Five decades of alumnae memories

Cindy Bossart, V'78 small-animal practitioner, Fort Lauderdale

A turning point in Bossart’s life happened on a freezing day in vet school, three inches of snow falling, on a large-animal rotation. “I was doing rectals on cows, and that’s how I was keeping warm. After I had my arm up a cow for 10 minutes, the farmer asked how her ovaries felt. I said I didn’t know yet, I needed to be in there another 10 minutes. I wished I had two arms up two cows, it was that cold. That’s when I decided I needed to live in permanently warm weather.”

Another pivotal experience came in the original program of aquatic veterinary medicine in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. After a mother shark died, Bossart delivered the babies, raising them in a tank and teaching them how to feed. “Sharks are precocious when born,” she says. “When I released them into the ocean, they swam around my feet for two seconds, then swam away. No loyalty there! Those sharks taught me to be interested in reproduction.”

The woman who answers the phone “Dr. Cindy” runs a five-woman doctor practice in a 6,000-square-foot facility with two surgical suites, laser equipment, endoscopy and ultrasound. There’s an on-site frozen semen lab and a whelping room plus a separate isolation building. She runs a clinic for collie breeders. She’s been with the practice since 1978, owned it since 1988. 

The practice of veterinary medicine used to be harder for women, says Bossart, “So women should go for it.” Practicing what she preaches, she has housed two girls, now young women, who want to grow up to attend veterinary school, in University City. One, now a college junior, has lived with Bossart every summer since age 14. “Veterinary medicine is fun, interesting, challenging and always changing. If people understood that, they’d get better at it every day.”

Catherine Carnevale, V’72, Director, Office of International and Constituent Operations, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, Food and Drug Administration, Washington

Carnevale chose Penn. “Had I gone elsewhere, I would have been the sole woman,” she says. “The University of Georgia annually admitted 10 students from Maryland, so I expected to go there.” 

During her interview at Georgia, eight men sat at a table, asking questions as perverse as whether she thought she could put her arm in a cow without standing on a chair. They asked how the gaits of horses differ and how they feel to the rider. They asked how many books she’d read in the past year, and she guessed 30. “They asked me to name the last two books, which were dime-store novels. Then on the spot, they asked me to compare them to the classics. I never thought I had a chance, so I relaxed a bit.”

Joan C. Hendricks, V.M.D., Ph.D., Dipl. A.C.V.I.M., V ’79. Henry and Corinne R. Bower Professor of Small Animal Medicine and Section Chief, Critical Care, Veterinary Hospital, University of Pennsylvania

During vet school, sometimes Hendricks read about animals, sometimes she examined them and sometimes she sang about them. “Dr. Peter Hand used to do a skit and play guitar and sing about anatomy,” she remembers. “He punned and sang ‘Thank God, I’m a neuro-anatomist,’ a la John Denver. I was fascinated that a professor came to that level of communicating with students. I loved being part of that. Vet school was the most amazing group I’ve ever been part of. Vet school graduation was the only graduation I felt I belonged at.”

Hendricks was an early participant and the first woman in the NIH-funded V.M.D./Ph.D. veterinary scientist program. Later she was instrumental in establishing the Center for Veterinary Critical Care at VHUP, bringing Emergency Service, Intensive Care Unit and Anesthesia under one umbrella. She is a full professor and the first woman at the School to be named to an endowed professorship. 

“Once upon a time,” says Hendricks, “critical care wasn’t a specialty. If emergencies came in at night, staff tried to keep the animal alive until the daytime people came in. But times were changing. I was working with Dr. Ken Drobatz, then a resident, now head of the emergency service, on a dog with a septic abdomen. Everyone came together. We worked for weeks on this young, healthy lab; we tried all kinds of new medicines and treatments. Once we determined the dog had swallowed a deli toothpick, we surgically removed it. It was the first time we realized we could all work together and make a difference. The day she went home with her big tail wagging was an absolutely glorious day.”

Fruit flies are Hendricks’ current love. “They’re fabulous. They are inexpensive and plentiful. Emotional attachment is rare, though possible,” she teases. “My assistant named some. I was doing a sabbatical to study genetics, and I thought it would be fabulous to learn scientifically if fruit flies have a state like sleep. To summarize two years of work: they do. There are hundreds of mutations, and some of the same genes alter sleep in both flies and mammals.” Earlier Hendricks studied sleep in bulldogs, which are “adorable, expensive and sickly,” so she switched from four legs to six. “I have more pet bulldogs than pet flies.”

Grace Karreman, Class of 1982. Owner, Pacific Marine Veterinary Services, Nanaimo, British Columbia

A woman interested in aquaculture should use a veterinary education as an entrée, says Karreman. “You could be a nutritionist, fish biologist or cattle farmer and go into fish farming, but veterinary training is second to none. Vets are taught to solve problems, and this is a new field with new problems.” As for the reality of aquaculture: “It’s a man’s world, so you should be yourself. Have confidence. Be patient and be gracious. At all times, maintain a sense of humor.” (Even in this man’s world, the majority of veterinarians – six out of 11 – in aquaculture in British Columbia are women.)

A sense of humor? Grace Karreman? Just ask about the time she skidded off the frosty dock of a marine net-pen site into 45-degree water. “You have to be prepared to be wet and cold if you work in aquaculture on the north end of Vancouver Island.”

When dry, Karreman consults with fish-farm companies – hatcheries, marine net-pen sites and processing plants – making routine preventive visits and handling outbreaks or problems. “You have to be extremely aware of environmental issues – not just environmentalists’ issues – but water-quality issues, too, such as the chemistry of the water, the bacteria content, how diseases are passed in the water and so on. And wild fish.” Special projects can be as esoteric as hatcheries where fish may get nitrogen supersaturation; or gas-bubble disease, similar to the bends in divers; or the lack of quality of fish in processing plants, which may be due to disease, nutrition or handling. 

On the 93-percent-mountainous Vancouver Island, most of Karreman’s clients, are located in fjords, with access only by boat or float-plane, her common commuting modes. British Columbia has 20,000 miles of coast line. “That’s more coast than Norway. We have more potential and warmer water, so fish can grow faster than in Norway, but we’re way behind Norway in fish farming.” This from a woman who sailed the east coast of Vancouver Island with her sheep dog, Molly, as first mate and sous chef. 

Karreman has helped develop software to manage fish-health information plus Web-based databases. Because the farming sites are so far apart, the only efficient way for these far-flung scientists and farmers to communicate is via the Internet, she says. The Web database has three primary stakeholders: private farms; the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which cares for wild fish and salmon that return to saltwater; and the B.C. Ministry of Fisheries, which has fish-culture facilities that raise trout to be released into lakes. “Now that we all talk the same language,” Karreman says, “and we’ve made this major effort across the province, it gives me a high to get the cooperation to pull this together.”

This article appeared in an annual report of the Veterinary School of the University of Pennsylvania.