Veterinarian Spotlight: Charlie Broaddus
Charlie Broaddus works at the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) as the State Veterinarian. He is also the Director of the Division of Animal and Food Industry Services, overseeing programs dealing with livestock and poultry health, animal care, laboratory services, food inspection, and meat and poultry inspection.
Tell us about yourself. I was raised on a family farm in Mechanicsville and received my DVM from Auburn University. I worked in a mixed animal practice out of vet school, then completed a dairy internship at Auburn, and then we moved to Oklahoma State University, where I completed a theriogenology residency and PhD in infectious diseases. At OSU, I did about 2/3rds food animal practice and 1/3 equine, with a little bit of small animal repro work as well. We moved back home to Virginia in 2008, and after a year in small animal practice, I have been at VDACS since 2009. My wife, Kristy, and I have 3 children.
What made you become a food animal veterinarian? My own experience raising cattle and sheep drew me to want to be involved with other people with similar interests, and I enjoy being outside and connecting with farmers. I have always enjoyed finding the "win-win" solutions that are possible in food animal practice - solutions where when treating a sick animal/herd, you are saving money (or returning the animal(s) to profitability) for the farmer, as well as improving the health of the individual animal or herd, and promoting public health at the same time in the case of zoonotic diseases.
Favorite part of the job? The diversity of the areas we support at VDACS, as well as the feeling of being a part of something "bigger" as a public servant supporting agriculture in Virginia - plugging into the important work we all do to help agriculture feed the world. I enjoy getting to work with poultry disease surveillance and response planning, animal welfare, lab testing, and food and meat inspection all in the same day, all in the interest of supporting Virginia agriculture. I miss the hands-on clinical practice, but it is very rewarding to be part of an effort that helps to keep Virginia's livestock and poultry industries free of foreign animal and other costly diseases, and to be prepared to mitigate the damages associated with the diseases should they occur.
Toughest part of the job? I spend more time inside in front of a computer than I'd like to on many days, when I'd rather be more directly serving farmers, veterinarians, and others involved in agriculture in Virginia. But, it is easy for me to complain about being inside on a beautiful spring or fall day and take for granted the sweltering or freezing days that I can work inside. So, I realize that I am fortunate to have a job that allows a good balance.
Share a favorite story from your job: In 2015, I led a team of VDACS veterinarians and animal health technicians to assist poultry farmers in Minnesota and Iowa battling Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI). In total, the USDA spent over $1 billion responding to this event, the largest and most costly animal disease outbreak in U.S. history. We were just a very small part of the overall response, but it was an incredible opportunity to do two things: obtain real-world training in animal disease response for the benefit of Virginians, and to help farmers in another state in need, just as we'd hope that they'd help us. Much of my job is not as immediately gratifying as that experience in the Midwest, but I keep it in mind when we spend countless hours supporting Virginia's animal agriculture industries, trying to avoid such a catastrophe as was seen in the HPAI outbreak of 2015.
Advice for those interested in pursuing a career in food animal medicine: This probably goes without saying, but find a good local food animal vet and ride along with them - you will see amazing things, and really appreciate the joys and challenges of the work. Expose yourself to as many different types of veterinary practice as you can, as you will learn from them all. Don't be judgmental of those who do things differently than you do, there are many different approaches to a successful veterinary outcome, and some work better for certain people than others. Enjoy the unique and wonderful people you get to serve and work with. Get some good private practice experience before considering other types of veterinary practice, as the lessons you learn are invaluable, and will build a strong foundation for whatever you do. Don't try to BS a farmer, they will see through it - if you don't know the answer, don't be afraid to say so, find out, and let them know later. Remember that we are blessed to be able to do this work, even when you don't feel like it (I remember specifically once not feeling that way as I was struggling in the mud to replace a uterine prolapse). Finally, your ability to interact well with your clients will be the biggest determinant of your professional success.