Veterinarians discover themselves in Antarctica

Two AVMA members take part in global leadership program that promotes female scientists
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Drs. Harvey and Lynn
Drs. Elisa D. Harvey and Jill M. Lynn were two U.S. veterinarians who took part in the Homeward Bound Project 2018. It is a global leadership initiative that aims to heighten the influence and impact of women in decision-making roles that shape the planet. Part of the program involved a three-week voyage to Antarctica. Two Australian veterinarians, Dr. Kimberly Vinette Herrin, a zoo and wildlife veterinarian, and Dr. Kate Clarke, a rural small animal practitioner, also participated. (Photos courtesy of Dr. Jill M. Lynn)

For most veterinarians, networking might involve attending a local VMA meeting and taking time for self-reflection, or starting meditation or a personal journal. Two AVMA members took a more nontraditional approach that involved a weekslong excursion to Antarctica with nearly 80 other women who are veterinarians, physicians, doctoral scientists, and other professionals.

The Homeward Bound Project 2018 ( is a global leadership initiative that aims to heighten the influence and impact of women in decision-making roles that shape the planet. Homeward Bound hopes to train 1,000 women over 10 years, with a focus on those in science, technology, engineering, medicine, and math careers.

Their yearlong journey culminated in the largest-ever female expedition to Antarctica, aboard the ship MV Ushuaia departing from Argentina on Feb. 18 for the three-week Antarctic expedition.

While the voyage to Antarctica was the peak of the Homeward Bound program, the 78 participants spent 10 months beforehand preparing for it. The program focuses on leadership, strategy, science communication, and collaboration. Participants video conferenced during this time, and some even met in person.

"We are all leaders in our professions, and I learned how we can develop our best selves, lead teams more effectively, and promote a harmonious working environment," Dr. Jill M. Lynn said.

She and Dr. Elisa D. Harvey were among only four veterinarians worldwide—two others from Australia—who were selected to take part in the second Homeward Bound expedition, the first having taken place in 2016.

Dr. Harvey (Tufts '92) is a practicing veterinarian who works at Maple Springs Veterinary Hospital in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and is a biotechnology consultant for CardioMed Device Consultants LLC. She holds a doctorate in physiology and a master's in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Connecticut. An advocate for one health, Dr. Harvey has led a varied career that has included regulatory work with the Food and Drug Administration, spay-neuter work with the Maryland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and international veterinary volunteer work through WorldVets. She is a mother of two scientist sons and has a menagerie at home, including horses, dogs, and chickens.

Weddell seal
On their journey, Drs. Harvey and Lynn saw many varieties of penguins, whales, seabirds, and seals, the most interesting of which were the predatory leopard seals, Dr. Lynn said. Pictured is a Weddell seal on sea ice near Cuverville Island, Errera Channel.

Dr. Lynn (Michigan State '08) owns and operates Harmony Mobile Veterinary Clinic in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. She also serves as a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve Veterinary Corps. Like Dr. Harvey, Dr. Lynn has worked outside the country to advance animal health. Her two most exciting Army missions were a six-month deployment in East Africa, where she partnered with local animal health workers in remote areas, and a two-week mission in the Darién province of Panama.

After closely following the first Homeward Bound cohort in 2016, Drs. Harvey and Lynn were among the hundreds who applied for 2018.

In an interview with JAVMA News after their Antarctic journey, the two veterinarians said the continent was, for lack of better words, "awesome" and "amazing."

"It's such a different-looking place, so huge and vast, and everything is in shades of white and gray and blue. It's so stark. There's not a lot of wildlife, but the wildlife there is so interesting," Dr. Harvey said.

The group made landings at several international research stations, including two U.K. (Port Lockeroy and Rothera Station), one American (Palmer Station), two Argentinian (Carlini Base and Camara Station), and one Chinese (Great Wall Base). Dr. Lynn said she spoke with an Argentinian veterinarian in Antarctica who handles and sedates seals to gather information for studies.

Once the participants saw a seal chasing an Adélie penguin. "We thought we were going to see this poor penguin get eaten in front of our eyes, but an expert later pointed out that it was a crabeater seal that doesn't eat penguins. More likely, it was lonely and wanted to be around another living creature," Dr. Lynn said with a laugh.

Chinstrap penguins
Chinstrap penguins play at Portal Point, Charlotte Bay, which was the first landing on the Antarctic Peninsula for the 2018 Homeward Bound journey. Dr. Lynn said she was surprised to see shades of green, which were from the snow algae and mosses that grow there.

Dr. Harvey said everyone fell in love with the penguins.

"They're so curious and sweet and funny. We were told to keep our distance, but they come right up to you. They peck on your pants and strings. It's very fun. If you sit in one place, they will engage with you," she said.

Aboard the ship, the group did leadership development training and strategy mapping, which had group members looking at various aspects of their professional and personal lives.

Dr. Lynn said not only did she realize that she needed to find more work-life balance, but also: "Being away made me appreciate my staff even more, given how well they took care of the clinic and patients. They now feel empowered. They had extra duties and made sure to take care of clients. They are skillful at doing things, and I can delegate more; I don't need to do all by myself. If we work as a team in our profession, that's one way to address wellness concerns. We are stronger together. That was one of the messages of Homeward Bound, and it's true."

Participants also had a chance to speak for a few minutes during the "Symposium at Sea" portion of the program to describe their passions. One was a theoretical physicist who talked about being part of a team that won a Nobel Prize a few years ago for research on gravitational waves in black holes. Dr. Lynn talked about her military experience and what military veterinarians do, from supporting military working dogs to food safety to humanitarian missions. Others discussed doing research on climate change and its impact on coral reefs or the ecosystems of Antarctica.

Dr. Lynn said the program focuses on women because "while more women are earning advanced degrees—like in veterinary medicine, where classes are around 80 percent female—when you look at leadership and the higher levels, women aren't well-represented there. The program is structured to help foster women becoming more engaged in leadership and how best to serve their chosen career fields and have a seat at the table. Studies have shown if there's more balance in leadership, not only men and women but also from different cultures, leadership ends up being more effective."

Dr. Harvey said a great benefit of the program is the network it builds among accomplished women. "Not only with our cohort, but (in) all the years to come and the one before," she said. "This large network of women around the world doing all kinds of amazing things—who knows what kinds of collaboration will open up in the future? For me, I want veterinarians to widen their perspective and look outside their traditional roles, to think bigger and wider on the many ways they can contribute to society."

Homeward Bound Project 2018 participants
In talking with those who regularly visit Antarctica, Dr. Harvey learned that a glacier used to be next to the U.S. Palmer Station when it was built in the '70s but has receded by many feet. "For people who have been there year after year, they really see the difference. For us, it looked like there was lots of ice, but the amount of ice from year to year is changing for those people," she said.

Aside from the networking and training, Dr. Lynn said there was value in stepping outside her comfort zone, which led to personal growth. That's something Dr. Harvey could attest to as well.

"We were engaging in lots of introspection and ways we can do better and where our areas of growth are in our lives. It was psychologically challenging at the time, especially for people who value solitude. You're on a boat with 78 people and nowhere to go, but out of that came personal growth and the ability to look at one's life and values. It was an opportunity to examine how you are living the values you say you have and how your work life meshes with what you say is important to you," Dr. Harvey said, something she recommends for anyone.

Dr. Harvey has plans to work with The Jane Goodall Institute's Roots & Shoots program, a youth-led global community action program designed to help young leaders create positive change. She is currently going through its certification program and hopes to talk with children and young adults about science, one health, and leadership.

Dr. Lynn wants to share some of those messages, such as fostering more caring of each other and the planet, through outreach programs at libraries and elsewhere.

They both hope to be role models for girls and young women hoping to enter the veterinary profession or other science fields. "I hope that we can show aspiring scientists that there is no set path, that your career can take you in many directions," Dr. Lynn said.

They will talk further about their experiences with the Homeward Bound program at AVMA Convention 2018 and encourage female colleagues to participate as well.