Practitioners’ loyalty to their alma maters may be second only to their devotion to animals
Dr. Charles M. Hendrix, like many other Auburn University fans, sat in the stands during the 2011 BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 10 in Glendale, Arizona. He was there to watch his beloved Tigers prevail over the University of Oregon Ducks. Unlike most fans, though, he was wearing a $5 tuxedo from the Salvation Army festooned with a bow tie, baseball cap, and orange rosebud.
“People asked, ‘Why did you do that?’ I said, ‘This is the invitation to the big dance, and I’m ready to dance.’ That’s just how rabid we (Auburn fans) are,” Dr. Hendrix said.
This is the same man who would call the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine each year before the football game against Auburn.
“I would tell them real fast, ‘This is Dr. Charles Hendrix calling from Auburn College of Veterinary Medicine, the No. 1 veterinary school in the nation, alphabetically and otherwise,’” he said. “The lady on the other end would say, ‘It’s that man again.’”
Dr. Hendrix (Georgia ’74), a professor of parasitology at Auburn and a former AVMA vice president, went to Georgia for his undergraduate studies and veterinary school, then got a position at Auburn after being rejected by Georgia for the master’s program. He has taught at Auburn for 33 years, which is why he refers to himself as a Georgia boy and an Auburn man. Dr. Hendrix is so much an Auburn man, in fact, that Dean Calvin Johnson calls him “the closer” because he’s so good at persuading potential veterinary students to attend there.
||Lula Richmond, Dr. Charles M. Hendrix, and the late Johnny “Mr. Penny” Richmond display their Auburn University pride at the 2011 BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 10 in Glendale, Arizona. (Courtesy of Dr. Charles M. Hendrix)
His story illustrates just how loyal veterinarians can be to their institutions. Their dedication shouldn’t be so surprising, considering many practitioners have wanted to join the profession since they could talk. Reaching veterinary college, then, is their dream come true. That loyalty to their institution lasts a lifetime, according to recent graduates and longtime practitioners who spoke with JAVMA about their veterinary college experiences and whether they think that fervent devotion will continue with future classes of veterinarians.
“Nothing like a kind vet”
Veterinarians’ allegiance to their alma mater manifests in three ways, according to Dr. Hendrix. There’s a love of athletic prowess; a bricks-and-mortar love, or the love of the school and its people; and their appreciation of getting a good education, that is, actually learning to be a veterinarian.
Loyalty can also mean rivalries, which build solidarity and camaraderie, he says.
Dr. Hendrix gives the example of his relationship with a former professor of his from UGA, Dr. Oscar Fletcher (Georgia ’64), who also is a former dean at North Carolina State University.
News asked student chapters of the AVMA to submit an essay and picture exemplifying their students’ school spirit. See the online photo gallery at http://goo.gl/yfyxpE
for their responses.
“Every time he sees me, he shakes his head and says, ‘I should have flunked you when I had a chance.’ That’s priceless. It’s not mean or cruel, it’s just good-natured fun and part of the rivalry (between Auburn and Georgia). If he didn’t say it, I’d be hurt,” he said.
Dr. Hendrix admits he wasn’t a very good veterinary student, but what made the difference for him was the people he met along the way.
“It took me a while to learn the ropes,” he said. “I also had teachers who were wise enough to give me a second chance. It took me a while to go back and say, ‘Thank you,’ not because I wasn’t thankful, but because I was stupid. So now I return the favor and try to do the same with my students.”
He also advises his students to stick together and help one another because that’s what veterinary medicine is about.
“I tell my students, ‘I’m good to you because people have been good to me, and you must be good to others.’ There’s nothing like a kind vet, nothing like it in the world,” Dr. Hendrix said.
Trial by fire
Dr. Rosemary LoGiudice (Illinois ’81), rehabilitation veterinarian at Integrative Pet Care in Hanover Park, Illinois, and a former AVMA staff member, is so devoted to the University of Illinois that, if there’s something with Chief Illiniwek (the former, longtime symbol of the University of Illinois) on it, Dr. LoGiudice probably has it—from her doormat to hats to her golf bag to the towel she wears when shooting sporting clays. That’s not to mention she has two customized, single-action revolvers engraved with Chief Illiniwek’s image. “And I’m not at all embarrassed about it,” she adds.
Dr. LoGiudice says the connections she made with fellow students and faculty at the U of I College of Veterinary Medicine cemented her loyalty.
In high school, Dr. LoGiudice worked at her hometown veterinary clinic with the late Dr. David Rash (Illinois ‘60). She remembers him taking her to the dedication of the veterinary college’s new surgery and obstetrics laboratory. That’s where Dr. LoGiudice met the late Dr. Erwin Small (Illinois ’57), former associate dean for alumni and public affairs and professor at the Illinois veterinary college. Both men became important mentors to her.
||AVMA’s Got Talent finalist Dr. Rosemary LoGiudice performs “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun” during the 2011 AVMA Annual Convention in St. Louis. She owns two revolvers engraved with the image of Chief Illiniwek, the former, longtime symbol of the University of Illinois. (Photo by R. Scott Nolen)
“Dr. Small was so enthusiastic and inspiring about the U of I, telling me how wonderful it was. He was bigger than life to me. He was an ex-Marine and overpowering when he spoke with pride and enthusiasm for U of I,” she said.
She started veterinary college in 1977 and fondly remembers having an “extremely cohesive class.” In part, that unity was solidified by the anatomy professor, Dr. Robert Davis (Illinois ’65). She recalls him locking the anatomy laboratory if there was a student chapter of the AVMA meeting so that students would attend the SCAVMA meeting instead of studying that night. Nevertheless, students would try to sneak in to study by entering through the basement and taking the old freight elevator, which opened into the laboratory. So, before one meeting, he put barricades across the anatomy laboratory doors of the elevator with a sign that said “Go to the SCAVMA meeting.”
She said, “Early on, he sat us down and told us, ‘You’re in veterinary school. Now you need to learn and graduate and do what you’ve been trying to do your whole life. Whether you graduate with a C or an A, they’ll call you the same thing and that’s ‘Doctor.’ So now you need to learn to work as colleagues.’”
Even now, more than 50 percent of her classmates come back for reunions. They keep in touch with newsletters, and the class officers continue to spearhead events, which makes all the difference in the world, she said.
Dr. LoGiudice added that, in general, alumni receptions are prevalent at meetings such as the AVMA Annual Convention, North American Veterinary Conference, and Western Veterinary Conference. “Veterinarians gravitate to seeing classmates and finding out what’s going on with them and with the school or to finding out what’s new,” she said.
Are you ready for some football?
Recent veterinary graduates, too, talk of a strong allegiance to their colleges.
Dr. Joe Pluhar (Texas A&M ’14) declared his devotion early on to Texas A&M University. Both his parents went to graduate school at A&M, so he grew up in an Aggie household in Canyon, Texas, south of Amarillo. “I was born with maroon blood,” he says.
||Dr. Joe Pluhar was a Texas A&M Aggie fan before he could talk. (Courtesy of Dr. Joe Pluhar)
In high school, he’d visit College Station once a year for the Texas 4-H Roundup. Between that and trips for football games and visiting friends in the area, he had been to “Aggieland” quite a bit before starting freshman year. Dr. Pluhar ended up spending nine years at the university, earning his bachelor’s, MBA, and DVM degrees there.
He suggests a reason for veterinarians’ loyalty to their alma maters is that in those four years, students spend a lot of money and “a lot of blood, sweat and tears go into it. Plus, there’s lots of rivalry with other schools. That’s part of it as well.”
Given how relatively few veterinary schools there are—compared with, say, dental, medical, or law schools—the veterinary profession is still a close-knit community with fewer than 100,000 active practitioners, according to the 2013 AVMA Veterinary Workforce Study. Within the community are some natural rivalries, thanks to the veterinary colleges’ geography and conference alignment. In fact, 17 of the 28 U.S. veterinary colleges are distributed among three major conferences: the Southeastern Conference and the Big 10 and Big 12 conferences. And, if football seems to be a popular topic among veterinarians, that could be because six of the past 11 national champions in NCAA Division 1 have been at universities with veterinary colleges.
Some of the institutions have taken things to another level, creating competitions among themselves. The Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine and the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences decided to celebrate their long-standing traditions in sports and veterinary medicine by creating Dog Bowl: A Taste of Victory. The competition began in 2013 and is complete with a trophy for whichever participant’s football team wins the event each year; so far the score is even at 1-1.
||Dr. Kent H. Hoblet, dean of the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine, poses with the Dog Bowl Trophy, which is part of a competition with the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. (Courtesy of MSU CVM)
The University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences created #VetBet this year. The competition included a wager between the deans leading up to the Aggies vs. Rams football game in Fort Collins on Sept. 13. The winner was Colorado State, so UC-Davis had to send CSU some its locally grown olive oil. More importantly, #VetBet helped generate donations to veterinary student scholarships.
As Dr. Hendrix likes to say, “As far as football rivalries go, even when you lose, we’re going to play another game next year.”
Not what it used to be
Dr. Pluhar, who this year joined Southwest Texas Veterinary Medical Center in Uvalde, Texas, posits that what also makes veterinarians so attached to their veterinary college is that many also went to undergraduate school at that university. That was the case for most of his graduating class, but it might be changing. Over the past few years, veterinary colleges have added seats and begun enrolling an increasing number of out-of-state students (see JAVMA, Feb. 1, 2011).
Faculty, too, have changed. Dr. Jim Thompson, dean of the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, said long-term buy-in doesn’t appear as strong as it used to be in this group.
“When we have an alumni reception, it’s mostly our more mature, retired, and emeritus faculty who attend. Rarely do our midcareer or younger faculty come, presumably because they have other, more pressing responsibilities,” he said. “Faculty don’t appear to be engaging socially with students as much, either. There just doesn’t seem to be as much bonding.”
Dr. LoGiudice says her class was lucky to have professors who were supportive, got to know students personally, and encouraged them to collaborate as colleagues and not become competitors.
Dr. Small was “a driving force at the University of Illinois who held people together,” Dr. LoGiudice said. During clinic orientation, she remembers him saying, “I want you students to take care of this school as though it’s your own, and if you don’t, I’ll be watching you. After all, this clinic is named after me, the ‘Small Animal Clinic.’” None of them questioned it.
She continued, “A few of the schools still have great rah-rah people, but they are fewer and fewer because everyone’s so busy and there are not as many homegrown faculty members like Dr. Small. It’s people like that who really helped us be more enthusiastic about school.”
Love of profession and institution
There’s another brand of loyalty some veterinary alumni have, and that’s to the profession at large. Dr. Scott Dudis (Cornell ’14), who is stationed at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Veterinary Treatment Facility in Tacoma, Washington, is a good example.
He says he feels a sense of pride for Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, thanks to the people he’s met and the rigors they have shared, specifically, Block IV. At Cornell, Block IV is a combination class on infectious diseases, immunity, and parasites with a two-day final examination that is one of only two tests for the semester. “When you meet somebody from Cornell veterinary college, they’ll ask if you’ve gone through Block IV. It helps build that school unity,” he said.
At the same time, Dr. Dudis thinks he could have succeeded at other veterinary colleges because there are so many great programs. He explains his loyalty this way: “I feel more loyal to the profession. I think my time in (the Student AVMA) has made me realize that more because some of my best experiences in veterinary school have been with SAVMA and being with a bunch of students from other schools. Even beyond that, so many of my professors didn’t go to Cornell.”
||Dr. Scott Dudis says he feels more loyal to the veterinary profession than to his veterinary college.(Courtesy of Dr. Scott Dudis)
Dr. Dudis says his volunteer service in SAVMA also allowed him to be engaged in what it means to be a part of the veterinary profession. He recalls a comment from Dr. Clark K. Fobian, AVMA immediate past president, during this year’s SAVMA Educational Symposium when he said he sees the profession as a fraternity of sorts. Everyone goes through a similar experience becoming a veterinarian, and that sometimes grueling process allows fellow practitioners to commiserate and build special bonds with one another.
“Everyone talks about how they wanted to be a veterinarian since they were a little kid, and you finally get into veterinary school, and you meet the people who make your dreams come true. It’s hard not to fall in love with that,” Dr. Dudis said. “The people at Cornell have helped my dreams come true, and I will be grateful to them forever, and I think everyone can tell that story.”
Can’t get enough school spirit?
News has created an interactive map at http://goo.gl/DNJZ7v
detailing the close connection between veterinary colleges and winning football programs: