platz of Colonial Veterinary Hospital in Ithaca, NY are reported in this story.
Donald F. Smith

I’ve spent the majority of my life, and most importantly the last three years, in a classroom. It was no different on the first Saturday of March when I walked into Cornell’s first symposium on women’s leadership in veterinary medicine. I was one of only three males in attendance – daunting odds to anyone who hasn’t gone to veterinary school in the last two decades. Admittedly, I was a little wary at first, not because of my minority group status, but that as a male, I wouldn’t get much out of a women’s leadership course or that my opinion on the subject would be an affront to the group of female pioneers around me.

To my surprise and delight, that weekend discussion was completely worthwhile and I feel like my eyes were opened to an omnipresent issue that I was ignorant to beforehand. Throughout the one-day interactive seminar we focused on exploring the role of women and their unequal representation in veterinary leadership. Some of the major themes of the day included discrimination, career ambitions, balancing work with family, applying for and negotiating for associate positions in clinical practice, and mentorship.

veritas picture 1
Drew Enders, DVM Class of 2015, participates in a mentoring exercise
with three female colleagues (two from his class and one from the Class of 2016) at the course,
Women’s Leadership in Veterinary Medicine.
(Photo by the author, 2014)

The discussion was so fruitful that it prompted me to interview a close friend about her experiences as a young veterinarian. Dr. Platz graduated from Mississippi State University where she earned both the MS and DVM degrees. Since then she has become a certified veterinary acupuncturist, completed a rotating small animal internship, and now works as an associate in a small animal hospital. I chose to interview Dr. Platz because she has accomplished so much in the three short years that I have known her. Furthermore, I value her opinion and have been grateful for the helpful advice she has shared with me over the course of our friendship. Our interview was stimulating, free flowing, and intriguing.

I was, and continue to be, baffled by the dichotomy between the overwhelming majority of women who make up veterinary classes and their severe underrepresentation in higher positions. Dr. Platz told me that she is not surprised by the inequality,2

Men naturally lean towards more power positions in their early careers; whereas, women both want to work and have a family. I don’t see that changing. The onus is on women to come up with ways to get more involved in leadership positions and find a better balance between work and family.

I asked her if she thought it was harder for women to advance themselves in veterinary medicine or the workforce in general. “Yes”, she said, “child-bearing is the crux women bear and it’s something we can’t control, but that issue isn’t as big an impediment as it once was.”

Stereotypical gender roles with regards to child-care responsibilities are no longer as strong as they were in the past. More women report the desire to have fulfilling careers, while more men are expressing their desire to become more involved in family life and becoming stay-at-home dads.3 Although veterinary medicine may lag behind in this trend, I believe female veterinarians are the epitome of driven, career-seeking women and they need to work to create more of a gender balance for child-care responsibilities in the family.

With regards to leadership roles, Dr. Platz reiterated my own feelings by saying more people in power positions are older and that the older men in power now came from a generation where men made up the majority of veterinary professionals. I believe with time, as newer, younger generations predominately composed of women, begin to take on those positions, a shift will occur in the leadership.

Despite the naturally-occurring shift, the current situation begs us to question, “Why wait?” Strong, independent, brilliant women currently make up the majority of this profession and must make a stand so our leadership reflects their representation.

It’s difficult to control discrimination on all levels, but in a professional setting it shouldn’t be tolerated. During the symposium, an alarming number of my peers relayed stories of experience with male private practice owners who admitted to being hesitant to hire new female graduates because of their fear they would be starting a family soon. These stories struck a cord with me. If the women’s leadership initiative is to succeed, this level of duality, the male and female agenda, in the profession can no longer be tolerated. New graduates are on the precipice of long, rewarding careers after having spent almost two decades in school. They should not have to choose between starting a family and having a career.

I asked Dr. Platz what she would like to see change for women in veterinary medicine. She said she would like to see practices begin to offer paid maternity leave, citing the progressive thinking of other countries that offer both paid maternity and paternity leave. Sadly, at this time she couldn’t name a practice that did offer it. I followed up by asking if she thought most women would feel comfortable bringing up the idea of starting a family during a job interview and Dr. Platz did not think they would. It’s ironic that the idea of starting a family has become taboo in a profession predominantly composed of women.

I find it shameful that women are faced with the dilemma of hiding their desire to start a family from a potential employer out of fear they won’t be hired. I believe women need to defend their self worth and assert their convictions. If they feel like they need to interview for a job under a shroud of deception, rather than with honest open dialogue, then perhaps they need to reevaluate if that practice is truly the place they want to work. At the same time, male veterinarians need to support their female colleagues; excellent qualifications should be the only requirement to fill a position. The workforce at most practices, both veterinarians and veterinary technicians, is overwhelmingly made up of women. Both employer and employees need to be able to discuss family openly so workforce adjustments can be made for the benefit of the entire practice.

At the symposium, we also discussed strategies to improve negotiating skills that included exploring dual MBA programs or devoting clinical externship time to pursuing business externships.

Personally, I can’t imagine the success of the women’s leadership initiative without both genders working together to improve the profession. I had never explored the subject of women’s leadership prior to the symposium and decided to attend with the hope of taking away something new. I had no idea how fascinating the intricacies of the women’s leadership initiative is or that I would walk away from that day with lingering thoughts.

I felt immense pride not only for myself, but also for my male peers who also decided to come in on a weekend and show support for the advancement of women’s leadership. It’s critical that male veterinarians recognize the need to support their female counterparts to ensure the continued betterment of the profession. Since the symposium, I have promoted the ideas of the women’s leadership movement with my peers on my clinical rotations. So many of my colleagues (male and female) are unaware of the initiative and I enjoy remaining connected to the movement by serving as liaison between the symposium and the hospital. I am already looking forward to next year’s gathering and hope my distribution of information will prompt more of my colleagues to participate.

1 Smith, Donald F and Julie Kumble. Women’s Leadership in Veterinary Medicine: A Course for Veterinary StudentsPerspectives in Veterinary Medicine. April 2, 2014.
2 Platz, Jessica, MS, DVM (Colonial Veterinary Hospital, Ithaca, NY). Interview with Drew Enders (Cornell University DVM student) conducted in person March 8, 2014, and April 18, 2014.
3 Ludden, Jennifer. Stay-At-Home Dads, Breadwinner Moms And Making It All Work. National Public Radio, May 15, 2013.

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Monday, April 28, 2014

A Veterinary Student Interviews a Veterinarian Astronaut, Dr. Rick Linnehan

Guest author:  Aziza N. Glass, Cornell DVM Class of 2015

Editor’s Note: As a class project, third-year Cornell DVM student, Aziza Glass, interviewed one of the only two veterinary astronauts in history. Before coming to Cornell, Aziza graduated from one of the earliest and most historically-important public colleges in the state of Texas, Prairie View A&M University. I chose her paper because of its connection to One Health and because Aziza demonstrated that even prestigious and time-challenged veterinarians will almost always take time to talk to an interested student.
Donald F. Smith

As a veterinary medical student, I appreciate comparative medicine and the promotion of animal health and well-being. As a research scientist, I appreciate the scientific method and the process of creating new knowledge. Recently, I was able to combine both of my passions by attending the National Space Biomedical Research Institute Apprenticeship at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.  While participating in the program, I became aware of the fact that veterinarians had been to space. One in particular was of interest to me.

Author Aziza Glass, Cornell University DVM Candidate
(Photo by Julie Kumble during Women’s Leadership Symposium, Cornell University 2014)

Rick Linnehan graduated from The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1985. He entered private practice, and then completed a joint internship at the Baltimore Zoo and Johns Hopkins University in zoo medicine and comparative pathology. In 1988, he entered the US Army Veterinary Corps and was appointed the chief clinical veterinarian and Officer in Charge for the Navy’s Marine Mammal Program. He completed the Army Medical Department (AMEDD) training at Fort Sam Houston. Four years later, Linnehan was accepted by the National Space and Aeronautics Administration (NASA) and began a year-long training program as an Astronaut Candidate (ASCAN) working with flight software, payload development, and flight support in preparation for future assignments as a mission specialist aboard the space shuttle. Although he is not training for missions these days, Dr. Linnehan has flown into space four times, logging 58 days and six space walks.

Dr. Linnehan during one of his several Extra-Vehicular Activities (space walks).
(Photo by NASA)

Contacting an astronaut is a big deal, and being able to get on his schedule for a class assignment is practically a long shot. However, something told me to go for it, and I did. Countless emails later I finally got a response. Anxious would be the best way to describe my mindset as I called Dr. Linnehan (yes, it was on his cell). I immediately relaxed as he answered the phone and introduced himself and proceeded with small talk.

Taking a deep breath I moved forward with my first question: “What was your easiest transition from veterinarian to astronaut.”

It’s best not to categorize the transition as easy or hard. It was on a whole different level. You’re being stretched to the limit, learning new things that a veterinarian would never normally have to learn. Essentially the training was massive memorization—sometimes mind numbing—training your mind to recall and operate almost automatically, something akin to “muscle memory.” You’re trained to respond, immediately and operationally, to real time emergencies that literally can be life or death if not acted on correctly and with alacrity. It’s a new level of learning that’s in a category all to itself.

Though Dr. Linnehan had many mentors during his veterinary career, he went through the
“pressure cooker” of the astronaut corps training like everyone else, including mission specialists and pilots alike. “It’s easy to give up when things get hard. I was constantly told you couldn’t do this or that. But you have to learn not to write yourself off too quickly. Be somewhat stubborn. Stick to it. Sometimes just being the last person standing means you win.”

I told him, “My Dad says, ‘Sometimes you gotta win ugly, but it’s still a win.’” He replied, “…Tell your Dad he’s a smart man.” “Thanks, I will” I said.

Dr. Linnehan’s background as a veterinarian taught him to rapidly identify and diagnose apparent programs, follow correct procedures, and to “fix things.”  He reminded me that the veterinary mindset and training prepares you by spanning multiple species, differing physiologic facets and diagnostic regimes. “Vets are already extremely well-prepared for being astronauts by how we are taught to operationally think—and take action.”

When I inquired how he has been able to use his platform to advance the field of veterinary medicine, Dr. Linnehan responded that he has not been able to do as much as he would have liked. Then he became candid, saying that part of the reason is that the veterinary medicine status quo has become refractory to change.

We have to get away from the mindset that the practice of “traditional” veterinary medicine is bounded. Historic perceptions of what and who we are as a profession must change, and this “expansion” must start at the veterinary colleges and also with the public health sector.

The One Health global veterinary initiative must be given more than lip service and embraced as the next stage in the evolution of the veterinary profession as we enter the new millennium. Currently veterinarians are under-represented and under-utilized and are not in the necessary leadership roles we are best suited for—of any of the health professions—in the complex and critically-important global health forum. We, as a profession, are the ideal people to guide these conversations and enact positive public health change and quality of life benefits for all species that share the planet.

My goal is to find a way for veterinary schools to expand from the classical mindset and include the global One Health Initiative as a crucial part of veterinary theory, education and practice skills sets. Emerging Infectious Diseases (EIDs)/zoonoses, conservation and sustainability, agriculture/mariculture, toxicology, genomics, public health, etc.; veterinarians are better trained and possess the diagnostic armamentarium to handle these vanguard issues. We have the potential to redefine the perception and definition of what it means to be a veterinarian. We need to be at the top of the global health infrastructure pyramid to perturb how the private and public sectors perceive our value as veterinarians.

Being the only veterinarian in the astronaut corps, it was difficult for other more traditional astronaut recruits to understand why a veterinarian was there.  For that matter, it was equally as confusing for some members of my own profession to grasp why I wanted to become an astronaut. For the most part, I had to give up my clinical life and passion for exotic/marine veterinary medicine in order to do it. But, it was important to prove what veterinarians could do it and how well prepared they are to delve into any presumable untraditional field and succeed.

To round out the interview, as well as satisfy my own curiosity, I asked Dr. Linnehan which one animal he would most like to take with him on his next space flight, and why.  “I think it would be the dolphin,” he answered.

Cetaceans evolved and live their entire lives in neutral buoyancy, and that’s the closest thing on the planet in terms of emulating the microgravity environment of space. In fact, we do our Extra Vehicular Activities task training in a giant water pool called the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory to simulate the microgravity of space with all its difficulties in adapting and working in a space suit outside the space shuttle or International Space Station. It would be interesting to see how quickly dolphins adapt to the space environment as compared to land mammals – us.  Actually, a great si-fi novel, “Startide Rising” by David Brin, posed the same question, and it’s stuck with me ever since. Yeah, I’d take a dolphin.

After he answered my last question, I grinned from ear to ear. This had been awesome.  I’m most grateful for Dr. Linnehan’s candidness and honesty. I thanked him for the interview, and he congratulated me on making it to my third year of vet school. His advice? “Enjoy it.”

Then he left me with this tidbit. “You know, I always wanted to go to Cornell, but I didn’t get in. I grew up in the New England area, and we had only one New Hampshire contract available. So I’m sort of jealous right now.”

Yeah, this had to be the highlight of my week.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What Glenn Gould Taught Me About Leadership

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
April 15, 2015

On February 9th of this year, I posted a story about how the classical pianist, Glenn Gould, shaped my thinking about surgical technique. I promised to write a follow-up story about how his construal of Bach also inspired me to think about leadership.

Gould was the premier interpreter of J.S. Bach in the second half of the 20th century. While his rendition of the Goldberg Variations thrust him onto the international stage early in his career, it was his elucidation of the Bach fugue that had always been more fascinating to me.

The fugue is a contrapuntal form of music that is played or sung by more than one voice or instrument, often three or four. The first voice presents a short theme (subject), and the second repeats the theme with variation and in a different pitch; and each successive voice likewise. The voices build upon each other, not as objects stacked vertically, but in flowing cascades of ever-complex sounds, working in synchrony. Each voice complements the others as the subject flows in an interwoven linear fashion towards its conclusion. As mentioned in the previous article, what is so impressive about watching or listening to Gould’s recordings is the unique mastery of equal strength, independence and co-dependence of each of his ten fingers.  The manner in which each complements the others is simply breathtaking.

While moving through the ranks of department chair and associate dean at Cornell, I dutifully read many of the standard leadership books. These contained worthwhile material and, though much of it was similar book-to-book, I benefitted from the repetition of themes presented in different contexts. However, moving from theory to practice tests different skills, and leading and empowering teams to work together towards a common goal was always the most difficult challenge for me. Like many leaders, I struggled finding ways to capture the creativity and accord of strong-willed people working in an environment with a finite set of resources.

In the quiet moments I was able to carve out for myself, I started to reflect more and more on the Bach fugue, to which I had been listening in one form or another for years. Why not move beyond the leader-follower theme, I reasoned now that I was dean, and encourage the voices to work for each other rather than in competition? Instead of having one voice carry the dominant theme and be supported by the others, perhaps I could evaluate department chairs on the success of the other departments, rather than the success of “their” department? Would that not create a climate in which department chairs and directors became more committed to the overarching priorities of the college, especially as they leverage their allocated resources  for the greater good?

The Front Cover of Glenn Gould. A Life and Variations
Otto Friedrich (Random House, NY), 1989
(Photo by the Author) 
I held a mini-retreat for department chairs early in my term as dean. We had changed the college’s departmental structure, moving from eight departments of different sizes, to five which were more evenly balanced. We also mixed up some of the disciplines: creating a mild form of chaos that always encourages original thinking.

Several of the chairs were new hires, including two from outside the college, and we were in a rebuilding stage with new academic initiatives that crossed departments, with the focal theme of translational medicine.  Several new positions and supporting resources would be allocated to three interdepartmental themes: cancer biology and oncology, comparative mammalian genomics and medical genetics, and infectious pathogenic diseases. If we were going to build successful programs that crossed departmental lines, there needed to be a managerial structure that encouraged chairs to work for the common good, and rewarded such behavior.

I shall always remember standing at the white board in the summer of 2000, attempting to explain the benefit of a contrapuntal form of governance as we implemented these new initiatives, and explaining why I felt the department chairs should move from a primary relationship with the dean, to a primary relationship with each other. “I shall still evaluate you relative to the strengths of your individual departments,” I remember saying, “but I will also judge you on what you provide as value-added to each of the other four departments.”  

If we were going to move towards a contrapuntal (fugal) style of management, we also needed to change the form and frequency with which we interacted with other. Consequently, I advised the chairs to start meeting together, without me or any other member of the dean’s office. We also reduced the length and frequency of my meetings with the group of chairs from weekly for two hours, to biweekly for one hour. I added a regular one-on-one monthly meeting with each of the chairs, in their respective offices. Issues like allocation of space and common resources became topics for the chairs’ meetings, though I never did learn the full scope of their deliberations, or even how they developed agendas or who presided over the meetings. I don’t recall ever seeing a set of minutes from the meetings that continued for several years.

While I am not suggesting that this system was superior to a more traditional top-down form of dean-to-department chair relationship, it proved to be a viable alternative, and it worked for me.  I also believe it promoted a sense of joint responsibility and program ownership by the chairs. While allocation of space and shared resources is never perfect nor fully equitable, we moved the center of gravity away from the dean’s office, and created a system whereby chairs were better able to understand the pressures across the college, and explore ways to resolve problems amongst themselves.

I believe the college benefited greatly, and we made substantial progress on many fronts, including the three academic areas mentioned earlier. Most importantly, the shared understanding between the clinical and basic sciences departments led to a stronger commitment for developing ways to support programs in translational medicine. 

Contrapuntal management is a form of teamwork, I suppose, but I don’t look on it that way because it is so much more. The fugue as Bach perfected it (and Gould interpreted it), was developed upon a single musical theme, with progression of that theme articulated over and over again by voices with different, but equal, strengths. Each voice is absolutely critical to the whole and each voice is equally valued.  Importantly, the voices are all playing in a linear fashion, rather than as notes stacked one upon the other. In its most elegant and highly-developed form, the fugue is an incredibly complex composition which adds creative expression to its mathematical foundation. It draws up the highest level of expertise of each voice working in concert with the others. 

In the previous article on Glenn Gould, I told the story of the British surgeon who never proceeded to perform a major operative procedure without first listening―with his patient―to a recording of Gould interpreting Bach. I also recall once hearing of a physician who would often commit time to listening to a Gould recording before starting his day. There are many fine recordings of Glenn Gould playing a Bach fugue, but a great place to start is with the annotated and interpretive interview called simply, Glenn Gould An Art of the Fugue.

I recently learned that 60% of Harvard medical students have music in their backgrounds. Though the percentage may not be quite as high among veterinary students, there seems to be a strong correlation between medicine and music. Though the relationship may be built somewhat upon the organization of information and the discipline of practice, I suspect that it represents a more complex interplay of cognitive forces and emotional energies. What I suggest here, though, is that the relevance of music to medicine should not stop with the practitioner, but also engage the realm of organizational behavior.

Dr. Smith invites comments at

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Andrew Smith and the Ontario Veterinary College

By Donald F. Smith
Posted April 5, 2014

Among the most successful private veterinary colleges on the late 19th century, Andrew Smith’s Toronto Veterinary College heads the list. It surpasses the two Chicago colleges and Kansas City Veterinary College in number of graduates and, though it is hard to quantify quality, Toronto also had its share of high-impact graduates. Most importantly, when Andrew Smith affiliated his college with the University of Toronto in 1897, he in essence guaranteed its future transition from a for-profit equine college to one that would be sustained once the horse disappeared from the urban scene. Its successor is the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, Canada, a well-recognize center of excellence for veterinary education and research on the North American continent.

Like McEachran whose illustrious career was the subject of a recent story published here on April 4th, Andrew Smith was a 1861 graduate from the Royal Dick College in Edinburgh, Scotland. Smith and McEachran vied for the lead veterinary position that was established by the Board of Agriculture of Upper Canada (Upper and Lower Canada would be renamed Ontario and Quebec after Confederation in 1867). With the increasing value of livestock and the need for someone to safeguard against disease and also to develop a school to train veterinarians, the principal of the Edinburgh College chose the more dignified and less-headstrong Smith over the his rival. Both men were academically-sound, but Smith was more practical, “whose interest in education was with the veterinary art, not the science of veterinary medicine.”[1]  McEachran, an early proponent of the germ theory of disease, was a strong advocate for the science of veterinary medicine and, “perhaps long before it was practical, for higher entrance requirements, for a three-year course, and for a close affiliation with the medical faculty and with research scientists." [2]

Smith vs McEachran embodied the age-old antinomy [3] that persists to this day: art vs science, practice vs theory, pragmatist vs principled.  Feeling that Smith would be better qualified to manage the people and resources for a new college, he was chosen over McEachran for the new position in Upper Canada, and began practicing equine medicine in leased buildings in Toronto in January 1862. 

Smith's first veterinary lectures were delivered the following month and were open to the public. In 1864, the lectures had developed into a course which consisted of two six-month sessions over two years (similar to the British model). To complement the infirmary that he ran for equine clients, he added anatomic dissection facilities for the students. His first three graduates in 1866 were allowed to place “V.S.” after their name, making them distinct as veterinary surgeons from farriers and others with no formal training. [4]

Almost immediately, Smith’s for-profit college was successful. There being virtually no academic prerequisites, would-be veterinarians enrolled in huge numbers. And the curriculum wasn’t just for Canadians, as hundreds of US citizens flocked across the border to be trained by Smith, then returned to practice. In doing so, they hopped over James Law’s program at Cornell University, from which only four veterinarians graduated between 1868 and 1896. McEachran, who had been a close personal friend of Smith, taught with him for a couple of years, then parted ways and opened a rival college in Montreal.  Smith successfully withstood pressure for a more rigorous curriculum until 1906, when he finally announced that the course would be extended to three years. Two years later, the college (now the Ontario Veterinary College) became a provincial institution and he retired. For almost half a century, Andrew Smith ran the college in a way that reflected his personal views of admission, curriculum and practice more than any other contemporary figure in veterinary education. He graduated over 3,300 students. By comparison, McEachran graduated about 300 in the same time period, and James Law (Cornell) fewer than two hundred.

Andrew Smith's famous image embodied in his memorial medal,
awarded annually to Ontario Veterinary College graduate
(Photo by the author)
It is easy to be a critic of Andrew Smith’s unwillingness to embrace a more scientific aspect of veterinary medicine, and I have certainly been among that group at various times in my career. However, as I have studied the history of veterinary medicine, I have become more understanding of the reality of antinomy, whether it be land grant vs private college, research vs service or, as in the case of Andrew Smith, the practitioner vs the scientist.

Sure, I would have liked Smith to have been more willing to add a greater degree of rigor to his admission standards and curricular offerings. However, the sheer numbers of his graduates, and the positions that some of them attained in academia and practice, cannot be scornfully swept aside. Whom among us cannot celebrate the accomplishments of the great veterinary anatomist, Septimus Sisson (V.S. 1891); or the three sons of the legendary Edward Thomas Hagyard who graduated from Toronto between 1875 and 1888, and continued the legacy of what would become incomparable Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Kentucky.

The Toronto Veterinary College was renamed the Ontario Veterinary College and it moved 50 miles west to the rural town of Guelph in 1922 where it partnered with Agriculture and, later, Home Economics. Degrees were conferred through the University of Toronto until 1964 when the University of Guelph was formally inaugurated as a degree-granting institution.

The veterinary profession in North America derived a great deal of its influence and excellence from the three Edinburgh-educated Scots who arrived in Canada and the US in the 1860s, and Andrew Smith deserves an equal part of the legacy with his two more scholarly peers.

[1] Gattinger, F. Eugene. A Century of Challenge. The History of the Ontario Veterinary College. University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Canada, 1962. P18.
[2]  Ibid.
[3] Two equally valid concepts that are mutually exclusive and essentially considered irreconcilable.
[4] A.M.Evans, "SMITH, ANDREW," in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Universite Laval, 2003, accessed March 28, 2013, 

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Dual DVM/MD Program is Established in Montreal, Canada

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted April 4, 2014
See also

Montreal, Quebec
Veterinarians can now become physicians with just one year of extra study!! To emphasize the growing understanding that human and veterinary medicine are complementary and that they are founded upon the same scientific principles, the dean of the Montreal Veterinary College has joined forces with a leading physician who has just returned from a tour in Europe. The two renowned academics also share the same avant-garde philosophy of medical teaching. With the veterinary dean’s consent, Canada’s foremost physician, will initiate a research program in comparative medicine and also develop a joint teaching program for medical and veterinary students.

Under the program, veterinary student instruction in physiology, pathology, chemistry and microscopy will be shared with physicians from the McGill University Faculty of Medicine.  In these courses, the content will be the same as that for medical students, and the examinations will be identical.

Students who complete the veterinary curriculum in good standing will be able to take one additional year in the McGill medical curriculum and will qualify as physicians as well as veterinarians.[i]

As you may have guessed if you read this far, the above report is not contemporary. Rather, it is from the 1880s when novel strategic thinking about the health sciences was more prevalent that it is today. And it was only made possible because it was between two of the most brilliant and opportunistic medical minds of the late 19th century.

The physician of the duo was William Osler, then still at McGill (before he went to Philadelphia and from there to Baltimore where he helped establish the Johns Hopkins Hospital). Osler was America’s first comparative pathologist and he even convinced the dean of the Montreal Veterinary College to rename his institution the Faculty of Comparative Medicine.

The veterinarian is someone whose name few will recognize. Many more people know the reputation of his classmate, Andrew Smith, who also graduated in 1861 from the renowned Edinburgh Veterinary College.  Others will know of Cornell’s first veterinary professor, James Law, also a contemporary student from Edinburgh. This third member of the distinguished Scottish trio, and the man with whom Osler felt such a close affinity, was Duncan McNab McEachran.

Duncan McNab McEachran
(Photo from Dictionary of Canadian Biography, see reference 1, below)

Though McEachran was probably the most brilliant of the three veterinarians, and certainly had the career with the greatest versatility, the college he founded in Montreal would only last until 1903 when the continued decline in public funding, and McEachran’s continued insistence on very high academic  standards, led to fewer and fewer students. Though he arranged for teaching sections in both English and French (actually that was another challenge because of the need for faculty in each language), the enrollment continued to fall until McEachran was forced to close. 

Nonetheless, a total of 315 students graduated from the college that many considered one of the best, if not the best, veterinary institution in North America at the time.

McEachran had a multifaceted career in additional to his role as an educator.  He developed the first animal quarantine system for Canada at a time with increased transatlantic movement of livestock was increasing and foot-and-mouth disease was present in Britain. In 1876, he was appointed the chief livestock inspector for Canada and set up quarantine stations that later become a model for the US system. Four years earlier, New York City authorities had invited McEachran to find ways to combat the severe influenza outbreak in horses that had paralyzed the city in what was often referred to as the great equine epizootic of 1872.

By the 1890’s, McEachran branched into controlling tuberculosis through tuberculin testing.  Twenty years before the practice was accepted, he recommended a system for producing and distributing milk in Montreal. Within the professional organizations for veterinary medicine, he worked with Andrew Smith to improve the training of graduate veterinarians, and to reduce the possibility of charlatans from plying their trade. His writings and political action were instrumental in creating the Board of Veterinary Surgeons for the Province of Quebec.

In later life, his entrepreneurial spirit led him to areas of financial profit as a stockbreeder, when he helped establish two of the largest ranches in western Canada.

Like so many other events in veterinary history, sometimes programs close and other times the full expression of peoples’ talents and passions are never realized for other reasons. I think of the untimely closure of Harvard’s Veterinary College in 1901, the dismissal of Daniel Salmon from the Bureau of Animal Industry in the same decade, the death (was it really of natural causes?) of Pennsylvania’s Dean Leonard Pearson, the decision to keep Cornell’s veterinary college in Ithaca, rather than have it join its partner medical school when it moved to New York City, the tragic rule of anti-Semitism over rationality in the closure of Middlesex University in the 1940s. The list goes on.

The closure of McGill’s Faculty of Comparative Medicine is one of the great tragedies in the history of veterinary medicine.  Another way to think of McEachran’s lost impact could be imagined if he had come to the US after the turn of the century, and landed at one of the veterinary colleges in New York City (perhaps Columbia or New York University, for example) or at the University of Pennsylvania, or maybe even in Washington, what a different world veterinary medicine would be today.  One can only dream of the impact he could have had on the development of veterinary medicine and One Health, both as an individual, and through his continued association with physicians like William Osler.

Dr. Smith welcomes comments at

[i] Adapted, with some literary license from the Biography of Duncan McNab McEachran. Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Volume XV (1921-1930), University of Toronto/Universite Laval, 2005