When Casey Kissel, D.V.M, M.S., was a laboratory technician at Drexel University, she worked with veterinary medicine expert Richard Huneke, D.V.M., M.P.H. That was the spark that ignited her interest in becoming a veterinarian for laboratory animals. Her next step was to find a good training program. She wanted a rich clinical experience and a strong curriculum to help her pass the looming board exams. Huneke advised her to train at Johns Hopkins, where he completed his postdoctoral fellowship nearly 20 years ago.
Kissel, now a clinical resident in the Department of Molecular and Comparative Pathobiology at Johns Hopkins, and Huneke, professor and director of university laboratory animal resources at Drexel University, answered questions about their experiences training at Johns Hopkins.
Why were you interested in training at Johns Hopkins?
Kissel: It wasn’t until my two-week externship at Hopkins that I decided this was the place for me. During this time, I was most struck by the relationships between the staff, investigators, faculty and fellows. Hopkins fosters a very collaborative environment. As a new graduate, you work directly with world-renowned investigators. Fellows are considered a crucial part of the team. We are given autonomy to investigate our own research interests, and our opinion is valued. As a clinical veterinarian, I feel that I am given the opportunity to make a meaningful impact on the lives of the animals I treat.
Huneke: During vet school, we learned very little about laboratory animal medicine. Afterward, I practiced veterinary medicine on small animals in the Baltimore area for five years. Then I met my future wife, who was working as a vet tech for comparative medicine at Johns Hopkins. She introduced me to some postdocs who told me about the lab animal training program. I decided to apply and was accepted in 1989. The Hopkins program changed my life and career in veterinary medicine. I was no longer bored with my job — there was always something new and interesting to learn. I developed medical and technical skills by working with species I had never encountered, worked with world-renowned researchers, and prepared for management and program oversight. Training at Hopkins was one of the best decisions of my life.
Was there a highlight or defining moment during your training?
Kissel: Learning primate medicine from the faculty has definitely been a highlight of my time here at Hopkins. It has also been interesting to learn how Hopkins, our program and the lab animal field overall has changed through the years. Walking through our facilities with head vet Bob Adams and hearing about how much our program has changed and continues to change is always fascinating.
Huneke: I worked in the laboratory of Dr. Mette Strand, studying leukemia. She was unable to attend a conference and asked me to give the presentation about our research in her place. But the conference was in Greece! It was my first presentation, and I was extremely nervous. Fortunately, she was a great coach, and I did well.
How did the training program prepare you for a career?
Kissel: While I am still early in my career as a laboratory animal veterinarian, I already feel well prepared for a job with both clinical and managerial responsibilities. The program has a long history of shaping well-rounded veterinarians with impactful careers. I feel very lucky to soon be considered an alumna of this program.
Huneke: I started as a clinical laboratory animal vet and then became a primate doctor. I worked with nonhuman primates at the University of Pittsburgh and Washington University in St. Louis. Johns Hopkins head vet Bob Adams trained us well in both medicine and facility management. The facility training allowed me to interact with architects, engineers and facility personnel, write NIH facility improvement grants and oversee projects. Over the years, I have witnessed great steps in improving the care of animals in research, from advanced analgesia, fantastic enrichment programs and young scientists who understand the scientific necessity to work with stress-free, healthy animals.