‘Veterinarians Will Help the World’

According to Joan Hendricks, dean of Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine, people go into veterinary medicine for a couple reasons. They love animals, probably first and foremost. They also have a fascination with science and desire to understand how things work—whether it’s canine vision, equine orthopedics, or cell and molecular biology.

These medical professionals, Hendricks says, have the potential to change the world—perhaps because veterinarians are trained to innately understand how animal and human health is linked together, as well as to the world around them.

“Our training and what we want to do is to make the world better for all living things,” Hendricks says. “It folds in everything—biomedical science to make health better not just for people, but for animals, as well. We may be studying cancer in a cat or how to get rid of digestive problems in a cow. But we’re also doing it in a way that we know will benefit people, and we may be doing it with MDs or other expert colleagues.”

Veterinarians also become experts in food security and safety—an especially big focus in Pennsylvania, where agriculture is a major industry—as well as in infectious diseases that spread from animals to people (and vice versa).

The connections between Penn Vet and other disciplines have a long history at the University. Penn Vet, which was formally founded in 1884, is the only veterinary school in the country that is an outgrowth of a medical school. Hendricks says these close ties have made for a rich history of collaboration and an especially robust research network that extends across schools.

“There is no other veterinary Ph.D. program that is as big or as sustained by the [National Institutes of Health] as [Penn Vet’s] VMD-Ph.D. program,” Hendricks says. “That’s a fact. That’s because of our connection with the medical school.”

Since her appointment as dean in 2006, Hendricks has overseen the two Penn Vet campuses—one in Philadelphia and the other, dedicated to large animal medicine, in Kennett Square, Pa. Several important advancements have been made under Hendricks’ tenure, including the Working Dog Center, breakthroughs in canine cancer studies, and the development of a software package that helps farmers around the world more effectively manage their dairy herds.

“I would like it to be very clear to people that what they’re doing as veterinarians will help the world,” Hendricks says. “I would like that to be the image and the message that people have about the profession.”

Read an extended interview with Hendricks in the Penn Current.

Text by Heather A. Davis Video by Rebecca Abboud & Chip Murphy