PennVet | Looking Back, Looking Ahead
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Ryan Hospital Philadelphia, PA

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Published: Mar 22, 2018

Dean Joan Hendricks sat down with longtime colleague Dr. Phillip Scott to reminisce about four decades at Penn Vet.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 years?

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 don’t move!

SCOTT: That’s the real answer (laughing).

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 other schools. 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 Penn Vet.

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 story.

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.)

Dean Joan Hendricks sat down with longtime colleague Dr. Phillip Scott to reminisce about four decades at Penn Vet.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 small animals.

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.


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!