Founded: Commonwealth Veterinary Clinic (CVC), Waynesboro VA: 1988 – 2011, a mixed animal practice in the central Shenandoah Valley with an AAHA small animal hospital base and large animal services for dairy, beef, small ruminants, equine, camelids, and swine. The business evolved into a four-practitioner general practice before I sold to a former mentorship student and retired.
Tell us about yourself. I was born and raised on a mixed beef and poultry farm in Rockingham County VA. My dad worked at a local factory to support his bad habit of full time farming! I was deeply involved in Vo-Ag instruction and FFA activities in High School, attaining the degree of State Farmer. I finished high school desperately wanting to farm, but the US involvement in Southeast Asia put me in line for the draft. I enlisted in the US Coast Guard immediately following HS graduation and served on Search & Rescue cutters in Alaska and Texas. While I deployed, my dad sold the farm to an older brother who continues to farm that property today! Following a 4-year enlistment, I worked on a private yacht in the Bahamas, hiked the entire 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, and made two cross country motorcycle journeys before I began my educational career at Blue Ridge Community College (BRCC). I completed an Associate of Arts degree at BRCC and began employment with the VA Department of Corrections for several years where I focused on juvenile outdoor experiential education. After marrying in 1978, I returned to college, completing a BS in Animal Science at Va Tech and then earned a DVM from the VA-MD Regional College of Vet Med (VMCVM) in 1987. I spent my first year as a veterinarian working as a Clinical Instructor in the Ambulatory group of VMCVM before opening CVC in 1988. My wife of 39 years is a huge part of my ‘story’ and we have two children, neither of which wanted to follow my career as a veterinarian!
What made you become a food animal veterinarian? I think that my interest in veterinary work in agriculture is a throwback to my years on the farm. I love the life-style, the independence, and the reward of hard work. I am a firm believer in the miracle of life and the seasons that we pass through. I had a rush of de`ja vu the day I was standing in my family’s barnyard treating a down cow for grass tetany, using the same Rx and treating the same way in nearly the same spot where I assisted our farm vet when I was a boy! Farmers tend to be eternally optimistic in spite of their grumbling about the weather, feed prices, cattle disease, and other related issues, but most of them would not trade their way of life for any amount of money. I became interested in international livestock veterinary work through my involvement with Christian Veterinary Mission (CVM) while in vet school. I have made two trips to the Northwest region of India, high in the Himalayas to work with the Gujjar nomads and their livestock – in 2009 and again in 2014.
Share a favorite story from your job: I recently completed a US Aid to International Development (US AID) trip to Mongolia to work with the nomad livestock herders and the farmers in the central steppe region of the country.
I left retirement to assume my current position as a state veterinarian in the Office of Veterinary Services (OVS) at VDACS which allows me to continue my passion for agriculture. I work nearly every day with farmers or those involved in agriculture. I think of myself as an educator and problem solver – I seldom use my skills in veterinary medicine by examining patients these days unless there is the potential for a Foreign Animal Disease (FAD) – I am more likely to be using my skills as a problem solver in working with an epidemiological, regulatory, or biosecurity issue. However, there are times when the situation requires me to be a ‘regulator’ or I must use my authority to quarantine premises with demonstrated contagious disease to protect the health of all the animals in the Commonwealth. I am able to travel across the state, collecting disease samples, giving presentations on various topics, and being involved in strategic planning for the future of livestock production in Virginia.
What is the toughest part of your job? My least favorite part of private practice was the wear and tear on my body. When you work with large animals every day, something is going to get bruised or broken. As I recall, I would average a major “HURT” at least twice a year. I discovered that the pain was no different from year 1 to year 25 – it just took longer to heal as I aged! For many years, my free time was severely limited since being on-call is a given in food animal medicine. My biggest issue with my current job is the amount of time that I spend attending meetings and staring into a computer to prepare documents. Although this is a critical part of the job, I am much more inclined to be active and on the farm or in the stable. I would not have lasted long in my current position if I had this much down time when I was a young, aspiring veterinarian. The upside is that I have much more predictable hours these days, although as with any form of veterinary practice, my schedule can change with one phone call!
What is your advice for those interested in pursuing a career in food animal medicine? I would encourage all those interested in a career in food animal medicine to remember that you will always find work – there will always be livestock producers and people always have to eat! Your first employment might not be in the area of the country that you want to be in, but if you are patient, your ‘dream’ job will happen. 10 years ago, I would never have dreamed that I would be in my current assignment. I have learned that veterinary training in many disciplines prepares you with a unique skill set that can take you to employment opportunities that you never thought possible. A food animal veterinarian will not be at the top of the earnings chart in the veterinary world, but you should be able to make a respectable living throughout your practice career. Job satisfaction tops earnings in survey after survey.