Dr. Ruby L. Perry, Dean of Tuskegee University, is the new President of AAVMC for 2023-2024
A conversation on women's leadership in Vet Med
Congratulations on your appointment as President! Could you please share a bit about your professional and educational journey that led you here?
Thank you, I am honored to have been given this opportunity and trust from my colleagues to be the first African American woman to hold the president’s position at the AAVMC. I became interested in animals as a career choice when I had to work my way through college as an undergraduate at Jackson State University, and I was fortunate to find a job with a veterinarian as a kennel worker cleaning cages. This veterinarian, Dr. Roland Powell became a mentor and changed my journey from wanting to be a mathematician to becoming a veterinarian. He introduced me to the fascinating world of veterinary medicine, and I started planning for a journey toward a fascinating veterinary career. Being a graduate from Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine, he encouraged me to attend his alma mater. I wanted to be a part of such a rich history at Tuskegee University, and graduated with a B.S. degree in Animal and Poultry Science and my Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree.
I often reflect on the lack of awareness of veterinary medicine as a career choice and emphasize the importance of the introduction of our veterinary profession early in the lives of children. Here, for me I was not aware of such a wonderful career until I was in college.
I completed a small animal internship at Tuskegee University and then a radiology residency at Michigan State University where I also received the M.S. degree in Microbiology. Incidentally, another Tuskegee veterinary alumnus inspired me and played a major role in my journey towards a specialty in veterinary radiology and that was Dr. Ellis M. Hall, who served as the first African American Diplomate in the American College of Veterinary Radiology (ACVR). As a result of his guidance, I too specialized in this area and became the first African American female board-certified radiologist. Both of us are Tuskegee University graduates.
During the early years of my career, I began my journey on faculty as assistant professor of veterinary radiology at Tuskegee University and progressed through the promotion process and achieved tenure status. While at Tuskegee University, I served in several leadership positions including acting department head, faculty senate, and interim chief of staff. I was recruited back to Michigan State University as assistant professor of veterinary radiology and again worked my way through the promotion and tenure process and earned tenure as an associate professor of veterinary radiology. While on faculty at Michigan State for about 20 years, I also served as section chief of veterinary radiology.
In 2007, I was recruited back to Tuskegee University as the associate dean for academic affairs. During this segment of my academic journey, I decided to remain in academia and expanded my education with the PhD degree in Educational Leadership, and served as vice-provost of undergraduate education. I’ve had many years in academia at both Tuskegee University and Michigan State University, but it was my return to Tuskegee in 2007 in the College of Veterinary Medicine which eventually led me to being appointed the veterinary college’s first female dean in 2015.
What are some of your plans/goals as President?
My plan is to continue the momentum set by the AAVMC Executive Board to keep our strategic plan in front of us so that we can achieve the goals already in place. The veterinary profession and veterinary medical education must continue to change to meet societal needs and our strategic plan is a “solid” blueprint to help us reach new levels of performance, accountability and achievement. As a collaborative president, it is important to stay focused on AAVMC’s five strategic priorities that ultimately align with the overarching theme of advancing academic veterinary medicine for protecting and improving the health and welfare of animals, people, and the environment.
Why do you feel it is important for women to be represented in positions of leadership, such as your new position?
In spite of a gender shift in healthcare professions, women are not promoted or even considered for leadership roles equally or in stride with the changing world. We live in a heterogenous society, and we serve heterogeneous populations in the veterinary profession. It has been clearly documented that there is a need to close the gender gap and when there is gender equality and diversity within the workforce, organizations outperform those organizations that are not trending the same. Therefore, it is important that women take advantage of opportunities to learn the principles of leadership and add those skills to their toolbox regardless of your position in the workplace. Women can use learned leadership skills throughout their career and many times, opportunities are presented to us that we did not realize or think about. Many of us do not dream to be leaders; we just want to be the best that we can be in our discipline and career. Most important, it is critical to take a chance to serve and make a difference for others to achieve and realize their career goals. As women, we also have the awesome responsibility of paving the way for other women as a model by supporting them and encouraging them to step up and step forward in leadership roles that will advance our beloved veterinary profession at all levels. Women have much to contribute to a healthy and successful organization by influencing, engaging, and modelling a workplace culture more inclusive for women. Let’s get a seat at the discussion round-table and have a voice in the decision-making process that not only impacts women but for the common good of all people.
What advice would you offer to young women interested in following a similar career path in veterinary medicine?
Veterinary medicine as other healthcare professions require a strong foundation in science and math. With the expansion of additional skillset needs, it is also critical to acquire transitional or coping skills in health and well-being, and the fundamental academic principles including vital study skills and learning strategies. Stay laser-focused on your career even though there might be detours in your life. As we navigate through a veterinary medical education and on to the next chapter in our career, we must realize that we did not ride/walk solo. The journey was filled with those who encouraged us and even observed potential in us that we did not or could not see in ourselves. Having mentors, advocates, and champions around us are key ingredients that shoulder us along the way. Find those supporters and many times they will find us especially if we are open to professional and personal growth and enrichment. Sharpen those listening skills to receive valuable advice and words of wisdom from those who invest in your success. Most importantly, it is always good to express a sense of gratitude. Take a moment to test your courage. Do not be afraid to take a risk with those mini-steps toward a courageous act of change that will benefit others and a good cause for the group as a whole. My career has been convoluted with successes and disappointments, however, I do not look at the latter as failures, but valuable lessons learned for the next opportunity.
Any other relevant information/facts/advice you’d like to share?
As an educator in veterinary medicine, I believe our responsibility is to not only educate students as competent career-ready veterinary medical graduates, but also prepare them to be leaders and become actively engaged in advancing all aspects of the veterinary profession. Recognizing this huge and shared responsibility amongst all veterinary medical educators will in the end make our profession more inclusive and a trusted global leader. Our industry is changing in the make-up of gender rather some feel for the good or bad; however, change is inevitable, and we must adapt. The veterinary profession is now majority female in practice and more than 80% of new graduates are women. However, leadership in corporate practices, academia, and our national associations has not changed to keep pace, although women aspire to obtain leadership roles in the veterinary profession.
I plan to continue to take advantage of leadership opportunities that give me an opportunity to be an impactful leader that will ultimately make our beloved veterinary profession more diverse and more inclusive.
The AAVMC congratulates Dr. Perry as its first African American female president and looks forward to working together to champion for the advancement of the profession. Learn more about Dr. Perry and Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine here.