Greetings from UFCVM! I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce myself to those of you who don’t know me, and to reconnect with those of you who do. But first, I need to address the timing of this issue, and the very real situation that confronts all of us right now with the coronavirus pandemic.
At the time the pandemic hit, in mid-March, this issue of Florida Veterinarian was in production. We were able to get it printed and mailed to those of you on our mailing list, but printed fewer copies this year for internal distribution, as by then the hospital was offering curbside service for emergent and critical care cases, many employees were working remotely, and there were fewer events on the horizon at which we might normally have magazines on hand. For that reason, some of you will be reading this issue for the first time online. I do hope you enjoy it.
All of us at the college and the UF Veterinary Hospitals have been working night and day to ensure the safety and well-being of our hard-working faculty, staff and students, whose lives have been disrupted in major ways. The Herculean efforts being put forth to meet our students’ needs, as well as to help each other, our UF Health colleagues and the animals who continue to come to us for care, do not lend themselves to a sentence, or a paragraph. These efforts are nothing short of amazing, and make me proud every day to be a part of the UFCVM family. We will have more to share in the future, and I encourage you to keep an eye on our website, vetmed.ufl.edu, for updates.
Recently, I was appointed interim dean of the college – a new role for me, but in an environment I am very familiar with and have deep ties to. Many of you may know me best through my previous roles as associate dean for clinical services for the past five years, and before that, as chief of staff of the UF Veterinary Hospitals, a position I was appointed to as part of an administrative restructuring when our award-winning, $58 million Small Animal Hospital opened its doors in 2010.
However, my relationship with the college actually goes back to 1986, when as an undergraduate student and animal sciences major at UF, I volunteered at the Equine Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, commonly known as the foal unit, at the UF Large Animal Hospital. This was a few years after the unit opened in 1982, becoming the first of its kind in the nation and offering unprecedented levels of care for some of our most sensitive and complicated equine cases.
I’d always wanted to be an equine veterinarian, and well before I even entered veterinary school at UF, that volunteer experience allowed me to learn from some of the best clinicians out there, including then-director of the ENICU, Dr. Anne Koterba, and others I was able to interact with. The foal unit was founded through collaborations between UF equine veterinarians and pediatric specialists from UF Health, then known as Shands Hospital, so I was living with the concept of “translational medicine” before the term became ubiquitous in academic veterinary medical circles. This experience as a young student enabled me to gain an appreciation of the power of shared knowledge through the synergy of teaching and learning, which has stayed with me ever since.
Fast-forwarding a few years, I was admitted to the UFCVM and graduated from the college in 1995. From there I went on to perform an internship in equine field services at North Carolina State University, where I subsequently completed a residency in large animal internal medicine and equine practice. I worked in private practice for a time in Ocala, Florida, then returned to academia at the University of Georgia, where I taught for two years before coming to the UF faculty in 2002 as an assistant professor of equine extension, then moving into the large animal medicine service and into administrative roles.
As the college’s lead hospital administrator, I saw our clinical enterprise grow and thrive. Our commitment to patient-centered care has led us to national recognition. We gained accreditation through the American Animal Hospital Association in 2015, and are now a Level 1-certified facility as designated by the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society. Our caseload has doubled since we opened the doors of the new hospital in 2010, and our Ocala emergency clinic, UF Pet Emergency Treatment Services, opened in 2012 and is now a Level 3-certified facility. As a function of our growth, we opened a new primary care and dentistry facility adjacent to the main hospital in 2019, enhancing our teaching capabilities.
I’m so proud of all we accomplished in the patient-care component of our four-fold mission of teaching, research, patient care and extension, and am confident our successes will only continue under the leadership of Dr. Chris Sanchez, who I have appointed interim associate dean for clinical services.
As I look forward to the future, it’s been important for me to reflect on how I arrived at this point, and what I might be able to contribute. Although I’d once dreamed of a career in equine practice, the recurring appeal of academic veterinary medicine and its capacity for changemaking – by influencing the minds and hearts of tomorrow’s veterinarians, our students – became a passion of mine early on, and has remained a driving force throughout my professional career. I’m sure that passion will continue to be fueled by the advances I see around me every day here at the college.
Our outstanding programs and talented faculty, staff and students are an inspiration, and I am excited about this opportunity I have been given to use my background and experience to make a difference in college life, and in the national conversation about the profession of veterinary medicine.
What will the future hold for us here at UFCVM? All of us involved in academic leadership are dealing with unprecedented challenges relating to the pandemic. It is difficult to project what the coming week will hold, much less the coming months and years. But what I am confident in is the college’s greatest strength: Its people. We are all in this together, and remain committed to continue to deliver the highest quality of teaching and learning possible to our students, even though much of our program will be delivered virtually, until it is deemed safe to do otherwise. We also remain committed to continue providing the best care possible to our animal patients in our hospitals— because it’s who we are, and what we do.
I’d like to thank everyone who has reached out to me to offer support and encouragement as I transition into my new role. I’d especially like to thank Dr. Tom Vickroy, who served as acting dean following the retirement of Dr. Jim Lloyd last spring, for his always-available ear and wise counsel. I promise to do my very best to lead the college, to be transparent, and to continue sparking the flame of teaching and learning, however I can.
Dana Zimmel, D.V.M.
Professor and Interim Dean