Vital Signs: July 2015 Vol. 4, Issue 7

A message from Dean Cyril Clarke

Plan for a New Horizon

Dear friends and colleagues,

For more than three decades, the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center (EMC) in Leesburg, Virginia, has played a critical role in Virginia-Maryland’s teaching, research, and clinical missions. Thanks to many months of hard work and input from experts both inside and outside the college, the EMC is now on a path of rejuvenation and future sustainability.

In early 2014, the college commissioned an equine practice management consulting group to study all aspects of the center and develop recommendations for its continued success. The consultants completed their work in July 2014 and provided a detailed report.

Next, I established a visioning committee to review, analyze, and recommend actions in the form of an operational plan. After forming working groups around a number of areas, this committee presented a draft plan to the EMC Advisory Council in October 2014 and sought input from the center’s faculty and staff. This led to the final operational plan titled “Plan for a New Horizon.” Highlights include:

  • Governance and leadership: The EMC must be fully integrated into the veterinary college’s strategic plan with appropriate supervisory, reporting, and advisory lines and full-time, on-site leadership. In April, the college appointed Maryland equine practitioner and 1988 college alumnus, Dr. Michael Erskine, as the center’s director.
  • Areas of excellence: To differentiate itself from other private and public practices, the EMC will focus on the diagnosis and treatment of lameness under the auspices of a new initiative in the area of equine soundness. Areas of emphasis will include advanced diagnostic imaging technologies, orthopedic surgery, therapeutic podiatry, and regenerative medicine.
  • Program management: Key performance indicators such as net practice income, case numbers, and utilization rates for personnel, facilities, and major equipment will be monitored to ensure a sustainable practice.
  • Marketing: We will market the clinical practice to both referring veterinarians and horse owners and incorporate the EMC’s marketing and branding more intentionally into the college’s communications efforts.
  • Client services: The EMC is committed to offering responsive and effective services to clients through better communication, cost management, and an improved appointment process.
  • Teaching and research missions: Educational experiences at the EMC will complement those available at the VTH, by emphasizing the importance of skills, knowledge, attitudes, and attributes necessary for successful management of a practice. The high caseload of the EMC will also provide students with a broad experience of equine diseases and facilitate development of translational research programs.
  • Fundraising initiative: We have launched a three-year, $2 million fundraising initiative, titled the “New Horizons Challenge,” with the EMC Advisory Council’s active participation.

The plan also addresses clinical service, operational efficiency, and facilities and equipment upgrades. Much emphasis has been placed on increasing the caseload at the clinical practice. We have assigned each high-priority initiative a project owner and manager with a schedule and measurable goals for completion.

According to its revised mission, the EMC seeks to be a premier, full-service equine medical center that provides exceptional, comprehensive, and compassionate veterinary care for the region. The center also provides a valuable educational resource for referring veterinarians, future veterinarians, and clients, and contributes to the advancement of new knowledge through innovative scholarship and clinical discovery.

It is an exciting time for our Leesburg program and I believe that the “Plan for a New Horizon” will assist the EMC in meeting its goals for many more years to come.

Dr. Cyril Clarke, Dean


Featured Stories

Dr. Bess Pierce is the 2015 Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year and was featured in a recent Virginia Tech spotlight.

Dr. Bess Pierce: Veterinarian finds a special bond with her work

Anyone who has ever spent time with Dr. Bess Pierce knows that she has an exhausting and unmatched work ethic.

Since joining the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in 2007, Pierce started a therapy dog program and a one-of-a-kind residency program in human-animal bond studies. She breathed new life into the Center for Animal Human Relationships and organized human-animal bond symposiums that bring together top experts.

She treated hundreds of pet and working dog clients in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s Small Animal Community Practice before joining the college’s Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine in 2015. She teaches and mentors veterinary students. She makes regular trips overseas as one of the highest-ranking U.S. military veterinarians in Europe.

The American Veterinary Medical Association presented her with the nation’s highest veterinary honor for work in the human-animal bond: the 2015 Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award.

Read more about Pierce and her accomplishments in the latest university spotlight on the Virginia Tech homepage.

(l-r) Dr. Dottie Williams, small animal intern, Amanda Conrad, licensed veterinary technician, and Sarah Schott, fourth-year veterinary student, provided care for Hagen, an 8-week-old female kitten found in a back yard in Blacksburg with two broken legs.

Small Animal Community Practice earns cat-friendly, low stress certifications

Pet owners have two new reasons to be confident that their furry friends are in the best of care at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

Recently, the hospital’s Small Animal Community Practice has received two new certifications. In June, the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) recognized the Small Animal Community Practice with a Cat Friendly Practice certification at the silver level. In May, it also received a Low Stress Handling certification at the silver level through a separate program.

Established in the past two years, the Cat Friendly Practice certification program seeks to improve the treatment, handling, and overall health care of cats by equipping veterinary practices with the tools, resources, and information needed to evaluate their standards of care. The Small Animal Community Practice, which provides primary and preventive patient care for clients within a 35-mile radius of Blacksburg, is one of only three university clinics to earn the certification. The others are at The Ohio State University and Auburn University.

“For general practices, the idea is that we appreciate cats, we understand cats, and we are trying to make you and your cat’s veterinary visit as easy and low stress as possible,” said Dr. Michael Nappier, assistant professor of community practice in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences. “For university practices such as ours, this also means that we are teaching students that it is not just business as usual when treating cats in a clinical setting.”

To prepare for the Cat Friendly Practice certification, the veterinarians and staff at the Small Animal Community Practice completed several months of training and education. They also reviewed their standards of care for feline patients, including handling and interaction with the animal, examination rooms and ward facilities, surgical equipment and dentistry, and client communication.

Meanwhile, the silver-level Low Stress Handling certification recognized the Small Animal Community Practice’s efforts to provide a good-natured environment for both dogs and cats. Established by the late Dr. Sophia Yin, a world-renowned veterinarian and animal behaviorist, the certification program demonstrates a hospital’s commitment to low stress handling methods with more than half of veterinarians and staff needing to receive individual certifications.

Dr. Lara Bartl, assistant professor of community practice, organized the effort to make Virginia Tech the first university with a veterinary teaching hospital to earn the Low Stress Handling certification.

Vet technician Stefanie Olsen holds Diesel, the boxer, while another member of the oncology team at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine takes a blood sample. (Photo by Matt Gentry, The Roanoke Times)

Veterinary college cancer trials may help humans

It started four years ago with a sneeze.

“Some blood came out, and that’s what sent us to the doctor, to the vet,” Sandra Friedlander said of her 14-year-old labradoodle, Grayton.

Then came the diagnosis: Nasal adenocarcinoma. If left untreated, this aggressive cancer is fatal within six months for about 95 percent of dogs diagnosed with it, said her husband, Dr. Michael Friedlander.

“With radiation therapy, they may get one to two years, and a very small minority may be cured,” said Dr. Nikolaos Dervisis, an oncologist at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.

But Grayton has defied those odds, surviving and even thriving four years after his diagnosis, thanks to state-of-the-art conventional treatments and an experimental therapy administered at Tech’s vet school. Eventually, the treatment may even have implications for human cancers.

This article originally appeared on the front page of the July 4 Roanoke Times. Read the full article.

Dr. Valerie Ragan, director of the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine, has been leading career transition workshops for several years.

Taking the leap: Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine helps with career transitions

Almost 28 percent of veterinarians in clinical practice might seek to transition to a nonclinical veterinary career at some point in the future or are currently seeking such a transition, according to a 2013 survey spearheaded by the 2013-2014 class of the AVMA Future Leaders Program.

To what area of veterinary medicine are they interested in transitioning? Some simply wanted to retire entirely or partially. About 25 percent of respondents who answered that question were interested in transitioning to industry, 21 percent to academia, 11 percent to federal or state government, and 10 percent to a nonprofit. Others said they were uncertain of their next move.

Successfully making a career transition requires self-reflection and bravery, said Dr. Valerie E. Ragan, director of the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine.

“The beauty of this degree is that there is so very much that we can do that a lot of veterinarians really aren’t aware of,” she said. “I think most veterinarians can find something that’s going to suit what they’re looking for if they approach it properly.”

The AVMA and the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine are among the groups that have provided resources in recent years to help veterinarians prepare to take the leap to another sphere of the profession.

Read more about the college’s career transition outreach efforts in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Dr. Clay Caswell (left), assistant professor of bacteriology, seeks to better understand brucellosis with Ph.D. students James Budnick (center) and Lauren Sheehan (right). Although much of the college's historic brucellosis efforts have focused on vaccines, Caswell is hoping to understand the molecular basis of the bacterium.

Disease fighters: Researchers’ historic and present-day efforts to stop brucellosis

Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine researchers have made their mark in the history books with their decades-long efforts to eradicate brucellosis, a disease that causes spontaneous abortions in cattle and an inconsistent and sometimes fatal fever in humans. Starting with early successes in vaccine development, faculty members are undisputed leaders in brucellosis research and outreach.

Former dean Dr. Gerhardt Schurig, professor of immunology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, began developing an improved brucellosis vaccine when he arrived in Blacksburg in the late 1970s.

“I began to assemble a team to work on a new vaccine,” Schurig said. “This was based on a Brucella abortus mutant I had identified in my new Virginia Tech laboratory. I called the vaccine RB-51.”

In 1984, Schurig lobbied two other faculty members to join the collaboration: Dr. Stephen Boyle, now professor emeritus of microbiology, and Dr. Nammalwar “Nathan” Sriranganathan, professor of microbiology. The team began exploring the RB-51 alternative against the existing brucellosis vaccine called “strain 19.”

Read more about the college’s efforts to fight brucellosis in the latest issue of TRACKS.

Welcome to the College

The new small animal surgery and medicine interns are (l-r) Dr. Kyle Maddox, Dr. Victor Stora, Dr. Dottie Williams, Dr. Cheslymar Garcia, and Dr. Morgan Bertison.
The new large animal interns are (l-r) Dr. Jessica Bradford and Dr. Lauren Trager.

New interns join Veterinary Teaching Hospital

The college welcomed seven new interns at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital:

  • Dr. Morgan Bertison has joined the college as an intern in small animal medicine and surgery. She received her bachelor’s degree in agriculture and her doctor of veterinary medicine degree from Kansas State University.
  • Dr. Jessica Bradford has joined the college as an intern in food animal ambulatory/production management medicine. She received her doctor of veterinary medicine and her master of public health degrees from Kansas State University.
  • Dr. Cheslymar Garcia has joined the college as an intern in small animal medicine and surgery. She received her bachelor’s degree in animal science from Cornell University and her doctor of veterinary medicine degree from Ross University.
  • Dr. Kyle Maddox has joined the college as an intern in small animal medicine and surgery. He received his bachelor’s degree in animal science and nutrition and his doctor of veterinary medicine degree from North Carolina State University.
  • Dr. Victor Stora has joined the college as an intern in small animal medicine and surgery. He received his bachelor’s degree in molecular biology and chemistry from Wagner College and his doctor of veterinary medicine degree from Louisiana State University.
  • Dr. Lauren Trager has joined the college as an equine field service intern. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and her doctor of veterinary medicine degree from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.
  • Dr. Dottie Williams has joined the college as an intern in small animal medicine and surgery. She received her bachelor’s degree in writing, literature, and publishing from Emerson College and her doctor of veterinary medicine degree from the University of Tennessee.

Alumni Corner

Dr. Chris Runde poses with Billy Flynn, his homebred warmblood. He and his wife, Karen, have four horses on a 50-acre farm in Maryland.

Maryland veterinarian Dr. Chris Runde (DVM '85) advances the profession through legislative efforts

When most veterinarians read about the Veterinary Practice Act, they are completing a licensing requirement on their road to enter private practice. Rarely do they take a second look. Dr. Chris Runde (DVM ’85) felt the same way until his 30-year professional journey took a detour into the world of regulatory medicine.

Veterinary law and its application are now important parts of Runde’s professional life as president of the Maryland State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners and a board of directors member for the American Association of Veterinary State Boards.

From a young age, Runde knew that he wanted to be a veterinarian. He grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, but preferred his uncle’s dairy farm to town life. When Runde was 13, he and his family moved to Maryland. He excelled at science in high school, loved his pet Brittany spaniel, and was interested in wildlife, birdwatching, and fishing. At 19, Runde began working with Dr. Cyril Heinrich in Berlin, Maryland, as a veterinary assistant and kennel worker. He also had a job working in the stables at Ocean Downs, a local standardbred track.

Runde graduated from the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture in 1981 and from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine with his doctor of veterinary medicine degree in 1985.

Read the full profile on Runde.

Around the College

Veterinary students and faculty tour relocated dairy complex

Virginia Tech celebrated the grand opening of its new Dairy Science Complex at Kentland Farm on Friday, July 17. The facility includes an 11,900-square-foot milking parlor with a computerized milk-monitoring system, a 46,000-square-foot freestall barn where the 232 milking cows will be housed, a modern waste management system, a special needs heifer barn, and a pre-weaned calf facility. Fourth-year veterinary students on their Production Management Medicine rotation toured the dairy science complex accompanied by Dr. Kevin Pelzer and Dr. William Gilsenan. In addition, Dr. Hollie Schramm, herd veterinarian and clinical instructor of food animal ambulatory and production management medicine, spoke to tour participants about veterinary care at the new facility. Pictured above are (l-r) Dr. Bill Gilsenan, Camille Brandenburg, Elizabeth Stephan, Dr. Kevin Pelzer, Emily Murray, Bibi Khalsa, Tim Scott, and Jake Burton. Read more about the event and new facility.

Girl Scouts visit college for veterinary camp

A group of Girl Scouts participating in a summer camp visited the college this month. Hailing from a 37-county area covering southwestern and western Virginia and two parts of West Virginia, the Girl Scouts enjoyed a week-long camp organized by the Girl Scouts of Virginia Skyline Council in Salem. During their day with us, they made stops at the college’s anatomy and clinical skills labs, where they learned about what it takes to be a veterinarian. Pictured above, adjunct instructor Dr. Meghan Byrnes (left) demonstrates how to prepare an animal for surgery for the interested Scouts. View a Facebook photo gallery from their visit.

Students in Governor's School for Agriculture learn about life as a veterinarian

The veterinary college welcomed guests from the Governor’s School for Agriculture to its Blacksburg campus this month. These rising high school juniors and seniors from across the commonwealth spent some time at the college to learn about radiology, toxicities in animals, companion animal nutrition, admissions, and more.

Veterinary student leaders represent college at AVMA Convention

Officers of the Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association (SCAVMA) and Dean Cyril Clarke attended the AVMA Convention in Boston on July 10-14. Pictured above are (l-r) Catharine Cowan, second-year veterinary student and SCAVMA president-elect; Taylor Engle, second-year veterinary student and SAVMA junior delegate; Dr. Cyril Clarke, dean; Laura Turner, third-year veterinary student and SAVMA senior delegate; and Allison Smith, third-year veterinary student and SCAVMA president.

Engle and Turner attended the annual meeting of the SAVMA House of Delegates, representing Virginia-Maryland students in discussions and votes on broad topics including scholarships. Smith and Cowan attended workshop sessions with other delegates as well as the SCAVMA presidents meeting. These meetings provided an opportunity to work with SCAVMA presidents and delegates from other veterinary schools on ideas for speakers and events like “Wellness Week,” improving chapter functions and communication, and sharing ideas for ways in which they can best support students.

Four-Day Vet School offers community members a glimpse into the college

This summer, the college hosted a Four-Day Vet School for community members to experience the breadth and sophistication of 21st century veterinary medical education. Following an introductory session, participants attended four evening classes that focused on different areas of veterinary medicine. Faculty members taught about medical and surgical procedures available for animals, as well as cutting-edge clinical and biomedical research. The program ended with a dinner and presentation of certificates on June 11.

Awards & Activities

Dean Cyril Clarke with Kim Ascue

Kim Ascue named July Staff Member of the Month

Since joining the college in June 2005, Kimberly Ascue, assistant director of IT support services for the Information Services Group, has developed a reputation for her can-do attitude, problem-solving skills, and dedication to getting the job done. She has managed the college’s IT Technical Support team for 10 years and has led the college through many hardware and technology upgrades with an emphasis on quality, efficiency, and customer service. Ascue’s proactive approach has kept the college ahead of the curve in the area of information technology and computing.

Ascue’s nominators applauded her recent efforts to implement an upgraded network and phone infrastructure at the college's Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center (EMC) in Leesburg, Virginia. “The EMC has had problems with their phones and network for years, and Kim recognized that a new solution was needed to the ongoing problems,” one nominator wrote.

After months of planning and organizing the effort, she worked long hours over a weekend to deploy the new system with Virginia Tech’s Communications Network Services and EMC personnel. “She worked to make sure that everything went as smoothly as possible,” noted another nominator. “Kim’s efforts were key to successfully completing the complex and difficult project. Kudos to Kim for her efforts.”

Read more about the Staff Members of the Month.

Krissy Peacock

Krissy Peacock earns equine scholarship for award-winning essay

Congratulations are in order for second-year veterinary student Krissy Peacock, the 2015 recipient of The Ride and Tie Association Jim Steere Veterinary Memorial Scholarship. Her essay, “Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage,” was selected as the best essay and will be printed in the association’s next newsletter. She is pictured at right with Impulse, a horse that was used in Virginia Tech’s riding program for close to 15 years before being adopted by Krissy.

Dr. Karen Habitzreuther

Alumna Karen Habitzreuther recognized as Armed Forces Woman Warrior

Dr. Karen Habitzreuther (DVM ’14), who currently serves at the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center (AFHSC), was recognized as a Woman Warrior in the Armed Forces. During her 28-year career, Habitzreuther has focused on serving her country and helping expand opportunities for women in the military. In addition to earning her doctor of veterinary medicine degree from the veterinary college in 2014, Habitzreuther is now a student in the college’s Master of Public Health program with a concentration in infectious diseases. She currently serves as a desk officer for the AFHSC, where she provides liaison support for the Combatant Command. In this role, she ensures that the department’s bio-surveillance needs are met and operationally relevant.

More Awards & Accolades

Three college employees are being recognized for their continuous commitment to professional development. The following individuals will be recognized by Virginia Tech's University Organization and Professional Development (UOPD) for completing professional development certification programs:

  • Dr. Piedad Natalia Henao Guerrero, associate professor of anesthesiology in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, received a Leadership Excellence Certificate.
  • Valerie Vaught, radiologic technologist, received a Supervisory Excellence Certificate and an Office Software Skills Certificate.
  • Jennifer Averill, laboratory and safety coordinator, received a Diversity Ally Certificate.

Dr. Samantha Emch (MS ’15), former neurology resident, recently passed the ACVIM board examination and is now a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (Neurology).

Dr. Sandra James-Yi, clinical assistant professor of toxicology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, passed all four sections of the American Board of Veterinary Toxicology certification examination earlier this month. This is in addition to being certified as a Diplomate of the American Board of Toxicology in October 2014.

Dr. Deena Khan, postdoctoral associate, and Dr. S. Ansar Ahmed, head of the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, published a mini-review article in Frontiers in Endocrinology on “Epigenetic regulation of non-lymphoid cells by bisphenol A, a model endocrine disrupter: potential implications for immunoregulation.”

Dr. Valerie Ragan, director of the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine, traveled to Bozeman, Montana, as a committee member on the recently initiated National Academy of Sciences Committee on Revisiting Brucellosis in the Greater Yellowstone Area. The committee heard from various speakers representing the National Park Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Montana Department of Livestock, Native Americans, the ranching industry, and the public. In an update of the National Research Council (NRC) 1998 report “Brucellosis in the Greater Yellowstone Area,” the NRC-appointed committee will comprehensively review and evaluate the available scientific literature and other information on the prevalence and spread of Brucella abortus in the Greater Yellowstone Area in wild and domestic animals and examine the feasibility, time-frame, and cost-effectiveness of options to contain or suppress brucellosis across the region.

Lauren Sheehan, a Ph.D. candidate in Dr. Clay Caswell’s laboratory, had a manuscript accepted for publication in the journal Molecular Microbiology. The manuscript is titled “A LysR-family transcriptional regulator required for virulence in Brucella abortus is highly conserved among the α-proteobacteria.”

Dr. Sherrie Whaley, director of communications for the college, was elected to the board of the Association of Veterinary Advancement Professionals (AVAP) during its annual conference held in Boston, July 14-15. She will serve as a member-at-large for 2015-2016. AVAP is an organization of development, public relations, and alumni relations professionals that seeks to promote the success of veterinary medical education.

Upcoming Events


Vital Signs is published throughout the year by the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.

  • Dean: Dr. Cyril R. Clarke
  • Produced By: Office of Public Relations and Communications
  • Director: Sherrie Whaley
  • Content Editor: Michael Sutphin
  • Web Editors: Alison Elward, Jesse Janowiak
  • Contributors: Katie Burns, Alison Elward, Tonia Moxley, Michael Sutphin, Sherrie Whaley, Lynn Young
  • Photography: Alison Elward, Matt Gentry, Chris Runde, Michael Sutphin, Logan Wallace, Sherrie Whaley, Lynn Young
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