In advance of her 2018 retirement, Dean Joan Hendricks sat down with
longtime colleague Dr. Phillip Scott to reminisce about four decades at
Penn Vet, the biggest changes she’s witnessed in veterinary medicine,
and her vision for the future of the field. Scott serves as Penn Vet’s
Vice Dean for Research and Academic Resources; like Hendricks, he is a
distinguished researcher and a devoted educator. His work is focused
on understanding the immunologic responses that promote protection
and pathology in cutaneous leishmaniasis, with the goal of developing
a leishmanial vaccine and effective immunotherapies for patients.
Following their inspiring conversation are a few fun facts you probably
never knew about Dean Hendricks.
DR. PHILLIP SCOTT: I appreciate
having the opportunity to ask you a
few questions about Penn Vet and your
experiences. So, let’s get started! You
earned your VMD-PhD at Penn Vet in
1980. You were a resident, a longtime
faculty member, chief of critical care,
and ultimately the Dean here. Why did
you choose to stay at Penn Vet for 44
DEAN JOAN HENDRICKS:
I usually have a two-part answer. One
is that Penn has been an infinitely
varied place to work. It’s a complex
institution and incredibly collaborative.
Not only are people happy when you
reach out to them, but also I’ve never
heard anybody say, “We don’t do
that.” What they may say is, “That’s
interesting. How are you going to do
that?” The other part of the answer is
that I married a Philadelphian, and they
SCOTT: That’s the real answer
HENDRICKS: Both of those things
have worked out. I’ve actually had one
employer and one husband for 44 years.
SCOTT: Congratulations! So, given
all the time you’ve been here, what are
some of the biggest changes you’ve seen
over that period and particularly over
your last 12 years as Dean?
HENDRICKS: People grasp that
veterinarians care about animals, and
that they take care of animal health …
and I think the public is becoming
more aware of the impact that we
have on human health and on the
environment. People are realizing the
broad impact that veterinarians are
having. At Penn, we have so many
opportunities to demonstrate that impact
to the world. We have the health
schools, we have engineering, we have
good environmental folks—all really
collaborative people. It surprises people
that veterinarians have such a broad
reach, and yet I think we’ve gotten
clearer and clearer that we need to do
just that. I’ve worked really hard at
that, as Dean. People will still tell you
a story about a cute dog, but they are
now also saying, “Hey, we are working
on a project involving clean water or
women’s health, and we realize we
need veterinarians involved.” That’s
awesome. That makes me really proud.
SCOTT: What do you consider the
key differentiators between Penn Vet
and other vet schools?
HENDRICKS: It’s really important
that we are an urban veterinary
school, and we are the only vet school
that’s in a major metropolitan area.
That provides the opportunity to
truly connect to underserved human
populations and have a really big
impact on their animals. Also, one of
the other Deans [at Penn] noticed that
every single school can walk to the
President’s office. We don’t know that
there’s another major national research
university where that is a fact. So again,
it’s incredibly collaborative and we have
the opportunity to connect to all these
The other thing that’s in our DNA is
everybody is aspirational. We should be
doing something completely amazing
and different. I really like that about
SCOTT: Obviously one of the things
I’m interested in is research at Penn
Vet. Why has elevating and expanding
research at Penn Vet been so important
to you as Dean?
HENDRICKS: We have three
missions: education, research, and
clinical care and service. I think research
is one of the loftiest endeavors humans
can get engaged in. And veterinarians
don’t always realize that’s what they
are doing. I’m really passionate about
making sure everybody knows they are
always doing research. Any time you
are creating and learning something
new, and changing things because of it,
you’re doing research.
The other element is that I don’t think
the general public knows how much
research makes a difference in their
lives, and I think veterinarians can be
some of the best people to tell that
We have dogs that are alive today
because Dr. Nicola Mason [Associate
Professor of Medicine and Pathobiology
at Penn Vet] used an immunotherapy
approach to their cancers. They are
running around and having good lives
two or three years after they would
have ordinarily passed away from their
disease … because of the work she did
in a laboratory with Dr. Carl June,
to bring basic immunology into the
treatment of cancer. (Read more about
Dr. Mason’s work here.)
Also, [Penn Vet Professor of Medical
Genetics and Ophthalmology] Dr. Gus
Aguirre’s work has led to not only
identifying genes that have mutations in
children and dogs, but also to actually
being able to treat blindness. People
wouldn’t have even thought about the
impact that understanding genes and
the eye would have, and now there are
people and dogs that can see because of
this work. That’s amazing! (Read more
about Dr. Aguirre’s work here.)
SCOTT: What are some of the biggest
changes or major advances in clinical
care that you’ve seen over the period of
time you’ve been at Penn Vet?
HENDRICKS: There are a lot of
amazing transformations in the way we
take care of our dog and cat patients,
and also big changes in equine care.
In dogs and cats, our ability to learn
and apply really advanced surgical
techniques has improved. We are
ever-increasingly doing treatments for
our pet patients that cause them less
pain, such as smaller incisions. We’ve
gone to minimally invasive surgery
and doing things with interventional
radiography. Our anesthesia is superb.
When I was being trained, we had
specialties in medicine, surgery, and
neurology. We’ve added specialties
including dentistry, clinical care, and
sports medicine … and this is just the
In horses, because of some incredibly
creative people, we’ve been able
to figure out how to do anesthetic
recovery in a swimming pool. This
actually was in place when I came to
Penn Vet years ago, but it’s now in
routine use. The ability to allow horses
to be generally anesthetized and then
recover safely has transformed our
ability to treat bone injuries.
The highest-tech approaches are really
beneficial in horses because they are
huge animals. Where we’re on the
absolute cutting edge for any species
is rapid imaging with robots … so
we can now take images of horses in
motion that could never have been
done before. We have human hospitals
coming to us and asking if they can
work with us, because they can see
how what we’re doing in horses can be
helpful in children and human patients.
And we are willing to work with them
and train them so that happens.
SCOTT: So, I have just one last
question, and this is kind of an openended
question. I wanted to look
forward a little bit and ask you how you
see Penn Vet’s future and, maybe even
more broadly, how you see the future
of veterinary medicine.
HENDRICKS: One of the areas
where the School was leading when
I arrived was a really exciting new
curriculum with a lot of flexibility.
We were the first to have a core and
elective curriculum. I think we’re
poised to transform veterinary education
again. We have so much knowledge
coming at us in biomedical science
that we need to have a completely
new way to learn. And we’re in the
process of looking at every aspect of our
curriculum, and looking at all the new
tools for how to teach.
We have also been focusing on how
we can take advantage of opportunities
to bring Penn Vet’s special knowledge
to the rest of the schools at Penn. We
have our terrific flagship VMD-PhD
program. And if our students are able
to complete the veterinary curriculum
in a shorter amount of time, they could
do a master’s in public health, or a
master’s in business administration, or a
master’s in health law. The One Health
concept really will benefit tremendously
by having veterinarians who also
explicitly have a credential in something
that people recognize as benefiting
humans. So, I think we’re going to lead
the way in really demonstrating that
veterinarians are always One Health.
Ten Fun Facts about Dean Joan Hendricks
1. WHERE DID YOU GROW UP?
I was born in Santa Barbara. Dad was a career Army Signal Corps officer, and I
moved 12 times before college.
2. FAVORITE CLASS AS A STUDENT AT PENN VET?
I really loved anatomy. I love drawing and understanding how things are put
together. I eventually came to enjoy all clinics and especially the problem-solving
aspect, which is why I am an internal medicine specialist.
3. FAVORITE HOBBY?
Singing and playing music. I play piano and a couple of wind instruments. I’m not
very active at the moment; this is something I hope to renew soon! My oldest
grandchild plays violin, and we could do piano and violin or flute and violin duets if
she is willing.
4. WHERE DO YOU TYPICALLY UNWIND WHEN YOU’RE NOT AT PENN VET?
Anywhere outside, including my building’s rooftop; Fairmount Park; and of course
Maine, where we will retire. I also love the Sierra Nevadas, where my mom lives.
5. GO-TO FOODS?
Nutritious: probably beef. Non-nutritious: definitely chocolate, especially Devon
fudge the way Dr. Corinne Sweeney makes it.
6. FAVORITE PHILADELPHIA SPORTS TEAM?
Phillies. No contest.
7. INFLUENTIAL BOOK?
I haven’t read it since high school, but All the King’s Men changed my life.
8. HIDDEN TALENT?
I can do an impressive impersonation of a dog vomiting versus regurgitating, and
a cat vomiting versus coughing. In all humility, Dr. Meryl Littman’s versions don’t
hold a candle to mine, and I am willing to go head to head with her at a future
student talent show to prove it!
9. FUN FACT ABOUT FRUIT FLIES, BESIDES THEIR SLEEP HABITS?
They interact like other animals; for instance, females kick males who are annoying
them, and they groom like cats. (See page 30 for the story about Dean Hendricks’
work with Drosophila.)
10. WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO IN YOUR NEXT CHAPTER?
Quiet, because obviously you don’t get much in a city. No traffic. And, of course,
more grandmother, mother, and overall family time. My husband and I love to
talk and walk. I am not committing to anything serious right now. I will see what I
want to do, if anything!