In April, Kate Meurs DVM’90 was named dean of North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
A strong leader, researcher, and teacher, Meurs joined NC State in 2011 as associate dean for research and graduate studies. Before that, she served the colleges of veterinary medicine at Washington State University and The Ohio State University.
Meurs is board certified in cardiology and holds a doctorate in genetics, with expertise in the genetic basis of feline and canine cardiac diseases. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, Meurs recently reflected on her time at the UW School of Veterinary Medicine, her career, and what drives her.
On Call: Having been in the role of dean for several months now, what are some first impressions?
Meurs: I would never have dreamed, particularly when I started my career, that I would end up as dean of a college. But I have always loved veterinary medicine. And what I learned along the way was that positions like deans and associate deans are there to help people do their jobs as well as they can, and help students and graduate students have a better training program.
One of the best ways to help make the profession better is to take a role in administration to help the next generation of veterinarians have a better educational process and help make it easier for faculty to teach the way they want to teach and do research on important animal health diseases. That’s what pulled me into administration and why I’m incredibly honored to have this opportunity to help at an even greater level.
What initially drew you to academia?
In the summer of my first year in veterinary school, I became involved in a summer research program and worked for a veterinary cardiologist. The research was on a heart disease in boxer dogs, which ended up being inherited. I was excited by the idea that if you could figure out what genetic mutation caused that disease, you could try to prevent it.
As a clinician, I can see one patient at a time, and that’s rewarding. I love to see patients and their owners. But as a researcher, if you can discover the cause of disease or how to prevent or treat it, you can help a greater number of animals. That concept pulled me into a career in academics.
As a young faculty member doing research, I found there could be a lot of frustrations — compliance paperwork, learning how to write grants, statistical analysis… As I matured in my faculty role, I thought that I would like to find a way to help other faculty with some of these difficult aspects of a faculty career.
I believe research for animal and human health is really important, but it’s hard for faculty, and they’re so busy — seeing cases, teaching, or doing research. Having someone in administration who can try to make it a little easier for them can have a significant impact on their feelings about the whole research process.
I do love our patients — that’s a part of veterinary medicine that I was originally drawn to. But I really enjoy and am inspired by the humans in our profession and what they’re trying to do for animal and human health every single day.
You completed a small animal internship at NC State, where you now serve as dean. What would you say about the importance of early career experiences and preserving connections?
I think the first year after graduation is incredibly important. I came here after an excellent education at Wisconsin and felt well supported. It gave me a great start to my career.
The first year after graduation can either be very positive and give you a sense where you belong and what you want to do with your career, or it can leave you with negative feelings about a job and the profession.
I would encourage new graduates to really think about their first job or training program. It’s the first time you’re a doctor, making difficult decisions and managing medical issues on your own. Your first year has a long-term effect on your job satisfaction and how you think about the profession. The other thing, about connections, is veterinary medicine is still a small world. I love that about it. Those networks and friendships you build along the way are one of the most fun parts about the career. It’s nice to have that closeness and those shared pathways.
You’re the first female dean of your College of Veterinary Medicine. What does that mean to you?
I think that my class was about 50 percent women, but there were not too many women in leadership roles. So, most of my mentors were men and they were all incredibly supportive.
When I was a student at Wisconsin, I never had any sense that I couldn’t do this or there would be any issue with me being a woman. Wisconsin gave me a sense that in veterinary medicine, I could do anything I want.
Sheila McGuirk [professor emerita] was a wonderful role model to many of us at that time. She was a wonderful teacher, an excellent clinician and researcher, and seemed to balance her life out of work as well as her work life. She showed us all of the wonderful opportunities you can have in this profession.
I hope that serving as the first woman dean at this college shows the female students that if they want this type of role, they can have it.
Are there other memories that stick out from UW?
I feel that the School of Veterinary Medicine was a very close community. I feel very, very fortunate to be a Wisconsin graduate, and I’m really, really proud. As I’ve advanced, no matter where I am, if I say I’m a University of Wisconsin graduate, people know the University of Wisconsin, and they hold it in high esteem.
Now or throughout your career, where do you find inspiration as a leader?
I love seeing the people in our profession succeed and be excited about this incredible career. The students, residents, graduate students, and our faculty — it is inspiring to see them succeed and also how they manage career challenges. I do love our patients — that’s a part of veterinary medicine that I was originally drawn to. But I really enjoy and am inspired by the humans in our profession and what they’re trying to do for animal and human health every single day.
— Meghan Lepisto