An Interview with... Dr. Lonnie J. King

An Interview with... Dr. Lonnie J. King

Dec 01, 2005
By staff

Lonnie J. King, DVM, DACVPM, is the director of Strategy and Innovation at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University.

With eight career changes, this dean and CDC official has experienced the profession from many angles, and he believes that veterinary medicine is at a defining moment. "We need to commit to re-establishing our societal relevance and social responsibility."

What is the most exciting change you've seen in veterinary medicine?

The increased sophistication and quality of our services. The advent of specialties and the almost insatiable demand of companion-animal owners for excellence in care have spurred significant medical and technological progress.

Who was your most memorable patient?

Veterinary medicine is not a job or a career but, rather, a commitment of the heart.
A dairy cow that tested positive for brucellosis in a small herd in northern Georgia. The dairy's owner was a crusty, elderly gentleman whom I visited with great trepidation. I was just beginning work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and had to inform the gentleman that I was removing one of his cows. He wept as he described all the cow's wonderful qualities and revealed how much the human-animal bond meant to him. It was a great lesson in not prejudging people and a reminder of the importance of animals in our lives.

Who inspired you most in your career?

  • My father, a veterinarian, who taught me the value of veterinarians in research
  • President John F. Kennedy, who convinced me to give back to America through public service
  • My first supervisor, who, on my first day on the job, explained that if I couldn't "cut the mustard," he would replace me. In a simple and direct way, I better understood the importance of accountability, responsibility, and performance.

What was the best professional advice you ever received?

Dr. George Poppensiek sent me a wonderful note of congratulations when I became dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University. With the note, he enclosed a pencil given to him when he had become dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University by Dr. William Hagan. The admonition with the pencil was to note that it had an eraser because people—even deans—make mistakes. Making mistakes is a given, but handling mistakes with integrity, a sense of humility, and a commitment to learn and improve is a necessity. This is a wonderful piece of advice, and I use the eraser frequently.

What would you advise a new graduate?

Each new graduate has a remarkable opportunity to dedicate 100,000 hours of service to improving human and animal health. Veterinarians are obligated to meet society's needs. It's a privilege to be involved in such a noble mission, and it brings a sense of fulfillment that many can only hope for. Veterinary medicine is not a job or a career but, rather, a commitment of the heart.

What would you have liked to do if you hadn't become a veterinarian?

I always wanted to be a professional baseball player. I started college on a baseball scholarship—I was small and fast and played shortstop. To my great disappointment, that position shifted to one of power and of hitting home runs. The shift did make an honest student out of me, but I'm still secretly trying to stay in shape in hope that I get called up to the minors!

Are you a cat person or a dog person?

I thoroughly enjoy dogs and would also have a cat, except my wife is allergic. Coogee, our West Highland white terrier, has a true terrier personality but is a wonderful companion anyway. And we've always had horses—my wife is the true equestrian.

What part of your work do you enjoy most?

I have had the good fortune to change careers eight times. With each change, I've acquired new skills and experiences and become a better problem solver. The opportunity to blend the foundation of veterinary science with the broadened perspectives I have acquired over the years and then apply this toward new challenges is extremely enjoyable. One should consider major changes about every five years to ensure intellectual challenge, along with personal and professional development.