Michael Lairmore, who became dean of the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine in October 2011, said he felt compelled from a young age to enter the profession.
The Independence, Mo., native brings 21 years of experience in veterinary education from Ohio State University.
UC Davis' veterinary school ranks second in the nation behind Cornell University's, according to U.S. News and World Report.
Why did you come to UC Davis?
When the school called with its one-of-the-best ranking it was hard not to look at it. The environment fit well with my background, and there was a lot of upside for opportunity. Plus, my wife and I love the Northern California lifestyle.
Why did you want to go to vet school?
At age 15 I announced to my parents that I wanted to be a veterinarian. None of my family members had gone to college. They were factory workers. I went to a local veterinarian to get a job, but I was turned down. Eventually, I found a mentor who helped me get into vet school.
How did you get into higher education?
One of the things I was drawn to was the why. In order to figure out why things happened, I needed more advanced training. I like research and enjoy mentoring students. I never thought I would be a dean, though. I was recruited into leadership positions only because I spoke too much.
What is the main challenge facing the UC Davis vet school?
What we all face in higher education is money. Twenty-eight percent of our budget comes from the state. We need to look at alternative sources of revenue, beyond just tuition increases.
What's the most rewarding thing about being a veterinarian?
The competition and rigor associated with vet school mean a lot of us could have gone to medical school. We have the opportunity to impact our patients (animals), but also influence public health (through research on diseases such as West Nile virus). You have this dual role that is very unique.
What's the biggest ethical dilemma facing veterinarians today?
In order to learn more about animal diseases, we have to use lab animals to discover cures. We try to do this ethically by reducing animal pain and using as few animals as possible.
What is the One Health program at UC Davis?
One Health is an approach we use in our education and research programs. The strategy is to combine animals, people and the environment together. For example, in examining the West Nile virus, you have to consider the vector (mosquito), the amplifier (birds) and the hosts (people and horses). As a veterinarian, you have to take all of these into account.
Editor's Note: This article has been changed from a previous version to correct the time Lairmore became dean of the veterinary school.