Q&A with Ruth Blauwiekel, DVM, PhD, DACLAM

University Veterinarian at UVM

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Dr. Ruth Blauwieke, University Veterinarian at UVM,  stands with a fistulated cow at The Paul Miller Research Complex in Burlington on Friday morning.  OLIVER PARINI PHOTOGRAPHY

Dr. Ruth Blauwieke, University Veterinarian at UVM, stands with a fistulated cow at The Paul Miller Research Complex in Burlington on Friday morning.
OLIVER PARINI PHOTOGRAPHY

Before she was 10, Ruth Blauwiekel remembers delivering a lamb with her dad on their small farm in central Michigan that her brother, Pete, still operates. That was the beginning of a lifelong love of animals and a career.

Today, Blauwiekel holds her PhD in veterinary medicine, is a diplomat of the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine and works as the University Veterinarian at the University of Vermont.

Dr. Blauwiekel first moved to Vermont in the late 1970s after she graduated from Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, doing work with dairy cattle, which she came to love.

“Dairy cattle are 2,000-pound animals, but they have a nice nature,” she said with sincere assurance. “Dairy cows are generally very docile… Jersey cattle are renowned for liking people and being very friendly.”

She worked “in a ‘mixed’ veterinary practice (large and small animals) in Brattleboro for six years, working almost exclusively with dairy cattle,” she recalled, adding that’s where she met her husband, Curt Taylor, who was working on one of her client’s farms at the time.

The pair left Vermont in the early ’80s to attend graduate school, but knew they would return someday. It took 20 years, however, before the right position opened up — a post at the University of Vermont opened in 2002. “I was really pleased to get an interview and be offered the job,” Dr. Blauwiekel recalled, adding that she and her husband live in Colchester where they raised their daughter, Anna.

“Initially much of my work was with the large animals owned by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at UVM,” said Dr. Blauwiekel. “But as the University Veterinarian, I had oversight of all the animals at the University, including the laboratory mice and rats used in biomedical research. The University had another veterinarian at that time who was an expert in laboratory animals; I worked with him and studied to learn more about these species. When that veterinarian left, I assumed his job responsibilities, and a couple of years later I was able to meet the requirements for Board Certification in Laboratory Animal Medicine.”

Recently Dr. Blauwiekel elaborated on her experience as a University veterinarian for UVM.

Q: What do you do as a University veterinarian?

A row of cows stand in a barn at The Paul Miller Research Complex in Burlington on Friday morning.  OLIVER PARINI PHOTOGRAPHY

A row of cows stand in a barn at The Paul Miller Research Complex in Burlington on Friday morning.
OLIVER PARINI PHOTOGRAPHY

A: Although the first part of my career was with farm animals, much of my work today is with rodent animals (mice, rats and guinea pigs) used in biomedical research. I’ve found working with the research animals to be very interesting and rewarding.

Our researchers at the University of Vermont are doing important work helping to find cures for diseases such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, breast cancer and infectious diseases, to name just a few. I consult extensively with the researchers before they begin to do any research project using animals, and train investigators and their staff and graduate students.

I also serve on the University’s Animal Care and Use Committee. This Committee reviews all proposed research and teaching using animals to ensure that the care of the animals is humane and that their welfare is always carefully considered. I also work closely with the animal husbandry staff, the people who care for the animals on a day-to-day basis, and provide veterinary care for any animals which require medical attention. And I still work with the dairy cattle, primarily in a teaching capacity, but also to support the agricultural and animal health research that is being done at the UVM Miller Research Center.

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Q: Why did you become a veterinarian?

A: Some of my earliest memories revolve around caring for sheep and pigs. I was always interested in animals, but I think that the real impetus to enter veterinary school came because the veterinarian who worked in our community in Michigan was very enthusiastic about his work and very encouraging of my career aspirations.

As I work with students at UVM I always keep in mind the importance of mentoring and encouraging young people – they are our future, after all!

Dr. Ruth Blauwiekel, University Veterinarian at UVM, works with cows in the Cream Barn at The Paul Miller Research Complex in Burlington on Friday morning.  OLIVER PARINI PHOTOGRAPHY

Dr. Ruth Blauwiekel, University Veterinarian at UVM, works with cows in the Cream Barn at The Paul Miller Research Complex in Burlington on Friday morning.
OLIVER PARINI PHOTOGRAPHY

Q: What courses do you teach?

A: I teach a class in Clinical Livestock Medicine, which is very popular among UVM’s pre-veterinary students. We spend a lot of time working with the College’s cattle, so it’s a very “hands-on” learning experience. I also give guest lectures in several classes that discuss the ethical and humane use of animals as research models, some physiology classes, and a very interesting Animal Science class called “Animals in Society.”

Q: Do you have a memorable moment about your experiences as a veterinarian?

A: Some of my more memorable experiences have been in working with the CREAM (Cooperative REAL Education in Agricultural Management) students at UVM. Our Animal Science department has an experiential learning program in which a group of students takes on the management and husbandry of our dairy cattle teaching herd for a year at a time. The students do all the milking and feeding of the cows, clean the barn, manage the reproduction and assist in the veterinary care. They learn a great deal about taking care of the animals, as well as about operating a farm business. Many of our students do not come from agricultural backgrounds, and it is very cool to see the look on a young person’s face when he or she first helps deliver a baby calf. Their excitement and enthusiasm is really infectious!

— Elsie Lynn