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New Bolton Center Kennett Square, PA
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Ryan Hospital Philadelphia, PA

The Definition of a "Real" Vet

By: Meghana Pendurthi, V'17 Date: Aug 1, 2015

When I tell my friends and family members what I would like to do when I graduate from Penn Vet, oftentimes I am met with the question, “Don’t you want to be a real vet?” What they are unaware of is that there are many veterinarians working within the public sector to protect animal and human health on the state, federal, and international playing fields.

Our clinical approach to problem solving, command of disease development and dynamics, and ability to visualize the many moving parts of the bigger picture, make veterinarians a huge asset to our government. It is for these reasons that veterinarians can be found in every department, from the more blatantly relevant USDA to the less obvious Department of Defense. The applications for veterinary medicine are boundless, and that idea excites me.

The Smith-Kilborne Program, hosted by USDA-APHIS, invites one student from every U.S. veterinary school to attend a one-week training on the major foreign animal diseases that threaten the domestic animal population. As an SK participant, I began my week in Washington, D.C and Riverdale, MD where I attended daily tutorials at the USDA headquarters.

Meghana Perduthi with friends at USDA headquarters


I was continuously impressed and humbled by the opportunity to meet with the enthusiastic leaders of our profession. They made such a commitment to teach our classes amidst the eruption of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza. This real-life foreign animal disease outbreak nearly threatened to cancel our program, but ended up serving as a real life example of what one does as a veterinarian in the public sector. We played out case scenarios in which we had to conduct epidemiological surveys and contact farmers regarding the outbreak- an exercise that not only tuned us into the idea of ‘how to stop the spread’, but also how to speak with the relevant interest groups to encourage a system of trust and respect.

The second half of the program was like taking part in a real-life science fiction movie. From D.C. we ventured northward to Connecticut, and it was from here that we would travel to the infamous Plum Island Animal Disease Center.

Meghana Pendurthi-PIADC


The island itself has an aura of mystique about it. Given the nature of the work conducted at the PIADC, entrance to the island is controlled and movement about it is restricted. The procedures for entering and exiting the infected animal containment areas were quite daunting for us visitors, but it was incredible to see intensive biosecurity measures in action – and for a very good reason!

The diseases studied at the PIADC have the potential to cause serious damage to American agriculture. It is estimated that if Foot and Mouth Disease were to be introduced to the U.S. it could have an astonishing economic impact of $60 billion.

Being acutely aware of this fact while examining the characteristics lesions on pigs and cattle was simultaneously terrifying, exciting, and humbling. It was in these moments, while standing in my Tyvek suit surrounded by my cohort of passionate, globally minded veterinary students, that I truly understood why I want to be a veterinarian and what a difference my veterinary degree can mean not only to myself but to my community.

I am so grateful for the unique learning opportunities awarded to me by Penn Vet and the Smith-Kilborne Program. It may have only been a week of my life, but the experiences I had and the people I met have so profoundly inspired me to continue on my path to the public sector. I hope that all students can benefit from programs like Smith-Kilborne, if only to become familiar with the many ways in which we can all ‘be real vets.’

About Penn Vet

Ranked among the top ten veterinary schools worldwide, the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet) is a global leader in veterinary education, research, and clinical care. Founded in 1884, Penn Vet is the first veterinary school developed in association with a medical school. The school is a proud member of the One Health initiative, linking human, animal, and environmental health.

Penn Vet serves a diverse population of animals at its two campuses, which include extensive diagnostic and research laboratories. Ryan Hospital in Philadelphia provides care for dogs, cats, and other domestic/companion animals, handling more than 34,600 patient visits a year. New Bolton Center, Penn Vet’s large-animal hospital on nearly 700 acres in rural Kennett Square, PA, cares for horses and livestock/farm animals. The hospital handles more than 6,200 patient visits a year, while our Field Services have gone out on more than 5,500 farm service calls, treating some 18,700 patients at local farms. In addition, New Bolton Center’s campus includes a swine center, working dairy, and poultry unit that provide valuable research for the agriculture industry.