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Vet Gazette

Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine eNewsletter

Alumna Innovator Gets OSU Award

November 2nd, 2016

Dr. Kris Otteman (Class of 1986) is the director of Shelter Medicine and Humane Investigations at the Oregon Humane Society.

Last week Dr. Kris Otteman, director of Shelter Medicine and Humane Investigations at the Oregon Humane Society (OHS), was one of six OSU graduates to receive this year’s Alumni Fellow Award from the OSU Alumni Association.

Dr. Otteman (Class of 1986) was instrumental in developing a partnership with OSU that provides experiential learning for fourth-year veterinary students at the OHS Animal Medical Learning Center in Portland. She also developed one of the first shelter‐based medicine residency and internship program in the United States.

Dr. Otteman is a big beaver fan; she and her husband, Dr. Jeff Brant (CVM Class of 1985) ‘bleed orange’. “I really love this college,” she says. “It built the foundation for my career and allowed me to do what I always wanted from the time I was a small child.”

After earning their DVMs, Drs. Otteman and Brant opened a mixed-animal practice in Klamath Falls. Then in 1993, Pet Smart offered them (and fellow OSU alums Scott and Sandy Campbell) an opportunity to provide in-store veterinary clinics and they went for it. Those clinics evolved into a chain of full-service hospitals called Vet Smart. “It was really grass roots when it started,” says Otteman. “The four of us got together and started building a team of people. Within the first year, we opened 36 hospitals in Oregon, Washington, California and Illinois.”

Otteman’s primary role at Vet Smart was recruiting and training. She also worked on procedures and policies for the operation. “We were really focused on high quality,” she says, “We wanted to get it right, both for the pets and the profession. ” Those hospitals eventually evolved into the Banfield Pet Hospitals chain. Otteman says it was a great opportunity to learn about business and gain skills she still uses today.

In 2001, Otteman volunteered for the Cat Adoption Team who ran a shelter in Tigard and were in the process of building a veterinary hospital. “At that time there were no veterinary hospitals inside shelters anywhere in the whole country,” she says. “I got really excited about the idea of providing veterinary care for a large population of animals to get them through the shelter healthy so they could go to new homes quickly.”

In 2006, the Oregon Humane Society began building a hospital at their shelter in Portland. They asked Otteman to be on the selection committee for their first veterinarian. “They had a vision of this medical center and were in early conversations with the Dean at OSU about a partnership,“ she says. “The Dean & faculty were looking for a way to provide more hands-on experience for students. From the OHS perspective, it was an opportunity to help the profession while having in-house expertise from an OSU faculty person.”

Dr. Otteman was so enthusiastic about the project, she applied for, and was hired, as the director of the new hospital. A big part of her job was to tackle the OSU partnership idea. “Nothing was cemented when I came on board,” she says. “Many people said ‘This isn’t going to work’. Some people were worried about having students involved; someone actually said, ‘They might hold parties in the shelter’. It’s hilarious looking back now.”

Dr. Otteman remembers her overnight rotations in the OSU large animal hospital as the highlight of her veterinary education. “I lived in those little rooms downstairs as much as I could,” she says. “If an emergency came in, the students staying overnight could go help. It was very hands-on; I loved that a lot.” She believed that veterinary college needed more of those real-world teaching opportunities so the OHS partnership really spoke to her. “I thought it was a brilliant idea,” she says.

In 2007, the new CVM Dean, Dr. Cyril Clarke, joined forces with Dr. Otteman in moving the partnership idea forward. “It was a team effort,” says Otteman.

Once the project was approved by both sides, Dr. Otteman had to figure out how to move from concept to reality. “I had to build the curriculum, write a syllabus, and deal with the logistics of having students here.” Her biggest challenge was making sure the teaching program was fully integrated into the shelter. The new onsite faculty person, Dr. Kirk Miller, was a big help. “He had to shepherd the students and provide a quality education while still getting the shelter work done,” she says. “He is very dedicated, and is so good at working with the students.”   Dr. Miller has been Dr. Otteman’s partner in this program for nine years.

The idea of learning in a shelter environment was so new, there were only a handful of OSU students willing to try it, and they arrived with reservations. “They weren’t even sure if they should bring their suitcases in and stay in the dorm,” says Dr. Otteman.

Once the AMLC opened and was successful, Drs. Clarke and Otteman wanted to spread the word, so they held a symposium and invited Deans from all the vet colleges in the country. “We had every single vet school in attendance,” says Dr. Otteman. “Since then the idea has spread. Pretty much every school now has some model of doing high volume, shelter-oriented training for students. Some take a truck full of students and go around doing spay/neuter, while others have direct in shelter programs up and running. . We are the only shelter-based required course program that I know of, but most all veterinary colleges are now  doing some kind of learning partnership with a shelter.”

When Dr. Otteman graduated from the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine in 1986, the veterinary profession and animal shelters had very little interaction. “I was astounded,” says Dr. Otteman. “I had no idea that veterinary medicine and shelters had no cross-pollination. Now we do and its changing the whole industry.” This is one of the reasons she enjoys her work.  “If people are watching what we are doing, learning from it, and doing it in other places, that gives me a lot of satisfaction.”

With her passion for shelter medicine, Dr. Otteman sees the Alumni Fellow Award as another opportunity to make a difference. “Once again, I get to shine a light on the partnership between vet med and animal welfare. That is the highlight of this for me.”

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