Since earning her veterinary degree nearly four decades ago, Dr. Susan Tornquist has established herself as a pioneer in veterinary medicine and carved a path for other women leaders in the profession.
This past March, Tornquist (’96 PhD) became just the fourth woman to be named president of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), which represents more than 40,000 faculty, staff, and students across the academic veterinary medical community. She also serves as dean of the Carlson College of Veterinary Medicine at Oregon State University, where she is the first woman to hold the position.
“Women have long faced inequities in the workforce, and veterinary medicine is no exception,” Tornquist said. “Women have been required to work particularly hard to be recognized and compensated appropriately, while bringing their own perspectives and styles to the profession and staying true to their principles and priorities. We can bring these lessons learned to inevitable challenges facing veterinary medicine.
Tornquist views her new role as president of the AAVMC as an opportunity to expand her decades-long service to all who study, teach, and practice veterinary medicine.
“I would like to continue helping make the AAVMC a truly global organization that seeks solutions to current problems faced by veterinary medical educators, such as well-being, student debt, and workforce issues,” said Tornquist, who has served in several leadership positions with the organization since 2005. “I would also like to help prepare new veterinarians for changes that will inevitably occur in their practice lifetimes.”
Tornquist’s vision for a life dedicated to veterinary medicine was rooted in childhood dreams.
“I always wanted to live on a farm when I was a kid, but actually grew up in the middle of a city and dreamed of riding horses,” she said. “In my twenties, I lived and worked on an Arabian breeding facility in New Mexico. There, I rode an Arabian along the Rio Grande as far as I wanted. That was my dream riding experience, and I loved it.”
In 1985, she received her DVM from Colorado State University, followed by a doctorate in veterinary pathology from Washington State University in 1996. That year, she joined Oregon State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine faculty as an assistant professor of clinical pathology. In 2005, she became associate dean for student and academic affairs.
Across all her experiences and positions, Tornquist has mentored others on their journeys to fulfill their dreams.
“I’ve seen so many students become practice owners, faculty members, and successful veterinarians,” she said. “I’m proud of their accomplishments and happy they’re making a positive difference in the health and welfare of animals and people.”
As Tornquist has been a mentor, she has also been mentored.
“At WSU, Dr. Bryan Slinker always gave me lots of good advice and support,” said this recognized alumnus, who was awarded WSU’s CVM Distinguished Graduate Alumni Award in 2019. “And, Dr. Jane Wardrop, a clinical pathologist, was one of my mentors for my residency and PhD. We were both young mothers, and she was always supportive.”
As women in veterinary medicine, Tornquist and Waldrop encountered unique challenges from the time they were students, including childcare needs and family-work-life balance. These issues persist today for women in the field, yet there are few women leaders at the forefront of solutions. Though enrollment of women in veterinary schools, and those practicing veterinary medicine, has increased significantly since the 1980s, there remains a dearth of women in leadership across the field.
Tornquist is focused on shifting that paradigm.
“The opportunity to help shape the future of veterinary medicine is great and requires the voices of a diverse group of people with different life experiences and outlooks.”