Doctor of veterinary medicine candidate April Gardner smiled when she recounted the story: “I was honestly very surprised when they told me, ‘You’re outstanding! I was like, ‘Wow, okay!’”

Although being named the recipient of the Outstanding Graduating Student Award from Virginia Tech’s Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine might have been unexpected, Gardner, by all accounts, genuinely earned the award.

“April has held many leadership positions within the student community, which has facilitated the development of skills necessary to lead health care teams,” said Jacquelyn Pelzer, director of admissions and student services, who nominated Gardner for the recognition.

“As a student in the college’s dual D.V.M/Master of Public Health program, April is trained in both veterinary medicine and public health,” Pelzer noted. “Her educational background will guide her to make informed decisions within a time of crisis and prepare her for future infectious disease outbreaks.”

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Growing up in Fairfax, Virginia, Gardner knew she wanted to be a veterinarian. While studying biology at St. John's University in Queens, New York, she worked part-time teaching middle school students about animal husbandry to keep her connection to the animal world.

When it came time to choose a veterinary school, Gardner said that she was drawn to VMCVM in part because of its tracking curriculum. After completing their first year, students at the veterinary college can opt to pursue one of five tracks — small animal, equine, food animal, mixed species, or public/corporate — to deepen their studies and better prepare for the workforce.

While Gardner admits that her heart belongs to small animal medicine, she chose the mixed species track because of its flexibility, allowing her to finish the M.P.H. this past December.

“With the importance of veterinarians in the public health discussion, it’s always been in the back of my mind to sometime down the road work in veterinary public health,” Gardner said. “My focus in the M.P.H. program was infectious disease. It’s estimated that 50 percent of emerging diseases are zoonotic diseases, so there’s definitely a relationship among animals, humans, and public health. We can’t consider human health without bringing animals into the conversation.”

Fittingly, Gardner’s perspective reflects the college’s dynamic One Health approach, which aims to protect and improve the interdependent health of people, animals, and the environment at home and around the world.

“Our success in responding to future disease outbreaks,” Pelzer said, “will rely on individuals like April, who are passionate about keeping the human population safe and healthy.”

Gardner’s wide-ranging involvement in the college’s extracurricular organizations similarly revealed her community-focused mindset.

As president of the Companion Animals Club, which explores aspects of veterinary medicine unique to small animal care, she helped arrange for such activities as wet labs and guest lectures on specialized topics, ensuring additional learning opportunities for the students.

Other skills were learned by way of the Veterinarian Business Management Association (VBMA), one of her favorite pursuits in veterinary school, Gardner said. The VBMA was a vehicle to acquire business skills critical to thriving in a profession that often demands more than vast medical knowledge.

“I hope that through my involvement in these clubs, I was able to provide useful, real-world services and advice to my classmates,” said Gardner, who aspires to own a veterinary practice herself someday.

Beyond her coursework and club affiliations, Gardner said that her clinical rotations in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital introduced her to many different specializations and approaches to veterinary medicine.

“The best part of practicing at the vet school is that it’s a huge referral center, and there are all of these genius people walking around. It’s surprising to some people how much like a human hospital this is,” she said. “It’s really cool to see how far you can go with diagnostics and treatment for patients.”

Dual degrees in hand, Gardner will be moving to Seattle to work at a small animal clinic. “I like the human-animal bond,” she said. “I like the fact that dogs are becoming more like children in many households.”

— Written by Sarah Boudreau, a student in the M.F.A. program in creative writing