Entering a new era


Philadelphia — Dr. Joan Hendricks likens her trip toward the University of Pennsylvania's veterinary school deanship to an "emotional roller coaster."

PHILADELPHIA — Dr. Joan Hendricks likens her trip toward the University of Pennsylvania's veterinary school deanship to an "emotional roller coaster."

Yet vying with 66 nominees for the prestigious title and aspiring to become one of the nation's few female deans failed to throw the critical care specialist for a loop. Instead, a year's worth of uncertainty amid interviews rattled the 53-year-old Hendricks, affording time to cement her deep desire for the leadership seat.

"In the absence of information, you really feel helpless," Hendricks says. "I was up and down. I started to really realize how much I would like this position and what a loss I would feel if I couldn't do it."

On Jan. 1, Hendricks officially assumes the role from longtime dean Dr. Alan Kelly, aligning herself with Western University's Dr. Shirley Johnston and University of Georgia's Dr. Sheila Allen — the only women in history to head the nation's 28 accredited veterinary institutions. It's a distinction Hendricks takes in stride, shying away from her place among the profession's female pioneers. Still, the wife, mother and critical care expert considers the distinction a "great honor" symbolic of needed changes in a profession led mostly by men but boasting a new generation composed almost entirely of women.

"If this profession isn't led by women, it's not going to be led by veterinarians," Hendricks says in an interview with DVM Newsmagazine. "We need to stop being bashful and step up and take leadership positions."

Radical changes

It's clear the dynamic of 80-percent female graduating classes versus chiefly male heads in academia and organized veterinary medicine isn't lost on Hendricks. Thirty years after graduating from Penn's Veterinary School, a lot has changed, she says, recalling also her experiences as a Yale University undergraduate. At age 18, Hendricks entered the Ivy League institution a member of the university's second coed class where she immediately encountered male authority and gender bias.

"I put myself in that position deliberately," she says. "I wanted to get to a place where they thought I shouldn't be. In rooms full of leaders, that's still the case in veterinary medicine. People don't give up power very easily."

At the top

Given her accomplishments, Hendricks clearly earned her seat. An academic by nature, she graduated with biology and psychology degrees from Yale before earning her VMD and PhD from Penn in 1979 and 1980, respectively.

After completing her residency and post-doctoral fellowship at Penn, she joined the veterinary school faculty. Noted accomplishments of her 20-year teaching career include the establishment of the Center for Critical Care within the university's veterinary teaching hospital. Hendricks is the Henry and Corinne R. Bower Professor of Small Animal Medicine and critical care section chief in the Department of Clinical Studies. Penn leaders recognize her for building the veterinary school's clinical research capabilities and founding the Veterinary Clinical Research Center.

Challenges, endeavors

These aren't projects Hendricks expects to leave behind, noting that she's scheduled for rounds on Jan. 2, during holiday break. But she does have grand plans for Penn's future that include recruitment in areas of public health, agriculture, global infectious disease and biomedical research.

And while Penn's in-state tuition of $27,472 ranks as one of the profession's highest, Hendricks describes such costs as a huge burden for incoming veterinarians. She points to loan-forgiveness programs as a means for getting graduates out of debt and into underserved areas in need of expertise from veterinary medicine.

Relationships matter

Those experts, likely female, will be expected to juggle private and family life while broadening the public's perception of veterinary medicine. So it seems natural that when asked to give advice to up-and-coming women in the profession, Hendricks steers off academia's course and points to her personal connections.

"I'm most grateful for the sense I'm appreciated and supported within my family," she says. "If you don't have a rounded life, you don't have the opportunity to grasp new things. When you're able to be happy in your relationships, you can do anything from there."

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