Dr. Barbara Dallap Schaer, the new Medical Director of New Bolton Center, brings the art of multi-tasking to a new level. For her, managing many challenges simultaneously, and successfully, is a signature characteristic.
A board-certified surgeon, specializing in colic, a board-certified emergency and critical care clinician, drawn to the most-difficult cases, and a professor, sought-after as a mentor, Dallap Schaer has devoted her entire veterinary career to New Bolton Center.
Outside the hospital, she helps to manage a 25-acre family farm with her husband and New Bolton Center colleague, Dr. Thomas Schaer, and their two young daughters.
“Barb has always had a lot on her plate, but she always manages to handle each item with success and grace,” said Dr. Corinne Sweeney, Associate Dean of New Bolton Center.
Sweeney stepped down from her role managing the day-to-day operations of the hospital in October, handing the reins to Dallap Schaer.
“I am so very pleased to know that the hospital is under her watch,” Sweeney continued. “It is comforting to know that the hospital and all its components have her oversight.”
In her new position as Medical Director, Dallap Schaer oversees all medical aspects of patient care, as well as customer satisfaction, risk management, insurance, and communication. She will collaborate with a yet-to-be-hired hospital administrator, on the management of the financial side of the hospital.
Dallap Schaer said she has targeted several aspects of the hospital’s operations for continued improvement. “I will admit that, just like solving a really difficult clinical problem, I am challenged and fascinated by solving the problems we face right now,” she said.
“We need to grow the business at New Bolton Center so that the hospital thrives, but also support teaching and research,” she said. “We’re a vital part of the vet school and we need to continue to try to do things better. We are extremely fortunate in that we have absolutely amazing individuals at every level of the hospital. Our employees have some really excellent ideas.”
With her ever-present stethoscope in place, Dallap Schaer fielded several calls, and spoke with each colleague who stopped by with a question or comment, during the interview in her New Bolton Center office. The room features six shelves of books, ranging from Veterinary Encyclopedia, to Equine Surgery and Emergency and Critical Care, to Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book. Also on her desk, a Best Educator Award, drawings by her girls, and a heartfelt thank-you card from a client.
“I always have a lot going on, but I just keep reminding myself we will get there,” she said.
Western Pennsylvania Roots
Working hard has been Dallap Schaer’s hallmark since she was a young girl, growing up in Hermitage, PA, working on her grandparents’ small farm, helping to care for the animals and the land. She juggled extra jobs in horse barns and vet practices, all while competing in gymnastics, playing the saxophone in the marching band, and singing in musicals at Hickory High School, where she received top grades.
“I always loved horses. I desperately wanted a horse. I rode anything and anywhere people would allow me,” she said, initially teaching herself to ride Western in a competitive Quarter Horse show barn. But her parents didn’t know much about horses. Her dad was a high school history teacher and guidance counselor and her mother a high school physical education teacher and coach.
“As long as I can remember, I wanted to be a veterinarian,” she said. “I was always interested in science. Veterinary medicine was a great mix of animals and science.”
Penn State was her choice for undergraduate school, majoring in animal bioscience and minoring in microbiology. She participated in a course on how to break and train young horses. “Some of those lessons have served me well from both a horse and human behavior perspective,” she said. “You have to positively reinforce at the right time.”
But as much as she loved horses, she also was drawn to livestock. All four years at Penn State she worked in the mastitis research center and milked cows at 3 in the morning.
Pursuing large animal medicine at Penn Vet was always her goal. In the summer during her undergraduate years, she lived and worked at a large Standardbred farm as a veterinary assistant, and subsequently worked their yearling sales throughout vet school. She also worked in the animal care department of Bristol-Myers Squibb to gain research experience.
A Penn Vet Education and Career
As a first-year student at Penn Vet, she started working in the orthopedic research lab for surgeons Drs. David Nunamaker and Dean Richardson, a job she continued every summer during vet school. She participated in a variety of studies aimed at decreasing injury in the racehorse, from disease in the third carpel bone, C3, in the knee of the horse, to preventing bucked shins.
As it came time to consider internships, Richardson suggested she visit Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. Following a six-week externship, she was accepted for a year-long internship there upon graduation. She returned to Penn Vet for a surgery residency, and continued research in the Comparative Orthopedic Research Laboratory.
Although fascinated by orthopedic research, she was drawn to emergency medicine in the clinic, and worked as a Staff Veterinarian in the Emergency Service following her residency. Using her surgical experience, Dallap Schaer developed a passion for colic surgery, a critical treatment of a life-threatening condition in horses. She also started research on blood coagulation and monitoring of the critically ill equine patient.
“I really like emergency/critical care, because there is always a surprise,” she said. “There are many opportunities to learn something new.”
She went on to complete a fellowship (analogous to a second residency) in emergency and critical care, under the mentorship of Dr. Lesley King, Director of the Intensive Care Unit at Penn Vet’s Ryan Hospital, and, Dr. Pam Wilkins, then Section Chief of Anesthesia, Emergency, and Critical Care at New Bolton Center.
During her fellowship, she had the opportunity to train under some of the top clinicians in equine critical care, including Drs. Fairfield Bain and Doug Byars of Hagyard Medicine Institute, and New Bolton Center's Dr. Jonathan Palmer. Typical for Dallap Schaer, she tailored the fellowship to focus on large animal critical care, since a formal program did not exist at that time.
Dallap Schaer was certified by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS) in 1998, and the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care (ACVECC) in 2003.
Penn Vet Faculty
Joining the Penn Vet faculty in 2001 as Assistant Professor, she became Chief of the Emergency Service in 2003. She was the emergency clinician who admitted the famous racehorse, Barbaro, to New Bolton Center after his breakdown at the Preakness Stakes in 2006.
Dallap Schaer became an Associate Professor in 2010, and about that time also became the coordinator of New Bolton Center’s one-year internship program.
Dr. Ray Sweeney, New Bolton Center Chief of Internal Medicine, said she is a role model for the interns, students, and residents. “She shows how you can be excellent, skilled, and intelligent, and still treat people well, and have respect for people no matter their job in the hierarchy,” he said. “She also shows how to balance life and work.”
And her life at home is as busy as her life at work. She and Dr. Tom Schaer, Director of New Bolton Center’s Comparative Orthopedic Research Lab, were married in 2003 in St. Moritz, as he is from Switzerland. They live with daughters Julia and Alessandra in Landenberg, PA, in a stone farmhouse dating to 1763, with 25 acres for their 100 East Friesian/Lacaune-crossdairy sheep, 40 Rhode Island Red chickens, and 30 honeybee hives.
They make Alpine-style raw-milk aged sheep cheese and bottle honey to sell to local restaurants and markets, along with eggs and grass-fed lamb. “I love to cook,” she said, “and Tom learned how to make cheese in the Alps when he was young.”
Even with so much to manage, Dallap Schaer agreed in 2012 to take on the role of Assistant Director of Client Services, a precursor to the Medical Director position she holds today, spearheading a Service Excellence initiative.
Dr. Ray Sweeney is her partner on the Service Excellence committee. “She’s devoted to New Bolton Center and making it the best it can be,” he said.
“She’s worked really hard at consensus building,” he continued. “Not just directing, but getting the stakeholders together and helping reach a consensus, and then taking the bull by the horns to implement the plan.”
Richardson – who has known Dallap Schaer as a student, resident, researcher, and clinician – noted her central role in the biosecurity cleanup after the salmonella infection at New Bolton Center in 2004.
“I can guarantee that the hospital closure would have been far more disastrous if Dr. Dallap had not been here to apply science, common sense, and hard work to the problem,” Richardson said. “She has always manifested the same combination of fabulous dedication, intellect, and work ethic to be successful in all of her endeavors.”
Although her career has been focused on caring for animals, working well with her colleagues, as she did during that crisis, has been a critical component of her success.
“I like finding ways to encourage people to work as a team,” she said. “We have a lot of people with a lot of value. I’d like to find a way to play them all to their strengths.”
Dr. Corinne Sweeney continues to provide Dallap Schaer support as she takes on her new role. “There is no playbook,” she said. “Like many leadership roles, it helps to have innate intelligence, but equally important is emotional intelligence – and Barb has both.”
Dallap Schaer adds that she profoundly appreciates Dr. Corinne Sweeney’s help and guidance.
“I am very lucky in my career so far to have found some incredible mentors,” she said. “Although I love being a veterinarian, it is the people who keep me enthusiastic about my job every day.”