For David Wong, the move to the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine will be a homecoming of sorts.

Back in 2000, the Michigan veterinarian joined the college’s Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences to complete a three-year residency and earn a master of veterinary science in 2003. Upon graduation, he was hired as an assistant professor of equine medicine and section chief of equine medicine and field services at Iowa State University, achieving the rank of professor in 2015.

This time around, as the newly named department head for large animal clinical sciences at Virginia Tech, Wong — a Diplomate of both the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care — will assume responsibilities of a considerably different stripe.

Heading up a large animal clinical department wasn’t exactly the future Wong envisioned when he was a resident, much less a student in veterinary school at Michigan State University. He hadn’t, in fact, anticipated a career in academe at all, until he found himself attracted to the far-reaching opportunities available in a university setting.

“I thought that a university faculty position had more variability, like teaching students, which is something I really enjoy,” Wong said of his decision to join Iowa State University. “Students have their own stories, and each student provides a constant source of questions and interactions, so it’s fun to get to know them, see where they want to go, and try to help them get there.”

Along with delivering top-notch equine care, lifting the careers of both his students and his colleagues at Iowa State has been a recurring theme throughout Wong’s career. Over the years, he has gotten his hands dirty in a range of roles, serving as an equine medicine researcher; an instructor and lecturer in the D.V.M. curriculum and clinical rotations; a faculty mentor; and a member, chair, and advisor for numerous departmental committees.

And as if conventional academic work weren’t enough to keep him busy, Wong also embraced leadership roles at Iowa State’s Lloyd Veterinary Medical Center — the state’s only equine referral hospital — as service leader of equine medicine and field services, as well as interim assistant hospital director and chair of the service leaders committee for a two-year period.

“The hospital director job is definitely a big one,” Wong said. “You have to manage the hospital operations, deal with client service and communication, make sure you’re meeting animals’ and clients’ needs, and work through staffing obstacles. There are so many aspects involved in running a veterinary hospital — everything from making sure the toilet paper is filled to managing a huge budget for hospital expenses.”

Wong said the experience provided invaluable lessons and honed his leadership skills, which demand the patience to navigate an environment saturated with diverse ideas and personalities.

“When you work in one section, like equine medicine, you work with six to eight people,” Wong said, “but when you work in a larger administrative role, you interact with such a diverse group of people that you learn to embrace the wide-ranging opinions. You learn to appreciate the diversity of ideas.”

Although he’s no stranger to Virginia Tech’s veterinary college — including his service over the past couple of years as a visiting specialist in both internal medicine and emergency and critical care at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, Virginia — Wong admitted that he’s waiting to sink into his new administrative role before drawing up plans for the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences. Regardless of the inherent intricacies, his mission is clear-cut: to provide excellent veterinary care and exceptional veterinary student education and to engage in research that will help advance veterinary medicine.

“A large part of our job is to serve the community and to serve others,” he said, “so I see the department chair as somebody who’s serving the faculty within the department to facilitate an environment where individuals can prosper in their careers. If we can align our faculty members’ individual career goals, giving them opportunities to succeed and grow further, and meet the college’s goals, we can create an engaging and successful climate in Vet Med.”

The college’s interim dean, Gregory B. Daniel, believes that Wong’s experience and expertise as a large animal internist and as an emergency medicine and critical care specialist will provide the solid foundation necessary for successfully leading the department and, in turn, developing its teaching and service missions.

“Dr. Wong is widely known for his research and scholarship in neonatal foal care, and he will play an important role as the college continues to grow its research enterprise. We are excited to have him join our leadership team,” Daniel said. “We also thank Kevin Pelzer for his leadership as interim department head, as well as the search committee and members of large animal clinical sciences for their time and effort.”

As with most homecomings, Wong said that his return to the area serves as a point of nostalgia as much for his family as for his career.

“Two of our three kids were born in Blacksburg, with the oldest beginning her studies at Virginia Tech as a freshman this year,” Wong said. “You always have a sweet spot for your alma mater, and so that part played into our family’s return — wanting to come back to one of the places you started and to give back to the college, serving it in a different capacity this time.”

— Written by Leslie Jernegan (MFA ’19)

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