The Gentle Doctor Is In
ISU’s veterinary teaching hospitals receive a $120 million makeover
Story by Jim Duncan, photography by Paul Gates
After four decades in the academic wilderness, The Gentle Doctor has returned to his hospital. During his wanderings, Christian Petersen’s statue became an icon of veterinary medicine, much like blindfolded Lady Justice is of the law. Like all prodigal sons, he discovered that much had changed while he was away.
Petersen’s famous terra-cotta work was created by the sculptor-in-residence on the Iowa State University campus in the late 1930s — some say in commemoration of Charles H. Stange, then dean of the Veterinary College.
For nearly four decades it stood outdoors on the north end of campus. After passersby had worn down the nose of the puppy in the doctor’s arms, a bronze replica took its place. The original entered protective custody in the Scheman Building at the Iowa State Center.
Last summer The Gentle Doctor moved back to his spiritual home when the Dr. W. Eugene and Linda Lloyd Veterinary Medical Center (Lloyd VMC) opened its new Small Animal & Exotics Hospital.
That completed the penultimate phase of a six-year, $120 million renovation and expansion that has already changed both the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine and the way that Iowans look at the veterinarian profession.
Owners of patients are greeted by bright, new reception areas, waiting rooms, exam rooms, in-patient wards, surgical rooms (with windows), intensive care units, and offices.
“The old building was constructed to withstand tornadoes. It’s mostly cinder blocks with almost no windows,” explains Lloyd VMC Executive Director Dr. Rod Bagley. “Now the light shines in through all this glass. That’s inspiring to all of us.”
It’s certainly inspiring to visitors. The Gentle Doctor greets patients behind floor-to-ceiling windows. Waiting areas are divided by species so that sick dogs need not be stressed out by sick cats and exotic pets, and vice versa.
Children have their own separate waiting area for a similar reason. Reduced waiting time — thanks to an increase in exam rooms from 9 to 22 — helps, too. Mirrors are placed outside each room so that doctors can make sure they look gentle and reassuring before meeting with animals and their owners.
Site improvements that accompany the new facilities — new access roads, parking lots, gates, and ramps — have attracted new clients.
“We’re seeing a lot of equine patients now from Minnesota. They say it’s easier to drive farther because access is better here. That matters if you’re hauling horse trailers. We even get horses from as far away as Florida,” says Bagley.
More than anything else, the hospitals represent the face of the college to most Iowans. They’ve also been historically helpful in supporting the facilities, which for years operated self-sufficiently, with fees, donations, and tuition paying for all salaries, research, and overhead.
Today other aspects of the college better represent the future, if not the present. The college’s national rank in research funding has increased from 22nd to 9th in the last five years.
“IT [information technology] is the present and the reason we needed the upgrades,” explains Bagley.
The new complex accommodates the latest advances in radiology and tomography, as well as physical therapy and surgery. The college’s research services have attracted one of the largest concentrations of animal health institutions in the country.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Animal Disease Center, the National Veterinary Services Laboratories, and the Center for Veterinary Biologics are all located in Ames.
Because of technological savvy, third-millennium veterinarians look as much like lab scientists as like Petersen’s kind doctor.
“Our students today rarely come from farms and almost never from diversified family farms. Over 70 percent are female now. Forty-five percent of our graduates go into exclusive food animal practices,” explains Dr. Patrick Halbur, Executive Director of the college’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.
That’s inspired changes to both the facility and teaching curriculum. In addition to the two hospitals, the new complex includes a new Veterinary Field Services unit.
Three fully equipped veterinary trucks (“clinics on wheels”) and eight clinicians provide individual animal and herd health services for beef and dairy cattle, swine, sheep, goats, alpacas, and llamas.
“We teach mostly outside the walls of this building,” explains Halbur. “Students will go out to [food animal] facilities and see 500 patients in a day.”
The college partnered with AMVC, an Audubon-based food production giant that introduced “birth to market” services under a single umbrella.
That allows ISU students access to state-of-the-art field service opportunities in everything from stud service and virology to packing and marketing.
ISU’s Dairy Production Immersive Knowledge Experience gives students 10-week, hands-on experiences on different-size farms (50 to 200 to 1,000 cows) and in a veterinary clinic in northeast Iowa.
Many vet schools focus on a single area of expertise. Iowa animal populations, and their health issues, are more diverse. Beef cattle, dairy cows, hogs, goats, sheep, chickens, turkeys, and horses are all essential parts of the state’s economy.
So the college faculty now includes 74 board-certified specialists in 17 different specialty services. They employ multiple disciplines and treat different species within their expertise.
Bagley notes that the Theriogenology Department (reproductive medicine) is working with Siberian tigers and has begun a new wolf project. There’s also an increased demand for deer semen.
“I like to say that we are licensed to treat all animals except one. Ironically, the medicine we practice is looking more and more like human medicine all the time,” observes Bagley.
The IT upgrades have particularly encouraged expansion of services in the VAL. The college’s Diagnostics Laboratory is one of the just three in the country and checks out some 45,000 submissions a year, mostly bacterial and viral samples from eggs and sick creatures great and small.
Its Health Assurance Testing Services runs three shifts a day, working around the clock.
“We will be the first to see any new virus. That keeps our curriculum absolutely current. Tissues are sent to us via Fed Ex, and 24 hours later we have results,” explains Halbur.
Though so much changed while The Gentle Doctor was away, it’s likely he would recognize current trade hazards. When Bagley rolls up his sleeves, he recalls the history of his many scars. “This one was a German shepherd. This one was . . .”
In the large animal hospital, things are only technically different. “We get kicked and smashed, not bitten,” says livestock veterinarian Dr. Jim Thompson.
“Yeah, we have broken bones rather than scars,” adds ruminant specialist