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Penn Vet: Not just for cats and dogs

Penn Vet

When you mention veterinary medicine, many folks tend to think immediately of the doctor who takes care of Fido or Fluffy. But to the medical professionals who work in the field, a vet is someone with a wealth of knowledge about the health of many species, including our own.

The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine has a history of equipping graduates for careers in biomedical research, human medicine and public health. We sat down with Dean Joan Hendricks recently to learn more about Penn Vet and the entire field of veterinary medicine.

A 20-year faculty member and graduate of the school, Dr. Hendricks became dean in 2006. Her commitment and dedication to the field and her immense pride in the institution and her colleagues become obvious very quickly.

Founded in 1884, Penn Vet boasts 6,000 graduates, 440 of whom have gone on to complete a unique combined-degree graduate program that culminates in earning a VMD and PhD degree.

There are only 28 veterinary schools in the U.S. in 26 states.


“Each of those states provides its own supports,” Dr. Hendricks says. “In Pennsylvania, since agriculture is our number-one industry, it’s a tremendous advantage to have a home-grown system.”

Veterinarians constitute “the profession that stands between all of humanity and plague and famine,” she says, ensuring the health of food animals. Vets are known to do everything from testing the water on farms, to checking the efficiency of milking machines, to ensuring the safety of eggs and poultry. As the movement to “eat local” continues to grow, it becomes even more important that Pennsylvania train and retain the best-trained vets in the country, she says.

Animal and human health is more intertwined than many realize. Many diseases, including Bird Flu, Swine Flu and AIDS, originated with animals. Understanding these diseases in animals helps doctors and veterinarians prevent, treat and cure conditions that can affect humans.

Conversely, animals are affected by many of the same diseases as humans, including cancer. Last year, a Penn Vet faculty member, Dr. Ralph Brinster, became the first veterinarian ever to be awarded the National Medal of Science, due in large part to research that has had direct benefit to human health.

Dr. Hendricks has a repertoire of stories that illustrate Penn Vet’s success with leading-edge technology and treatment.  There is the case of Neville Bardos, a horse with Olympic aspirations whose recovery after being trapped in barn fire is simply remarkable. And Basil, a German shepherd that was born with a defect that made it impossible for him to eat, but through the pioneering use of minimally invasive surgery has made a nearly miraculous recovery.

From the care of pets to agricultural work to clinical research, Penn Vet provides indispensible education and services to Pennsylvanians, whether they walk on four legs or two.


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Calvin James

I have been thinking a lot about veterinary school. It looks like University of Pennsylvania has a great pr gram! What should I do now to prepare myself? I am graduating high school this coming spring.


Are there some pet hospitals that just treat dogs? I think my dog needs to see a more professional place for her health. We just couldn't find anything wrong with her at the other vet.

Lynn Chase

My daughter really wants a horse for her birthday. Although this is a big gift, I'm more concerned on how we are to take care of it and if we take it to a regular veterinarian. If we do get one for her, I want to take good care of it and make sure it's a great pet for us. Do you have any suggestions for a first time horse owner?

Rosie Sharpe

I didn't know that veterinarians are educated in the human body, as well as animals. It makes sense now that I think about it. After all, diseases can spread from animals to humans. Thanks for sharing!

Rosie |

Animal General Vet

I am so glad that I found this blog. I have been trying to find some information about veterinarians. What traits do you think makes a great veterinarian?

Charles Brawnyson

I've always been amazed at the vast variety of animals vets are capable of attending to. The only animal I've ever taken to a vet was a dog, but I've seen other people bring in anything from lizards and snakes to pigs and horses. I even saw someone bring in a baby alligator once!

Kat Brennan

I have a really small cat and she needs surgery but a lot of regular animal hospitals (at least the ones near me) don't do work on small animals. Luckily I think I found a place that will be able to help her!

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Everything is very open with a really clear description of the issues. It was really informative. Your site is very helpful. Thanks for sharing!

Jak Manson

When you are looking for someone to take care of you pets you want to make sure that they know what they are doing. You want to know that you can trust them and they will take care of them very well. Making sure that you know that they will be safe and sound.

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I appreciate the post! I've been looking for some insight on finding a quality veterinarian in Barrie, but don't know what to look for. As I've looked around though, I have found this and to be the most helpful. Thanks for sharing!

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Everything is very open with a precise explanation of the issues. It was truly informative. Your site is extremely helpful. Thank you for sharing!

Kat Brennan

Veterinarians are really very smart. They do have to go to medical school, so they not only know about animal medical things but humans as well. I visited an animal hospital in Scottsdale one time for school and it amazes me how knowledgeable the Vets and their assistants are.

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Ronja Virtanen

It is a good thing to see a vet like that.In Finland there are many veterinarian that only specializing dog decease and cat and you can only count those veterinarian who are giving care not only for dog but for all the species.

Charles Wilson

I did not know that a vet is not just someone with a wealth of knowledge about the health of many species but also our own.


Quite a noble profession which requires compassion to weak and defenseless creatures. The kind of job one can't practise without loving it.

Manu Ahola

Veterinarian are really for all animals,as a pet i always going to vet when my doing is not feeling good,in Finland there is some veterinarian that really heal a dog or any animal is a short period of time and it was really amazing.


Understanding these illnesses in creatures helps physicians and vets prevent, treat and treat conditions that can impact people.

Deb Macchi

I live in Sarasota, Florida and I am having a tough time finding a good, honest vet. Where can I find out if there are any Penn-educated vets in my area? I worked with the vet school at Penn for 5 years, and my husband trained at Penn. Maybe I am biased, but anyone from Penn is good for me!

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