Veterinary medicine is like a cow. While this comparison may seem strange to some, it is precisely the image Dr. Jennifer Hodgson of Blacksburg, Va., an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech, encouraged her audience to envision when she became the first woman in the 98-year history of the University of Sydney's Faculty of Veterinary Science to deliver the commencement address during December graduation ceremonies in Sydney, Australia.

The college’s dean and faculty executive—the equivalent of a college’s administrative board in the United States—selects candidates for the honor, she said. Hodgson was chosen prior to her departure for her new job in Blacksburg in July.

“I was honored to have been chosen to address my colleagues and so many of my former students,” said Hodgson. “It allowed me to close a very important circle.”

Hodgson was introduced to the crowd of over 600 by Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir, chancellor of the University of Sydney and governor of the state of New South Wales.

During her address, Hodgson related three short stories from her past experiences and gave the graduates three pieces of advice based on these anecdotes.

First, she told of the moment she decided on a career in academia rather than general practice; [it was] after she dove into a river to catch an escaped patient. She told the students to recognize important turning points in their careers and to seize the opportunities these turning points offered.

Second, she recalled the specific pieces of advice she had given students during her lectures on veterinary microbiology. She asked the students to reflect on their entire time in veterinary school including the good friends they had made, the gifted professors they had studied under, and the world-class institution from which they had graduated.

Finally, she impressed upon them the important role they will play in the future and sustainability of veterinary medicine. She did this by asking the new doctors to view their chosen career as being similar to a cow. Each generation of veterinary students acts as new nourishment for their profession much like a meal of grass is for a cow, she said. She likened the university to the rumen, where the grass is fermented into useable metabolites. The metabolites are then absorbed by the cow and provide nutrients to make the cow flourish. Without the continuing energy derived from these young veterinarians to uphold the integrity and well-being of the profession, the cow will cease to thrive, she said.

In addition, she asked the graduates to recognize that the entire cow required sustenance, in much the same way as the entire profession must be maintained by graduates entering a variety of fields such as veterinary practice, public health, government service, and academia. She stressed that if the graduates provided this energy, enthusiasm, and dedication to the entire profession then it will prosper and provide key services for the whole of society. It is a well-suited metaphor for the vital cycle of the veterinary profession, she added.

Hodgson received her bachelor of veterinary science degree from the University of Sydney and her doctorate from Washington State University. She is a diplomate in the American College of Veterinary Microbiology and a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Prior to joining Virginia Tech in 2006, she was the associate dean of learning and teaching in the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Veterinary Science.

The Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine (VMRCVM) is a two-state, three-campus professional school operated by the land-grant universities of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg and the University of Maryland at College Park. Its flagship facilities, based at Virginia Tech, include the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, which treats more than 40,000 animals annually. Other campuses include the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, Va., and the Avrum Gudelsky Veterinary Center at College Park, home of the Center for Government and Corporate Veterinary Medicine. The VMRCVM annually enrolls approximately 500 Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and graduate students, is a leading biomedical and clinical research center, and provides professional continuing education services for veterinarians practicing throughout the two states. Virginia Tech, the most comprehensive university in Virginia, is dedicated to quality, innovation, and results to the commonwealth, the nation, and the world.

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