Welcome to the People of Animal Health Podcast. The host of our podcast is Stacy Pursell. Stacy is the leading executive recruiter for the animal health and veterinary industries. She’s the founder of Therio Partners and the vet recruiter. Stacy has placed more professionals in key positions within the animal health and veterinary industries than any executive search professional. Along the way, Stacy has built relationships with some outstanding people who are doing incredible things to make a difference. The people of Animal Health podcast features industry leaders and trailblazers who have made a significant impact or are making an impact in the animal health and veterinary industries. Stacy chats with them to learn more about their lives, their careers, and the unique and interesting things that they have done to contribute to the animal health or veterinary industries. She is here to share their stories with you. Now here’s the host of our podcast, Stacy Pursell.
Hello, everyone, and welcome to the People of Animal Health Podcast. On today’s show, we are talking with Dr. Dan Richardson. Dr. Richardson is a native of Manhattan, Kansas. He received an associate’s degree from Colby Community College in Colby, Kansas, and his bachelor of Science degree and DVM degree in ’75 and ’77 from Kansas State University. He completed a surgery medicine internship at Auburn University and a surgical residency at the University of Tennessee. He is a diplomat at the American College of Veterinary Surgeons. Dr. Richardson was a faculty member in the Colleges of Veterinary Medicine at both Purdue and North Carolina State University, and he received numerous awards for clinical and teaching excellence, including the Norton Distinguished Teacher Award at both universities. Dr. Richardson joined Hills Pet Nutrition Research and Development in 1991. Hills, a subsidiary of Colgate Palm-Olive, is a global leader in the premium pet food market. They produced the science diet and prescription diet pet food brands, which are sold in over 92 countries.
While with Hills, Dr. Richardson held positions of director of advanced research, director of research, vice president of research, and vice president of Pet Nutrition Center. In 2008, he became chief executive Officer for the newly proposed Kansas State University Olathe campus, part of a new 92-plus acre bioscience research park in Olathe, Kansas. He led the building and program development for the campus, which opened in April of 2011. He has published extensively and is an internationally recognized speaker with expertise in nutrition and veterinary orthopedics. Dr. Richardson received the 2004 Kansas State University Alumni Fellow Award for the College of Veterinary Medicine. He has been and continues to be active on many boards and task forces.
Welcome onto the People of Animal Health podcast. How are you, Dan?
Well, first of all, thank you, Stacy. It’s a pleasure to be here. I’m doing fine.
Well, wonderful. We are so glad that you joined us today, Dan, I know that you’ve had a very successful career. I would love to start off at the bottom in the very beginning of your career. What was your life like growing up and where did you grow up?
Well, I grew up, I was actually born and raised in Manhattan, Kansas, home of Kansas State University, where my father was a faculty member in the Department of Animal Science, it was animal husband to me back then, where he taught nutrition. We lived in town, but having a father that was a animal scientist and then my mother was retired, but she had to be in a home homemaker, but she had been a county home economist in her early career. We were raised around love of animals and dealing with animals. I had two older brothers, Ralph, who subsequently went on to become a veterinarian as well, and my oldest brother, David, who is a English professor, retired, Spencerian scholar, and he managed the Spencer’s encyclopedia development.
We had a very interesting child. I had an interesting childhood because we were never held back on raising animals and things. We lived in town, as I said, but we raised, or I had pet rats, raised rabbits. My brother Ralph had the great idea of capturing pigeons one time and trying to make them into homing pigeons, and so I helped him with that, climbing in the attic of our old church to capture pigeons. We fed them and kept them for quite some time, just excited as could be when we let them out. That’s the last time we saw them. They obviously went home somewhere else.
I was very involved with 4H growing up. My parents were H leaders for our club. We actually raised lambs in our backyard living in town. I was relatively young and liked to sleep late, so my father oftentimes had to get out quick in the mornings to feed the sheep, keep them quiet, so the neighbors didn’t complain. But that was another time, another era. I’m not sure you could get away with that anymore. But anyway, grew up in a kind of animal and gardening and kind of a self-sustaining environment with my family. I got exposure to animal science, obviously through my dad. Then as I got older, as I said, my middle brother went into veterinary medicine, so that very much exposed me to what that was about. Then my oldest brother, being English, I actually looked in that area as well, but I found myself just loving dealing with animals.
We then moved from the city to a small acreage outside of Manhattan. That’s probably where things blossomed. I had calves that I showed in 4H and sheep that we showed. My father and I started to raise SPF hogs, actually, and had horses. Everything that a kid could really want. We really enjoyed the animals and I could see myself now really wanting to be a veterinarian. It was during this early years after we moved that my father was offered the opportunity to go to India with the USAID program, being chief of party for Kansas State University. I’m not sure what clicked, but it sounded exciting to me and my parents were quite surprised that here I was just coming into high school and they were proposing going halfway around the world and taking me with them. My brothers were both in college by this time and away from home.
I just found it to be an exciting opportunity and it turned out to be one of the most influential aspects of my life. I did go to high school living in India. My parents lived in Faizabad and I was in New Delhi most of the time. But on my father’s team was a doctor Don Walker, who was a veterinary theriogenologist from Auburn University. He was quite influential on me. He set up the first ambulatory clinic in India in a town called [inaudible 00:08:07]. I got to know Dr. Walker and his wife. He just further excited me about the opportunities with veterinary medicine.
Then we came back to the United States and I finished my high school senior year in Manhattan and then went on to Kansas State University. I’d lived away from home for quite some time, so at this point I was so well known because I had brothers and a father on campus that I felt like I guess couldn’t hide on campus and everybody was watching me. I chose to leave and go to Colby Community College for a year because I had a friend out there on the baseball team and it was an opportunity to get away from Manhattan. I went out there and got an AA degree, but I also was very fortunate to be accepted to Kansas State University in the College of Veterinary Medicine, the class of 1977. That was extremely exciting to be able to come back to Manhattan and start veterinary school. From that point on, I started basically my career in veterinary medicine, learning a lot along the way.
When you talked about when you first figured out that you wanted to be a veterinarian, how did you get into the veterinary profession? You got your degree and then you were getting started. Tell us about your start and how you got going as a veterinarian.
Well, I really was toying with different opportunities or thoughts about different career opportunities as I was in college, but I kept coming back to veterinary medicine. I think I’d have to say my brother who was in veterinary college at the College of Veterinary Medicine was very influential on me, because as I had in my youth, I hung out with my brothers as much as they would let me, with their little brother tagging along. I did the same when he was in vet school. I got to know his classmates. I got to watch how they worked hard, but they played hard and they seemed to really love what they were doing. I think that’s what really got me in. Then at that point, as many people I think experience, you have a lot of mentors along the way, people that encourage you or that are doing something that you say, “Wow, I wish I could do that,” or that looks like something that would make your career very positive and very worthwhile.
I think that as I was accepted to vet school, I also was not dodging the draft, but I was a very low draft number, and I was on my way to Vietnam actually instead of that school, but they called and end to the war about that time and I was very lucky. I’d had my physical, but I did not have to go into the military at that point. Now, all this timing, my brother Ralph had left, and he had taken a military deferment in vet school and now he was in the military fulfilling his obligation. I basically was following in his footsteps, except I did not have that military obligation.
I did have some other influences along the way when I was not in that school yet, but I was at home taking care of the place, I came back from India just a little bit sooner than my parents to help take care of the farm. As I said, it was a small acreage. It wasn’t a huge farm, but we had the horses and things.
I came back a bit early. Something happened that I think was very influential on me, and that was that my brother’s horse had heat stroke and collapsed out in the pasture. I was at home by myself. My parents had not yet arrived back from India. I was there. I had an older couple that were kind of watching over, checking in on me and things, but I was basically by myself, and I didn’t know what to do. I called the vet school and they sent out the ambulatory unit. I was not familiar with any of this. I had not been exposed to that aspect of veterinary medicine. As I said, I just followed my brother around more with his classmates and saw more of the classroom and that type of thing instead of the actual field work.
The ambulatory group came out and was led by a Dr. Gary Brant. They started fluids on the Horse. Long story short, the horse did survive. But really what was impactful to me that showed me the compassionate side and of veterinary medicine that has always meant a lot to me in my career, I was there by myself having to watch an IV drip in this horse overnight, having never done that before, being by myself, as I said. About one o’clock in the morning, Dr. Brant showed up at the barn and just showed up out of the blue to check on me. Not to check on the horse so much, but to check on me to make sure everything was okay. That meant a great deal. It’s those small little things that happened that really do impact you. I saw a side of veterinary medicine that really made me convinced that I wanted to be a veterinarian because it was a compassionate service-oriented profession that was well respected.
Wow, what an incredible story that was, and how he came back after to check on you, what a big impact that made on your life and on you professionally. Tell us what happened after that. I know that you got started as a veterinarian. Eventually you were a faculty member. Tell us about that. How did you transition into a faculty member and then how did you go on to later work for Hills?
Well, I actually went into veterinary medicine thinking I would be a large animal practitioner, but I always tried to keep my thought processes open and be open-minded to opportunities. I guess that’s kind of my nature is to be open to discussions and opportunities. As I got into veterinary medicine, I really struggled the first year with some of the basic biochemistry and things like that. Having a father who was a nutritionist and kind of dreamed about biochemistry, I did not inherit that genetically from him. Consequently, I really struggled the first year and I had to really buckle down, and subsequently, from then on, I did quite well. But as I went through the curriculum and moved from the freshman year into the sophomore year and then we started to get some clinical activity in the junior year, I found that I still loved large animal a great deal.
I had some very good mentors in large animal. One of them happened to be a Dr. Shung Weiss who was a swine practitioner who had come out of practice and come back to K-State to teach. He was very influential. In fact, a classmate and I had an arrangement with two local sail barns where we would buy pigs that were either herniated or litters that had lost the sow. We would get these really cheap pigs once a month and we would go get them in the pickup, bring them back to my father’s place, and then Dr. Shung Weiss would allow us to bring them into the clinic and repair the hernias or treat the abscesses or whatever we needed to do. We got tremendous surgical experience by coming in and doing this, quote, after hours, something that’s probably very difficult to do this day and age. But we got great exposure.
I fell in love with swine practice, thought I’d be a swine practitioner. Then in the senior year got, as I said, a lot of exposure to surgery. I took every chance I had to be involved with C-sections and cattle, that type of thing. In fact, between my junior and senior year, I precepted with a mixed practice. One of the first calls I had to go out on was a fetal anomaly. It was a six-legged, two-headed calf that was a dystocia, a difficult birth, obviously. I had to perform my first field C-section. Of course, I was very excited. I called back to one of my professors who had taught us large animal surgery, Dr. John Dorsey, and I excitedly told him about my first calf being two-headed, six-legged, and I’ve done the C-section just the way he told me and everything had worked out great.
The calf of course did not live. He said, “Well, Dan, that’s great.” He was very supportive. He says, my first C-section in the field was what they call the schistosomus reflexus, that’s a calf that’s kind of when it develops, it develops inside out. Instead of being a closed cavity, the organs are exposed. It was a fetal anomaly. At that point, I felt a real kinship that I had done something in the field that one of my idols in vet school had done as well. That was quite intriguing. I came back to K-State then my senior year thinking I would do large animal practice, primarily swine. But I realized that I fell in love with surgery and I was not getting enough exposure to the small animal surgery. I hadn’t rotated through there.
Or I had rotated through small animals and started to really love the small animal surgery and I had not rotated through the large animal yet. Then internships were supposed to be submitted, your application for internships. That would be for a year after you get out of vet school where you apply to a different program. My brother Ralph had done an internship. I was feeling like I just did not know as much as I needed to know, and I thought an internship would be wonderful. I applied for an internship, but I hadn’t rotated through large animal enough to get enough to get recommendations, so I decided to apply for a small animal internship.
To make a very long story short, I was quite fortunate to have several opportunities of internships and I chose to go to Auburn University. Lo and behold, that’s also where Dr. Walker, who I had met in India and who knew me from India, was a large animal theriogenologist. He would not be directly over me because he was in large animal, but I was accepted for a small animal internship.
I had a wonderful year at Auburn. I got to do a lot of surgeries. They’re very well known for their neurosurgery. I enjoyed radiology and surgery, got to do a lot of it. Then at the end of my internship, I was now thinking, do I really want to go to a mixed practice? I enjoy surgery so much, I would like to keep being able to do that. About that time, the University of Tennessee opened its new vet school. One of my professors from K-State was on the faculty and two of the people from Auburn had gone there on faculty. I got a call and asked if I would apply for the surgery residency. I talked to my wife about that. Lo and behold, we applied, I was accepted. I got the residency to become University of Tennessee’s first surgery resident. We went from Auburn to Knoxville, Tennessee and I started down the path of being a surgeon and focusing. Did my residency at Tennessee as a three-year program. During that time I really found myself enjoying orthopedics. I enjoyed all aspects of it, but orthopedics was quite enjoyable.
Then when I finished my residency, I wanted to stay in the university because there weren’t specialty practices at that time. There weren’t many of them out there. Really the classic path was to go on into a faculty position, which I then applied for several different faculty positions and then was recruited to Purdue University. That’s where we chose to go. The other aspect of that was that my brother Ralph was a faculty member at Purdue in small animal oncology. He and I had a very enjoyable time working together. He in oncology, me in surgery.
I developed a total hip program there, got training from a program at Ohio State that trained in total hips and took that back to Purdue, and started doing a lot of the orthopedics there. That’s where I got board certified in surgery is while I was on faculty at Purdue University. Subsequent to that, they opened a new veterinary college in North Carolina in Raleigh, and several of the people there knew me. I knew about the school and we loved the southeast, and so I went down and applied for that faculty position and became one of the first clinical faculty for the College of Medicine at North Carolina State University. That’s where I established my main academic career at that point.
You talked about getting surgery experience very early in your career. So many veterinarians that I talk with today seem reluctant to do surgery. How important would you say it is for a veterinarian to learn surgery?
It’s always been a challenging question. When I taught orthopedics at North Carolina State, my philosophy was that we needed to teach tissue handling, not specific techniques per se, but tissue handling, and some of the basic techniques like ovarian hysterectomies and neutering and things like that, wound management. But I always felt like during their four-year curriculum, if we could teach them tissue handling and how to recognize different ways to close incisions and that type of thing, that subsequent to graduation, they could go on and either take some courses to do some specific procedures that they might want to do, like some very basic orthopedics, or they could go on like I did and go down a specialization path and do an internship in a residency and become board certified in either surgery, or oncology, medicine, ophthalmology, whatever.
But I think that it was important that students got to do surgery. We did have students that did not want to do surgery, and that was about the era when animal activism, animal welfare issues began to be predominant in veterinary medicine, and we’d have students that did not want to do surgery. We established several models to allow them to practice surgery, but ultimately they’re going to have to do live animal surgery.
The models have become better and better, I think under supervision. Of course they’re working on client animals, that type of thing. But I think it’s important that students take every opportunity they can to work on their manual dexterity and their skills because it comes in handy whether they ever do surgery again. They may actually suture a wound, they have to give injections, they have to find vessels, they might have emergencies. Those are all important things. Surgery is important and I feel fortunate that I was able to get to do so much when I was in school.
Well, you were in academia and then you eventually went on to Hills. How did you make that transition from academia to industry?
That was a major life change for me. I’ve said this to many students that the veterinary degree gives you more opportunity than any other degree that I know of. Second to that, I think it’s important to look at opportunities, keep your mind open to different opportunities, and to step out of your comfort zone, to grow not just your career, but to grow as a person. When I was at North Carolina State, I thought we would stay there pretty much forever. But during this time, my wife unfortunately developed a spinal cord tumor and had surgery. She was fortunate to be able to ultimately walk after that. We had tremendous support from my colleagues at the university. But I had aging parents, she had aging parents back in Kansas. We did not have family close to us in North Carolina, so we ultimately started thinking about the fact that we may moved back home.
But what really stimulated was a couple of faculty members, my old department chair, Steve Crane, and one of my good friends who was in physiology, Mike Hand, the nutritionist at the vet school at North Carolina State, had come back to join Mark Morris Jr. With Mark Morris Associates. Mark Morris Jr. And his father Mark Morris Senior, the ones that started Hills Pet Nutrition, Mark Morris Senior studying the prescription diet line, Mark Morris Jr. ultimately starting the science diet line. They asked me to come back to consult regarding orthopedics, growth, that type of thing, hip dysplasia, which was in my area of research, was hip replacement. I came back, but lo and behold, they were actually looking to try to recruit me back to help Mark Morris Associates taught nutrition globally as well as did research for Hills Pet Nutrition as their research arm.
Again, another long story short, Kathy and I talked it over. The timing was right. She had health issues. Our families were in Manhattan. I mean, our parents, they were needing some assistance on occasion, so we ultimately came back to Manhattan to join Mark Morris Associates. Mark Morris Associates, Mark retired sometime after that and we became part of Hill’s Pet Nutrition as their research arm. That’s what started my career in industry. I had spent about 15 years in academia and now I have moved into industry, which as we joked, was going to the dark side. But I found it to be exceptionally gratifying because while in academia you have a lot of freedom and people don’t quote tell you what to do, you’re able to make your own way. In industry, you have the opportunity to do a lot of things if you can convince others of its value. You don’t have the protection of tenure or anything like that. You have to be successful.
But the sky’s the limit if you are so motivated. I found Hills to be an extremely veterinary-oriented company, obviously. The fact my colleagues that were there were tremendous people that I enjoyed working with. And we taught at all the veterinary colleges in the US, as well as many, many colleges in Europe, and all of the veterinary schools in Japan. The international flavor came back out to me because I’d lived overseas and I loved living overseas in India when I was there. This was another opportunity to travel. That’s how I went from academia to then my, quote, second career was to industry.
Wow. What was that transition like for you? You mentioned going from the dark side, but it was very gratifying. Was there any difficulty in making that transition for you? What was that experience like?
Yes, I think it was challenging because of the mindset. In veterinary medicine, you don’t get a lot of business training. They’ve improved on that a great deal, but you don’t get a lot of business training. That was one of the weaknesses, I’d say, of all of the veterinarians that worked within Hills that did not have any kind of business background. We had to learn more about doing things that would be valued, not just road dollars, but valued and beneficial to the business. That was a bit of a mindset change. Working with researchers around the world, you had to convey that issue within the confines of the university system because they wanted the publish and everything else, of course. I found it to be a unique challenge to go from academia, where you basically could do some basically what you wanted, to industry where you had accountability to your leadership, to the Stockholders. Hills is a subsidiary of Colgate Palm-Olive That was the biggest challenge was getting that mindset.
Now, I had a wonderful mentor in Dr. [inaudible 00:32:18] when I was in veterinary medicine. He was my advisor in my residency. But was as a very close friend and helped me through many, many issues, helped guide me, got me prepared for boards and everything. But when I went to industry, I also had Dr. Mike Hand who was a good friend at North Carolina State, but he became more of a mentor because he became the vice president of Research for Hills. I was working under him, and he was just tremendous at sharing with me the ups and downs, the pros and cons, the what works what doesn’t work, aspects of industry. He made a tremendous transition from academia to industry, was highly respected within the industry as well as in academia. He has a long career in both. I credit him for helping me find my way through and be successful in the industry. I think it’s important to have somebody that can help guide you and answer questions and listen to you and tell you honestly when they need to help you become successful.
How did you go from Hills to starting the Olathe KSU campus and did you do anything in between?
Well, like I said, I was with Hills for 17 years and had a very, very productive career there, a very successful and rewarding career. My wife had had a second surgery for her spinal cord tumor and subsequently did not walk after that. As we approached our, not retirement age exactly, but getting up there and thinking about things, I realized how much she had really sacrificed for my career. I felt like it was time for me to slow down focus a little more on things that would keep me at home and available to help her as she needed help.
At that point in time, I decided that it was appropriate to go ahead and retire from Hills and just see what would come next. Mark Morris told me when he hired me, he says, “You’ll never retire. You’ll just move to another position”. He says, “We just don’t retire. People like us don’t retire. We always look for other challenges.” He was right. I started talking about retiring. I talked to my brother Ralph about it. Well, he subsequently was in the discussions at K-State with the president of the university about the fact that they had been given land and opportunity in Olathe, Kansas, which it’s a suburb more or less of Kansas City. It’s near Kansas City, almost contiguous with it. They were going to develop another campus there. They were looking for somebody that had academic and industry experience.
Ralph mentioned this. That turned into a recruitment, that they came and talked to us. Kathy and I talked it over and we decided that being K-State alums, that this was something that might be fun to do. We didn’t know exactly what we were getting into. But we accepted the opportunity to help guide, I said we’d give about five years to help develop the campus down there. It was going to be a graduate campus focused on animal health and food safety. They needed somebody that could not only help build the campus, get it developed, but also to develop programs working with the university. That’s how we went from Hills thinking retirement, to retirement for maybe a day, and then into working with K-State to build that campus. Which we had a very good run. We were able to get financial support through working with the Kansas University Med School and one of their campuses down there. We worked together to get a tax pass that produced relatively good income on a yearly basis that allowed us to get the financing just to build the initial campus down there.
I’m actually on the advisory board for [inaudible 00:37:15] Kansas for KSU.
That’s right. That’s right. You probably know even more about it now than I do since I’ve been gone from there for a while.
Well, thank you for all the work that you did to get that started. You’ve seen a lot of things in the veterinary profession over the years. How have you seen the veterinary profession change over the years since you’ve been involved?
Probably the biggest changes, the gender change. We had, I believe, seven women in our class and 90 men. That has evolved to where there are actually programs that have a hundred percent women in the class. This is very analogous to what I have seen happen in the pharmaceutical, pharmacy field. You see more and more women that are pharmacists now. When I was growing up, it was always a man that was at the pharmacy, not a woman behind the counter. I had a good fortune at North Carolina state of being on the Pew Foundation Committee for the University along with representatives from Georgia and Tennessee. I was exposed to a lot of those changes that had occurred that the Pew Foundation had kind of followed and supported in the pharmaceutical realm. Now they were looking at veterinary medicine and how it was going to change. I got a lot of exposure to how that occurred. I see that it rapidly occurred in veterinary medicine.
One thing is I think the gender shift, what I learned, too, was that it also changed that work from dust till dawn and on and on without taking a break. That’s what the male-dominated profession was doing. What we started seeing was then more and more women teaming up to work together in practices, realizing and recognizing the need for their own personal time or their time for family support and that type of thing, things that kind of the old fashioned male approach of going out and being the breadwinner and leaving the woman at home was rapidly going out of the picture, and rightfully so. We saw, just in the pharmacy field, I think that we saw an improvement in veterinary medicine when people started realizing that there is life outside of the clinic.
But I think we’ve recruited people for vet school with that mindset. I think that’s the other area that has changed. Just like in human medicine, it’s not just the smartest person that you want to be in your curriculum. You want people with compassion, people with diverse skillsets, backgrounds, and ideas, because the profession needs to evolve, and if you have the same nail and keep hitting it with the same hammer, it’s never going to change and you’re never going to see it evolve. I think we’ve seen veterinary medicine evolve and it’s been a very positive evolution.
I think that we’re going to see it move even further now, not just in gender and in practice management, but we’re going to see it change in the career opportunities, because I think we have downplayed educating our students and taking students that have career opportunities or career ideas other than practice. Practice is extremely honorable. Academia is extremely honorable. Working for industry is very honorable. But there’s going to be new areas. As we look more and more at One Health, we have to have veterinary medicine hand in glove with human medicine because we bring so much to the table. There are pockets that do so well, but the general population is not as aware. I think the future of veterinary medicine is to start to see the general population understand how important One Health is.
What does your crystal ball say about the future of the veterinary profession?
I see I only have one area that really bothers me and worries me, and that that’s the fact that veterinarians have become such a high percentage of suicides, death by suicide. It’s very personal to me. I lost a son due to suicide when he was a senior in high school, probably the most life-altering experience an individual could ever have. I know that suicide is not something that is easily studied because successful victims are difficult to study, and if they don’t succeed, they may fall in the category of crying out for help or whatever, but we still have an antiquated thought process by the general population that suicide is a choice.
There’s a huge biochemical aspect of it we don’t understand. I hope that somehow we can get at that in veterinary medicine, because we have to do some things to change to make it easier for people to get through, if there is a biochemical underlying issue, that they can get through that and get it corrected and get help, get relief, whatever it is, so that they can see the joyful aspects or the fun or the gratifying aspects of the profession in whatever they’re doing and not the pain that drives them and that hurts them every day. I think that’s probably one of the biggest areas that I see we have to get help. That’s where the One Health Initiative could actually come back in that way as well.
But overall, I see veterinarians being more and more involved publicly at the highest levels, as we deal with pandemics, as we deal with zoonotic diseases, as we deal with global issues, I see veterinarians being more and more involved, and more and more involved in processes, and what do I want to say, legislative action, that type of thing. I think there’s going to be a lot of aspects that veterinarians will branch out into it. It is a tree. There’s a trunk. It’s our basic training that there are branches and there are so many branches that they can take off on. I see faculty are going to have to be in that area too. We’re very specialized. In human medicine, they’re so specialized that you really don’t even get looked at as a whole body. Veterinarians still, I feel, look at the whole body, even the specialists. They don’t just look at the cruciate ligament or something like that, they look at the entire animal. I think that we have to be a good example for human medicine too as we move forward.
You brought some very good points there. Well, I’d love for you to share with our listeners about the things that you’re up to today.
Well, like I said, I really have devoted my life now to giving my wife all the support that she needs, which she deserves more than anything. I stay close to home. But one of the outcomes of the pandemic has been the use of Zoom. That has made it quite easy for me to be able to work with people around the world, literally, in somewhat a consulting role. I don’t advocate being a consultant. I’m more or less take the advice of one of my mentors. When you retire, you have a choice to do what you’re passionate about. You don’t have to do things, you should choose what you’re passionate about. I have been very selective and I’ve worked on several efforts with different entrepreneurs to help them because I felt like their ideas were great and that they were needing support. I gave all I could give, what they could use they could take, and what they didn’t leave on the table.
But right now, my main focus is working with the city of Topeka. We have an advisory board developing an innovation center for Topeka to help integrate it into the animal health corridor, and be a valued resource, a one-stop shop, if you will, to help entrepreneurs in the animal health industry develop their ideas, even existing industry to come into the area to take advantage of all the resources. That’s my main focus right now is working to develop the innovation center with Topeka.
Well, I look forward to learning more about that as you continue to do that good work. Well, I’m very interested to hear what message or principle do you wish that you could teach everyone listening today?
Well, I would say the basic principle to me is being compassionate and giving people the benefit of the doubt when you’re working with them. I think it’s so important that we don’t prejudge based on any narrative that you want to throw into that. But I think that you have to be compassionate and you can’t prejudge. You need people to have the opportunity, if they fail, some of them need to be helped back up, others need to be told that that’s not successful, you need to do something else. But that’s really what I’d like to see, people show a bit more compassion and less quick judgment.
Such good advice. I’m also wondering, do you have a favorite book that you have read along the way or a book that you would recommend to our listeners today?
I actually have one that I just finished, that I love the garden. I hated it when I was a kid and had the garden with my parents. But I love the garden and I grow a lot of tomatoes. I just finished a book called The $64 Tomato by William Alexander. It has nothing to do with veterinary medicine but it has everything to do with meeting adversity and dealing with it. It’s a great short read. It’s about an individual who many of us can relate to. He saw the need and desire to have a beautiful garden and orchard, something that I work on every day here. But he met with the deer, the groundhogs, the aphid, the bugs, everything else. It’s how he kind of overcomes that. But then at the end, he does a computation of the value of one tomato after all he spent, and it was $64. It’s just kind of a funny statement.
The other one though, that’s the closer to my heart, is one that I’m actually not finished with yet but I am in the midst of is the Empire of the Scalpel. It’s a history of surgery. It’s by Ira Rutkow. It’s an eyeopener, because surgeons tend to be egotistical. It’ll drop you back down to your roots when you realize where surgery started. It was not necessarily a high-ranking profession when it began. It has evolved a long way in different cultures. But it’s a good read and it’s very well written, a lot of detail. But if you are interested in surgery, it’s a neat book.
Well, you’ve got the mic, Dan. What is one thing that you want to share with our listeners of the People of Animal Health podcast before you drop the mic today?
I guess I’d say I’ve often heard people say in my vintage, I would never advise anybody going to the veterinary medicine. I’m just the opposite. I think veterinary medicine is one of the greatest professions anybody could even ever consider. It’s a great profession with unlimited potential. What I would advise people to do is step out of your comfort zones. Look at opportunities. Don’t be afraid to fail, because failure is not really what happens when you step out of your comfort zone. You may not succeed like you had thought you would, and you have to do a course correction. But my advice is, if you have an interest in veterinary medicine, and I mean research all the opportunities. It’s not just practices, not just specialty practices, not just academia. It’s not just industry. There’s all kinds of opportunities that you can go down the path, get into veterinary medicine all the way through.
Don’t stay locked in. Keep your mind open, because as opportunities arise, it pays to try. In my career, I tell students I never would’ve predicted my career the way it turned out, ever. It has evolved. It’s evolved because one, I took that risk. I think having lived overseas and traveling a lot in some really unique places allowed me to be brave enough to step out. Then I would say I had a family, my wife, who has been tremendously supportive and of like mindset. Step out of the comfort zone. Try it. That’s what I would say.
Well, keep an open mind, step out of your comfort zone, and try it. Very good words of wisdom, Dan. I really enjoyed our conversation today. Thank you so much for taking the time to be here and share your story.
Well, thanks for having me, Stacy. It’s a pleasure talking with you.