Navigating a diverse career
The future is rife with new veterinary exploration. Dr. Lonnie King is a believer and a pioneer.
The latest report from the National Research Council offers a compass to emerging career choices for veterinarians. King tells DVM Newsmagazine that with a diverse education, omnifarious opportunities will emerge outside of the traditional realm of private practice.
It might include government, industry, public health and epidemiology. In small animal medicine, the currents remain strong for specialization. In food animal practice, multiple changes occurring in agriculture signal needs for changing the veterinary educational framework. Agriculture has been segmented into large, complex production operations, smaller herds (on the decline) and hobby farms all with different veterinary needs."Putting out more large animal veterinarians is not the answer; it is much more complicated than that."
The issue is complicated further considering the background of most veterinary students, King says.
"They are getting introduced to veterinary medicine from Animal Planet or a school visit from their small animal practitioner." And while King says that's not bad, educators must offer a variety of options along the way. "We can actually shift people to new areas of focus and work."
Another reality, King says is that young veterinarians probably will not work for 30 years in one practice or job. "They are going for bursts of activities. They may be in and out of the workplace more often."
When it comes to building a career diverse in experiences, King is living proof.
Since earning his veterinary degree from The Ohio State University (OSU), King has navigated a storied and diverse career, meandering from a seven-year affiliation in private practice to a series of posts within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, culminating with the top job at the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). King led a legion of 7,000 at APHIS and later left for the halls of academia at MSU. His current year-long stint with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was made possible through the Intergovernmental Personnel Act, which allows for special assignments while still maintaining connection to his home institution. In 2004, King was selected into the prestigious Institute of Medicine. But the source of greatest career pride stems from a more modest time.
"A long time ago with a staff of about three people in APHIS, we were able to start a very small program. It started with a small idea."
The idea grew into the National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS), which is now one of the largest animal health/disease tracking programs in USDA's Veterinary Services.
"It is one of the things I have enjoyed the most, seeing this program expand and flourish, and it was started by just a handful of people."
Growing up in Wooster, Ohio, Nelson King, his father, remains his greatest mentor as veterinarian and researcher. His father worked at an agricultural research outpost for OSU. "I used to joke with people that I thought all cows had holes in their sides and all rabbits were white," he says. "My father was a wonderful mentor. He was never forceful; he certainly was instrumental in my understanding that and the roles veterinarians could play."