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An Interview with... Dr. Jane Armstrong
Veterinarians must get involved in government, says this professor and researcher. "Without our frontline involvement in everything from public health to animal welfare policies, others will make decisions on issues that veterinarians are most qualified to decide."
P. Jane Armstrong, DVM, MS, MBA, DACVIM, is a professor of internal medicine and clinical nutrition at the University of Minnesota's College of Veterinary Medicine and is currently helping to investigate the mode of inheritance of idiopathic epilepsy in several dog breeds. She is the president-elect of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Small Animal Internal Medicine specialty.
What is the most exciting change you've seen in veterinary medicine?
The emergence of specialization and board certification. The large number of women entering the profession has also been notable.
Who was your most memorable patient?
A dog that was presented to Michigan State University as an emergency when I was a resident. The dog had an esophageal foreign body, a bone, which we removed endoscopically. Once the bone was removed, the dog immediately developed pneumomediastinum, and we realized that its esophagus had been perforated. The dog arrested on the table but was successfully resuscitated. The dog lived, despite developing a mediastinal infection, only to be abandoned at the clinic by its owner. But the story has a happy ending: The dog was adopted once it recovered.
Who inspired you most in your career?
As an intern at the University of Illinois, I was extremely fortunate to work with enthusiastic, young doctors in many disciplines, some of whom had just taken their specialty board certification exams. In particular, I was inspired by Dr. Stephen DiBartola's dedication, problem-solving skills, and encyclopedic memory. He was instrumental in my decision to specialize in internal medicine.
What was the best professional advice you ever received?
When I graduated from veterinary college, my father, a civil engineer, gave me a letter that I have kept to this day. In it, he advised me to think big and follow my dreams. He also revealed that he had always wished he had become a veterinarian.
What would you advise a new graduate?
The veterinary profession is broad, so don't narrow your career focus too early, and stay open-minded about redirecting that focus throughout your career. The profession is changing rapidly and so are clients' expectations. Adapt to these changes, look for new opportunities, and continually reinvent yourself in your chosen career. Remember that your family, community, and nonprofessional activities are also important, so develop a healthy work-life balance as early as possible. Also, have fun!
What would you have liked to do if you hadn't become a veterinarian?
I would have been torn between human medicine, because of a love for clinical problem solving, and a career focused on animal ecology—I have always greatly admired Jane Goodall and her work.
Are you a cat person or a dog person?
As pets, I like both dogs and cats. As patients, I enjoy the temperament of cats and the medical challenges of feline medicine.
What part of your work do you enjoy most?
The diversity of activities that my academic position permits and the interaction with clients, students, and colleagues. I am constantly reminded of what intelligent, motivated, caring, and genuinely nice people veterinarians are.
What do you consider the greatest threat to the profession?
An under-representation of veterinarians in leadership roles in all levels of government. Without our frontline involvement in everything from public health to animal welfare policies, others will make decisions on issues that veterinarians are most qualified to decide.
Which animal health needs are currently unmet?
While some animals in North America and other parts of the world receive excellent husbandry and veterinary care, others do not. I would like to see the basic healthcare needs of all animals around the world more uniformly met.
What changes in veterinary medicine do you hope will occur in the next 100 years?
A reduction in the prevalence of infectious diseases, cancer, and genetic diseases, both in people and animals. I also hope that whole-animal research and drug testing ends as advances in research techniques provide other options. And I hope that the supply of pets balances with the demand, so that we no longer have a pet overpopulation problem.
What is your sci-fi prediction for veterinary medicine?
An animal protein will be produced in vitro, allowing us to eat meat without the ethical conflicts posed by the animal production industry.