Category: Dean’s Perspectives Page 1 of 9

Reflections of Gratitude

“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie

As I step down as dean, I am reminded of that little boy who was fascinated by nature, animals, and the chaotic world around him. No one can explain how early experiences mold our directions in life, but the environment we grow up in, our parents, and circumstances that befall us all play a role in determining our fate. As a young boy, my relatives often told me, “I took care of you when you almost died.” They were reminding me of something I did not remember, almost dying of encephalitis at the age of 3, before finally recovering from an extreme fever and coma after weeks in the hospital. They did not know that they instilled in me a sense that I was given a second chance at life, which has motivated me ever since. Later, as a first-generation college student and son of alcoholic parents, with the help of kind teachers and supportive mentors, I worked my way from kennel boy to college and eventually through veterinary school at the University of Missouri. Along the way, I realized how grateful I was to be given a second chance at life, and for the support of those around me. Circumstances since that time have shown me the power of gratitude as a central core value in how I view the world, during dark times and in moments of joy.

Lessons from the Past to Prepare for the Future

“Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.” —Sitting Bull

Katie Griffin, a Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) student

This past year has provided all of us a dramatic view of how much our world can change when events such as pandemics disregard borders and alter life plans. History tells us that our current situation is not unique, but has distinctive factors that will shape our future. Our school was created in reaction to real threats to the livestock industry in California. In the middle of the past century, devastating diseases of cattle and other livestock not only impacted the state’s food supply, but also the nation’s economic stability. Since 1948, we have addressed issues facing our communities, while training the next generation of those that advance animal health, and by extension human and environmental health.

Our extensive history of educating veterinarians and scientists, and discovering new knowledge through research, has set high standards of cross disciplinary collaborations to solve critical issues in veterinary medicine, agricultural sciences, and public health. For more than 70 years, our faculty and staff have developed new disciplines, novel clinical treatments and advanced the One Health approach to address complex issues at the interface of animals, people and the environment.

Looking Ahead in the New Year

“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, ‘It will be happier.'” —Alfred Lord Tennyson

Reflecting on 2020, it is hard to find words to describe our journey. At times, it felt like we were all racing in a runaway train, unable to comprehend how to cope or even stop the wreck we felt lay ahead of us. The year will go down in history not only for the tragic pandemic that swept across the globe, but for all of the aftermath left in its wake. For those on the frontlines who continue to serve us, we are forever touched and grateful. While much was lost in the wake of COVID, we concurrently dealt with a prolonged season of wildfires, and the tragic consequences of systemic racism in our society. We are all looking to 2021 with hope and the expectation that only a new year can bring.

The Value of Integrity and Honesty

“Moral authority comes from following universal and timeless principles like honesty, integrity, treating people with respect.” —Stephen Covey

In surveys, veterinarians consistently rank as one of the most trusted professionals in society. I think we’ve earned this distinction with our compassion, dedication and forthrightness. I also know that if we forfeit those traits, we will slip in society’s regard.

In today’s world of negative news, social media myths, bigoted discord, and malignant misinformation, it’s easy to see how someone could lose their sense of direction. After all, if our leaders are dishonest and our system faulty, then why should we conduct ourselves with integrity and show respect for others, our professional colleagues, or even ourselves? A convenient excuse could be the pandemic that has disrupted our lives and separated us from each other. What is immutable in the face of this world we find ourselves in is our own integrity and values. The principles we live by and hold within our hearts are the compass that guides us in troubled times. Values are not transient, but embedded in us.

Making Transitions With Gratitude

“Gratitude is when memory is stored in the heart and not in the mind.” -Lionel Hampton

Leaving a job you love is not easy. I recently made the decision with my family to step down as dean at the end of my second term, June 30th, 2021.  It was a difficult decision that was not based on this past year of a pandemic and other events in this turbulent world. My decision was based on my determination to give my best to my job and then hand the leadership of this beloved institution to someone new who will continue its positive trajectory.

I entered the position in 2011 with the intent to finish in my 65th year on this planet, which coincides with the end of my second term. My family history does not foretell longevity, unfortunately. My older sister entered a memory-care unit with dementia during this past year, and my father and grandfather both passed away in their mid-60s. I am not naïve enough to believe my body will not be reminding me soon of life’s frailty.

Learning From the Past, While Envisioning the Future

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.” —Abraham Lincoln

This past week, we virtually welcomed the members of the veterinary Class of 2024, along with many of their family and friends in our annual White Coat Ceremony, symbolizing their transition into the profession of veterinary medicine and in recognition of the professional role they will be assuming. This year was unusual in format and atmosphere as we face an unprecedented challenge of a global pandemic. During the event, I told our students that our current COVID-19 pandemic has caused all of us to change our plans and adjust to a new reality. While enduring the pandemic, we have also have been reminded of the devastation of systemic racism this year and the work we all have to do to confront this scourge in our society.

I reminded the new class that they are now a member of our UC Davis family and we care about them and want them to have an exceptional educational experience. The academic journey is one of constant renewal as each new class of students comes to us to learn the knowledge and skills that will launch them into the world. Each of our new students has their own story to share with us.

Using Creativity and Innovation to Fight COVID-19

“By working to ensure we live in a society that prioritizes public safety, education, and innovation, entrepreneurship can thrive and create a better world for all of us to live in.” —Ron Conway

Our current COVID19 pandemic has catapulted our society into a new reality and an uneasy sense of the future. The global spread of SARS-CoV-2 and its tragic impact on the lives of those affected has forever changed our view of how we view the world. In response to the public health threat, our scientists and innovators have worked to bring new ideas and creativity to solve the complexity of the effects of this new pathogen and the subsequent public health crisis caused by our inability to control its transmission. From tragedy, however, our faculty, staff, and students have risen to the occasion.

Researchers in our School have responded to the COVID-19 challenge by bringing fresh ideas to this new problem. Dr. Patricia Pesavento, our new Chair of the Department of Pathology, Microbiology, and Immunology, received a seed grant from the UC Davis COVID-19 Research Accelerator Funding Track Program to study how SARS-CoV-2 targets cells, a key to understanding the how the virus damages organs.

Celebrating Juneteenth – A Day to Reflect, Learn, and Grow

“If the cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail.”—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

To recognize the historic significance of June 19th, we must understand the importance of this day for our country. This date marks a critical event in our country’s history. On June 19, 1865, Union Colonel Gordon Granger informed more than 250,000 enslaved African Americans in Texas that they were free. The 13th Amendment followed on Dec. 8, 1865. While the Emancipation Proclamation became official on Jan. 1, 1863, many of those enslaved were in states where slavery continued or where they didn’t know that they were free. The now annual celebration of Juneteenth, in recognition of independence from slavery, began a year later, June 19, 1866.

As reflected in Chancellor Gary May’s statement on this holiday, “However, progress sometimes moves at a glacial pace.”  We are in the midst of a social reckoning with our past. The horrific reports of injustice and violence toward citizens of color have made us confront the persistent history of racism in our country. The COVID19 pandemic and its disproportionate effects on African American and other communities of color, dramatically illustrates the failures of our healthcare and social justice systems. Celebrating June 19th brings out the resilient nature of the people that helped build our country, and our ability to educate ourselves. This day demonstrates our shared humanity, especially during these difficult days. Today, we must stand together for the greater good in all of us, recognize our past, and work toward a better future.

Celebrating Resiliency and the Class of 2020

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

Every year on Memorial Day, I am reminded of how fleeting life is and the contributions of those who came before us. The recent events, marked by daily reminders of a global pandemic, have not halted our School’s progress, but it does remind us to cherish the moments we have together.

Commencement this past Friday showed how resilient our community has been in the face of our most recent challenge. Although we could not celebrate our veterinary students’ graduation ceremony in person, we made the most of it by bringing our new doctors and their families and friends—plus the faculty and staff who mentored them—together with virtual events that were inspiring to experience. Though I was sad not to watch our graduates walk the stage in person and to laugh with and hug them one last time, handing out “drive-through diplomas” and reliving their UC Davis careers through the virtual events was gratifying.

Dean Lairmore’s Weekly COVID-19 Updates for May

These Perspectives are drawn from the weekly updates provided by Dean Lairmore to the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine community during the coronavirus crisis.

May 4

Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in May in the United States since 1949. Groups such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness have appropriately focused on a “You are Not Alone” campaign to fight stigma, inspire others and educate the broader public. During the COVID-19 pandemic, public health measures such as self-isolation and physical distancing make it hard to not feel alone.  Because of this unique circumstance we find ourselves in, it is all the more important to be aware of how we can support each other.  At our School, we are always focused on assisting our students, faculty and staff through our mental health and wellness programs. I am glad that our student and personnel programs have found ways to continue in the age of physical distancing, such as virtual counseling for students and virtual pet-loss-grief support. In addition, we have the commitment of an entire university behind us. I hope that you are all taking care of yourselves and taking advantage of resources to promote your own wellness, while also watching out for each other.

The worldwide impact of the COVID pandemic should tell us that across the globe we are not alone in battling this viral threat. This was illustrated this past Saturday when the UC Global Health Institute celebrated its 10th anniversary by holding a virtual UC Global Health Day focusing on “COVID-19: global perspectives on a global pandemic.” Dr. Jonna Mazet, director of our One Health Institute, and Dr. Patricia Conrad, our associate dean of Global Programs, joined key leaders from across the world to share their experiences in battling the pandemic and its aftermath.  

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