Women leading change: Sheila Allen
When Dr. Keith Prasse announced his retirement in 2005 as University of Georgia’s veterinary college dean, he was asked to recommend someone for the job—preferably a woman and preferably someone from outside the school.
One out of two ain’t bad.
“Regardless of the fact that she’s a woman and that it was time for women to be deans, Sheila Allen was absolutely the most qualified candidate,” Dr. Prasse says.
He had previously picked Dr. Allen, DACVS, a long-time professor, as an associate dean. In eight years in that job, Dr. Allen helped the faculty modernize the curriculum, rework the acceptance process to give preference to veterinarians willing to work in underserved niches, and brought “respect and discipline” back to the school, Dr. Prasse says.
As dean since 2005, Dr. Allen has overseen the college during one of the worst recessions in history while increasing student enrollment, enhancing the research mission, developing new teaching areas—such as emergency and critical care—and working to secure funding for a new multimillion-dollar veterinary college expansion.
Dr. Allen was the second female veterinary college dean in history; the first was Dr. Shirley Johnston, PhD, at the recently fully accredited Western University. But Dr. Allen says her gender as dean was never a big deal to her. “Becoming dean was the huge step for me,” she says. “Being a woman didn’t merit special recognition as far as I was concerned.”
These days, Dr. Allen continues to call for expansion of veterinary schools to meet demand—”There won’t be any new schools with teaching hospitals anytime soon,” she says—and is lobbying the state of Georgia, adjoining states, and the federal government to help strengthen the veterinary workforce. And how can they do this? By funding research and veterinary education at her university. “It’s in the interest of the public good for veterinarians to serve in rural practice, food animal medicine, public safety, and biomedical research,” she says.
Help is needed to keep talented veterinarians in those roles and in academia, she says—financial help. “We must compensate faculty better,” she says. “We’ve worked to diminish the gap in compensation between academia and the private sector. But there can’t be a huge cost for veterinarians to devote their careers to teaching, research, and public service.”