Dr. Dan Richardson On Mentors And the Greatest Thanks, Oh Yes!

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An Interview with Germinder 20th Anniversary Power of Pink Honoree Dan Richardson, DVM, DACVS

Our next Power of Pink Honoree is also our first male Power of Pink Honoree – Daniel C. Richardson, DVM, DACVS Goodnewsforpets.com Editor Lea-Ann Germinder met him in late 1994, when he was Director of Advanced Research at Hill’s® Pet Nutrition, Inc. At the time he was launching Prescription Diet® t/d® and she was Vice Public Relations Director for an agency handling the Hill’s Pet Nutrition account. In just a few short months, the award-winning “Pets Need Dental Care, Too!” campaign was born.

This interview is his story – a career of amazing accomplishments – and many firsts. Dan’s mentored so many along the way, but Dan being Dan, you’ll hear about many luminaries in veterinary medicine that he gives credit for his achievements. That’s what makes him so special and more. Dan has designated his Power of Pink donation to the Stormont Vail Health Foundation Care Line .

 Every veterinarian we’ve interviewed has a story about how they decided to become a veterinarian. You decided to become not only a veterinarian, but also a boarded veterinary surgeon. Can you share that story?

I grew up with animals and always thought about wanting to be a veterinarian – but I also thought about being an English lit teacher too! I had one brother that went into veterinary school and my oldest brother, who was accepted to medical school, went on to do a PhD in English literature. Having a father that was a professor in Animal Sciences and a mother who had been a county home economist, we were active in 4-H and I had the opportunity to raise a diverse range of animals. Living in town I raised sheep and rabbits in the backyard, I had dogs, pet rats, and a canary. When we moved to the country, I added horses, calves, pigs, and a pet goat.

Ultimately I decided English literature was something I enjoyed, but not something that I wanted for a career. When I was accepted into the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State, my full intent was to be a large animal vet and probably focus on swine. But as I went through school, I became even more interested in radiology and surgery.

As it ended up, I did become a veterinarian, and I’ve done a lot of teaching, so in a way I’ve had the best of both worlds.

Why did you choose to do an internship then a residency in small animal medicine and surgery after graduating versus going directly into practice?

I learned a lot in veterinary school, but I just didn’t feel like I was prepared enough to go out there and do all I wanted to do. My brother had done an internship, so I looked into them. I applied for a small animal internship and was fortunate enough to be accepted at Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Auburn was very much known for neuro and orthopedic surgery, as well as innovative soft tissue reconstructive surgery being done by Dr. Steve Swain, another Kansas State graduate. He was one of the first of many mentors I was fortunate to have in my career.

I started thinking about going back to private practice, but the University of Tennessee opened a new College of Veterinary Medicine and several of the faculty were people that knew me from various times in my education. They contacted me because they were looking for residents. I really enjoyed surgery during my internship, so I decided to apply and I was very fortunate to be their first surgery resident. I think that decision led me to my career in academia.

Dan Richardson, his wife Kathy Richardson and their Springer Spaniel.

Dan Richardson, his wife Kathy Richardson and Hattie, their German Shorthair Pointer

Why did you opt to continue to teach rather than practice? Is that an unusual path?

I fell in love with teaching, research, and the clinics. It just all came together. I’d grown up in an academic family. I think it was meant to be. My brother Ralph (Dean Emeritus at Kansas State University, College of Veterinary Medicine) had stepped out in private practice for a couple years after his internship, but then he came back to the university for a residency, ultimately becoming a faculty member. He and I both traveled somewhat the same path. That really began my career.

I did my surgical residency at the University of Tennessee, and then looked at faculty positions available. I had the good fortune to join the Purdue faculty. My brother, Ralph, was actually on the medicine faculty, so we got to be there together. That’s where I became board certified by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Shortly after I became board certified, North Carolina State started its new veterinary school in Raleigh, North Carolina. My wife Kathy and I had always talked about how much we enjoyed the Southeast. I got a call from Dr. Steve Crane, Department Head of Companion Animal and Special Species Medicine, asking if I would be interested in becoming a faculty member. My application was successful so I joined Drs. Bill Betts and Dave DeYoung as the initial surgery faculty. Ultimately Dr. Elizabeth Stone (Dean Emeritus, University of Guelph, in Canada) and Dr. Lizzette Hardie came on board and made up the core of the surgery group during the very early days.

What was it about Orthopedic Surgery that appealed to you? Is there a particular area where you feel the pet owner has benefited the most from recent advancements?

I had a very well rounded residency that exposed me to a wide range of surgery including soft tissue, cardiovascular, neuro, orthopedic and reconstructive. I started my career in surgery as a faculty member at Purdue University. We had the good fortune to have surgeons with differing interests, and orthopedics and oncologic surgery became a natural niche for me in the group.

I enjoyed the challenges with these cases because you didn’t always know what you could do until after you’d gotten the tumor out. The same thought process goes with orthopedics. We also saw a lot of hip dysplasia cases, which gave me the opportunity to begin a total hip replacement program.

When I went to North Carolina State, I continued that focus and started a clinical total hip replacement program there. This grew into a strong research program associated with a large human orthopedic company and focused on joint replacement and biomaterials.

Every case, even if it was a routine case, had a challenge to it. It’s so rewarding afterward to see an animal return to function from a debilitating injury or disease.

Additionally, I found it very enjoyable to work with industry – academia and industry working together to solve problems in a research setting. Joint replacement and the use of biomaterials have made a monumental improvement in how we manage orthopedic disorders.

You’ve won numerous awards for clinical and teaching excellence, including the Norden Distinquished Teacher Award at Purdue University and North Carolina State University State University. What was the most rewarding aspect of teaching? What do you think made you excel at teaching?

The most rewarding to me is simply having a student, whether it was a resident, graduate student or veterinary student, tell me years later something positive that I meant to their education and/or career. And, to surprise you with what it was that influenced them. That’s something that you did not expect.

As an example, a student brings a little bird into the clinic with a broken wing, and everybody else says we can’t mess with that, just put it down. And I say, “Let’s work on it, but you’re going to do the work and learn how to work with the bird and with the fracture.” And that student comes back years later and says how that influenced them is probably one of the more impactful, positive type of examples that I have from my career in teaching.

Faculties in the clinical sciences are rarely trained teachers – including me. Whatever technique or skillset you gain is usually through experience and mentors, and I was very fortunate to have good mentors. All my life I prided myself on listening to other colleagues, whether they be in the clinic, in the classroom setting or in a seminar or a national or international meeting, trying to take away learnings to improve. Not to copy, but to improve my delivery to whomever I’m speaking to. I spent a lot of years hopefully getting better and better, as I found I love teaching.

You left the college campus to join Mark Morris Associates, ultimately being named Vice President, Clinical Nutrition and Chief Animal Welfare Veterinarian of Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc. Why did you join a pet nutrition company, and that one in particular?

Like so many times in my career it was a combination of career and family. The career opportunity was with Mark Morris Associates, subsequently the research and development arm of Hill’s Pet Nutrition, and to join two individuals from my North Carolina State days, Dr. Steve Crane and Dr. Mike Hand, who I had a lot of confidence and trust in. Hill’s was known for its strong nutritional research and relationship with the veterinary profession so it was a good opportunity for me to come back home to teach, lecture around the world on orthopedic diseases and clinical nutrition, and lead research on the role of nutritional influences on orthopedic diseases.

We hated to leave North Carolina, but my wife Kathy had just been through a major surgery to remove a spinal cord tumor and had made a pretty good recovery. We thought this might be a good time to come back to Kansas to be closer to family.

We met when you were Director of Advanced Research at Hill’s Pet Nutrition and launching Prescription Diet t/d. Then we launched “Pets Need Dental Care, Too! which Hill’s sponsored with the AVMA, the AVDS, and later the AVDC and AVDA for many years. You developed the dental seal. What was it about that project that was so unique?  

As you know, we put a lot of people and resources into developing Hill’s dental technology. There was great commitment and enthusiasm internally but it needed your expertise, foresight, and negotiating skills in public relations to create “Pets Need Dental Care, Too!” or we wouldn’t have been successful launching the technology.

For the public relations campaign, you connected us in the right way. It wasn’t just a commercial launch. It was a professional launch. I think that has to be emphasized, because Hill’s did not do it blindly commercial. They did it for the veterinary profession and our pets. And, it has been credited with building the oral care category for pets. I think they’ve been underrated and underappreciated for it.

As far as the research, I keep having to remind myself, it wasn’t that many years ago that we didn’t really understand all the things that are talked about today about nutrition and inflammation and joint disease and dental disease.

Dentistry was becoming a mainstream focus in veterinary medicine and the link between good oral health and systemic health was getting stronger and stronger. I was asked to lead the dental research because of my background in orthopedics. You’re looking at maintaining healthy teeth, bone and gums to maintain a healthy mouth and healthy body.

The question we were asking ourselves was, how could we make nutrition and the mechanical act of eating help keep the mouth clean and healthy? That was the birth of the dental research, which became a multimillion-dollar research effort at Hill’s, with strong support from Colgate, Hill’s parent company.

We finally focused in on working with the mechanical cleansing of the teeth through a patented technique for making the dental kibble. And that’s what, as you’re very well versed in, gave birth to the first product, Prescription Diet t/d. You know all the things we did to demonstrate how when they bite into the kibble it squeegees the teeth and cleans them. From there our dental research combined with nutrition to extend the technology into other products.

We simultaneously worked with the American Veterinary Dental Society (AVDS), the American Veterinary Dental Academy (AVDA), and the emerging American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC). Then with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) to establish some method by which products could be tested and assure the customer that they were efficacious. That’s where the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC®) seal came from.

We helped develop the dental seal to emulate the American Dental Association’s (ADA) seal of approval. That testing was based on the use of a dog-testing panel where you clean the teeth and then you measure how much plaque, stain, and tarter builds back up. Subsequently even gingivitis could be measured. That was the basis for the seal. It was an historic undertaking that was a great commitment from Hill’s.

Are there other product launches that you want to mention that are particularly memorable or meaningful to you?

While there are many products in the Hill’s’ product line, the two that I would like to mention I think stand out as classic Hill’s being the first and driven by science. The first is Prescription Diet® b/d®, which people refer to as the brain diet. But the truth is it’s one of the earliest most effective uses of antioxidants. It was the first product where Hill’s, known for limiting nutrients, actually enhanced nutrients. For example, with kidney disease you’d limit the amount of protein in the formula but use high biologic value protein sources to reduce the load on the kidney to eliminate nitrogenous wastes. Hill’s is the one that promoted the fact that excess nutrients can cause health problems.

Antioxidants were a step in the other direction, where we enhanced the product with antioxidants. The research that was done and published in the human and veterinary literature was groundbreaking. But it was again very difficult for the consumer to understand and differentiate from other run of the mill pet foods that said, “we have antioxidants”.

Hill’s actually had documented proof. To me it was probably the most dramatic research I’ve ever been associated with. To watch young puppies grow up eating two different diets – one relatively normal pet food diet, the other an antioxidant enriched diet and to observe the dramatic differences as they performed memory and learning testing – was impressive.

The memory learning testing was extremely involved and very expensive. We did that with researchers out of the University of California Irvine and Bill Milgram out of Toronto. It was unbelievable to watch these dogs on enhanced diets age slower. It was documented with MRIs, with learning tests and behavior tests. We also looked at how old dogs improved on the diet. It was unbelievable. But yet, it was very difficult to get that across to the public.

The other product is Prescription Diet® j/d® where you are enhancing the role of anti inflammatory, essential fatty acids. The N3 and N6 fatty acids at the proper levels and ratios, along with antioxidants, mitigate joint inflammation. Fatty acids had been used in dermatologic conditions, but they really hadn’t been studied in joint disease. Our study results were dramatic. When the appropriate fatty acids were incorporated into the dog’s diet at the proper ratio and amounts, dramatic results were achieved mitigating and improving clinical osteoarthritis.

We’ve worked together on several additional projects over the years – mentoring from you is more like it! Despite all of your responsibilities, you have always set aside time to have focused conversations. Is it still possible to set aside focused time in today’s 24-7 environment? How do you do it?

I think treating people the way you want to be treated and honestly listening are two driving concepts for me that started with my upbringing and continued with others throughout my career, and for that I’m very grateful.

My mother was an extremely giving person. She helped anyone and everyone. Yes, you get taken advantage of occasionally, but I don’t recall ever seeing that growing up with my mother. She always was willing to help people whether it was bringing someone home from church to eat lunch or an English as a second language person she helped get their GED.

Professionally I had so many people help me over my career from vet school days to my residency to my faculty life to this day. I have so many people that supported me as mentors or were there when I needed help, or guidance, or to simply give me good advice.

Honestly listening and being supportive is not hard when it is a mutually respectful relationship. I have, to this day, continued to have people like you who are always supportive. I think it’s not a duty. It’s not an arduous undertaking. It’s a natural easy response.

You’ve always had an appreciation for the importance of good media relations. That’s not always a given that leadership wants to talk to the media. Where did your interest come from? 

 Communication has always been important for me – whether it’s with a pet owner or through the media, it’s important to be clear. When you’re talking to a pet owner about their case, you try to make them understand, and that means watching how they are taking in the information you are giving them. Do they really understand? I always tried to read the client and be patient. I like people to feel comfortable that they understand and that I’ve been clear. If I haven’t, then they need to tell me.

When it came down to the media, I always saw that as an opportunity to educate. When we started the total hip program at Purdue, I worked with the campus media when Purdue played in the NCAA tournament in the Sweet 16 to put in an educational piece about our brand-new total hip replacement program. We were just a fledgling new program, but I had friends calling me from all over the country saying we just saw you on the television at the halftime of the basketball game. It really jump-started our total hip program!

Finally, you never know how good communication will benefit you in the future. The written word isn’t always understood correctly. In other words, it can be misconstrued. But if you’re not cryptic about it and you’re open and you are consistent, people are much more comfortable to ask questions. Good communication is really appreciated.

What made you decide to take on the building of the K-State Olathe campus after retiring from Hill’s?

People thought I was retiring because of family and stuff like that. Well, this is not a cliché. I was looking at retiring because my wife Kathy had really devoted her career to my career. And with her health issues, it was critical to me that we enjoy quality of life for as long as we could. I could not devote the time necessary to do a good job at Hill’s with doing what I wanted to do with my personal life.

About that time K-State learned that I was considering retiring. They said they had this initiative in Olathe in Johnson County to build a new campus and would I consider leading. They were looking for someone that could bridge industry and academia.

My wife and I decided that this was something we would enjoy doing because it was our alma mater. Coming back to academia wouldn’t be difficult, it fit right in with me being the first resident at Tennessee, one of the first new faculty members at North Carolina State, and it was accepting a new challenge.

I felt fortunate to have the opportunity to come in as CEO. I felt very proud of the fact that we could establish a culture at that campus that to this day carries on. It’s a culture of acceptance, outreach, and enveloping K-12, as well as the adult community and being part of the community. It was a great opportunity to do that.

It was probably a bigger bite to chew than what we had planned, but it worked out fine. We feel very good about the fact that developing that campus for Kansas State was a good thing to do. We were warmly embraced in the Olathe community. Kathy was asked to stay on the Olathe Person’s with Disabilities Advisory Board, even though we don’t actually live in Olathe anymore. We had tremendous support from the Kansas State family as well as the Johnson County community. It melded together for a very unique and successful undertaking. Then, I really retired.

Another noted aspect of your career is the sheer number of published papers, speaking engagements and committees. With time at an all-time premium and volunteerism going down, what counsel can you give to our future leaders on how to participate in all of these activities?

First, look for mentors. Some will be obvious, some you will need to search out, but it’s important to have advice, guidance, support, and living examples from others in your career/life path. I have been fortunate to have many wonderful mentors throughout my life – from K-12, college, internship & residency, teaching, research, and into administration. I owe them a great deal of debt and thanks.

Second, go beyond your comfort zone in some aspect so that you learn something new in areas that aren’t necessarily tied directly to your career. I started out wanting to be a large animal veterinarian. I ended up being a small animal orthopedic surgeon. I traversed through Industry, and ultimately I went back into an academic leadership role, learning community relations and things that I never thought I would do. Don’t avoid taking on responsibilities. Expand your horizons. You’ll influence people in ways you never knew, sometimes just by your actions. And finally, showing support to others means so much.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

The one I owe the greatest thanks and indebtedness is my wife of 43 years (and still counting!), Kathy. All the positive I have accomplished is because of her partnership, unfailing support, counsel, and sacrifice.

Thank you Dan!

 

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1 Comment

  1. Ronnie Elmore on

    Dan:

    Thank you for all that you have done for our profession! You have been an excellent mentor in so many different ways for so many people through your personal life and your career. Many of us have been negligent in saying “thank you”! So, “thank you”!

    You and Kathy are a real inspiration to all of us who know you.

    Ronnie

    R G Elmore
    Associate Dean for Admissions and Diversity
    College of Veterinary Medicine
    Kansas State University

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