March 18, 2021
By Jens Odegaard
The name Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges is a bit of a misnomer. It’s actually an international organization comprised of 53 accredited veterinary medical colleges from San Diego, California to Seoul, South Korea, and Montreal, Canada to Murdoch, Australia. All told it represents “more than 40,000 faculty, staff and students” from North America, the Caribbean, Europe, Australia, Asia and New Zealand, according to its website.
The AAVMC’s new president-elect, Susan J. Tornquist, hails from right here at Oregon State University. She is the Lois Bates Acheson Dean of the Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine and will serve as president-elect until next March when she will take on the role of president until March 2023.
It’s a fitting role for Tornquist as an educator and academic. She holds five degrees from four different universities. “I just kept getting more and more degrees because I really liked being in a community of people that were learning, and smart, and inquisitive and curious about things,” Tornquist said. She holds a bachelor's in political philosophy from Michigan State University and another in biology from University of New Mexico. She then went on to earn a master’s in biology at UNM, during which she taught undergraduate students. “I realized I really liked that, and I felt at home in the academic community," Tornquist said.
Despite this feeling of home in academics, Tornquist felt the pull to pursue her veterinary degree at Colorado State University, motivated by a lifelong love of animals. Following graduation, she worked in private practice for six years in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“I liked the connections with owners and pets, and I like the problem solving and all that. But I honestly was not that crazy about being a small business person,” Tornquist said. “I didn't want to buy a practice. I didn't want to start my own practice. I didn't want to deal with invoices that weren't paid and stuff like that.”
This realization led her to return to academics and earn her doctorate and complete a residency in clinical pathology at Washington State University. “As a resident and in my doctoral program, I did a lot of teaching and I loved it,” Tornquist said. “We get to teach the best of the best when we teach vet students. They are so smart, and they're so driven and they're so passionate about what they do. And so who wouldn't want to be in veterinary education? That's the way I look at it.”
Tornquist joined the veterinary faculty at Oregon State University in 1996 and has made it her career to teach students and lead in educational administration. She first got involved with the AAVMC in 2005 when she was appointed associate dean for student and academic affairs at the Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine. She served on a number of committees including as chair of the admissions committee and chair of the associate deans' committee. She also served on the board of directors as the regional representative for all veterinary schools in the United States and Caribbean.
In her terms as president-elect and president, she looks forward to collaborating with people from across the globe. “This is an international collection of people who have really good and important perspectives on things,” Tornquist said. “And it's a really good chance to shape the future of veterinary medical education.”
Tornquist would like to continue helping recruit and mentor veterinary students from underrepresented backgrounds. She’s also looking to help grow professional development and leadership skills for veterinary faculty to continue to make veterinary education a compelling and rewarding career.
Of course, providing a future-ready veterinary education will always be top priority for this long-time educator. Tornquist sees areas like telemedicine being important to the profession and an important focus area for veterinary education. “I the last few years, I've been really involved in the issue of the future of veterinary medicine. It's changing a lot. Telemedicine has really popped up, especially during the pandemic,” Tornquist said. “Digital pathology is really happening now. It’s not what I was trained in, but as a pathologist, I have to be ready to embrace that.”
In leading the AAVMC, she’ll be looking to steer the profession in the right direction for the next generation. Even in her administrative leadership roles, Tornquist still teaches clinical pathology and takes a share of the clinical diagnostic duty. “Every time I sit down to look at a slide, I think, ‘Oh, I wonder what there's going to be there.’ Teaching clinical pathology to students is also really fun because they all realize that it’s something they're going to be using every single day in their career,” Tornquist said.
“My main thing is veterinary medical education. I'm going to be gone at some point, but the veterinarians that I've helped train, they're going to be here forever.”