Around The College

Teaching Science of Radiology Through Art

There may be nothing more important to a veterinary radiologist than developing visual skills in order to make determinations about a medical issue an animal may have.

To teach students how to hone their visual skills, Dr. Rachel Moon, an assistant clinical professor of radiology in the Department of Clinical Sciences, partnered with the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University to bring art and science into focus.

Students volunteered to spend a Saturday morning at the museum, examining works of art on display. Students were asked to spend time observing selected pieces of art, objectively describe the visual details they saw in each, and use these details to interpret the artwork.

Student looking at art on wall

Once students practiced visual exam skills, they, along with Dr. Moon and Scott Bishop, curator of academic and public programs at the museum, went into a classroom to discuss their findings and their interpretations.

At the end of the session, students applied that newly developed skill set to examine radiographs and other diagnostic images, applying what they could see, the objective visual details, to interpret the images.

“Interpretation is based on our actual experience,” Dr. Moon said. “There can be a lot of different interpreta-tions based on a central theme.

“This is a pilot program for the college, but one that other medical training programs have adopted and one I felt was applicable to the clinical education of our student veterinarians,” Dr. Moon said. “For instance, Yale and Harvard medical schools have used the same theory of utilizing art to teach observational skills resulting in improved physical examination techniques and even empathy.”

Radiology, Dr. Moon said, “is an integrated process between the art and the science of discovery. The answer [to a medical problem] is not always apparent, so it is important that students can first describe what they are seeing before jumping to possible answers. “Radiology is not something you can teach facts for students to memorize,” she said. “They have to have the ability to carefully observe, see and then interpret and a na lyze.

”Veterinary students can sometimes find radiology courses stressful, because students have to employ critical examination skills. But radiology is not alone. “These skills can be used broadly in a number of physical diagnosis situations for veterinarians, including dermatology and ophthalmology,” she said.

“Everything we ask our students to do requires keen observation skills. What I’m trying to teach students is the difference between observation and interpretation and that one must precede the other.

”Dr. Moon said the partnership with the museum has been perfect, “because art has no bias, it’s new to the students and it’s non-threatening. “

In a classroom setting, students are relying on typical biases, but in a museum, they must rely on their skills of observation to make interpretations.

“When veterinary students are in the clinical setting, there is a lot at stake, and they can feel the pressure. ‘Will they get the diagnosis right, will the client accept the diagnosis?’,” Dr. Moon said.

“Here, we can teach them important skills they can take back to the clinical setting but do so in a way that is not intimidating and threatening. It builds confidence in students.”

Bishop agrees. “People might think that museums are not for them, that the activity of looking at art is an elite one. As an academic museum, we are committed to making art accessible to everyone. We especially want our students to be empowered to look at art, understand it, and feel its relevance in their lives.

Students looking at radiographs on the wall

“It’s easy to look at a painting and say, ‘the girl is wearing a green dress’ but then they must also examine her face and say ‘is she worried,’” Bishop said. “Distinguishing that is the difference between observation and interpretation.

“It is how we convey in words what the artist is trying to convey in paint.

”Dr. Moon said when the students begin looking at works of art, they will count people and buildings and animals, and describe them in detail. As the sessions progress, the students make conclusions based on what they see. “Their observations and interpretations of the paintings, once they examine them, is exactly the same process that they need to go through when they look at a radiograph.

“They need to use the descriptions to get to a conclusion, especially when the answer is not always apparent,” she said. “They have to describe what they see and then interpret it.”

Third-year student Matt Miller, one of several students who volunteered his time, said the project interested him because it is a skill that is important to the profession. “It has helped me examine details, to not overlook small details which could be important, and to not have preconceived notions.”

Freelie Mitchell, also a third-year student, agreed. “The sessions have helped me better examine art and radiology and it will be something that will help me in my clinical education and in the profession.”

Faculty Among University Research Award Recipients

Eleven faculty from the College of Veterinary Medicine are members of research teams announced as part of a $5 million investment in 11 groundbreaking projects designed to deliver practical, life-changing solutions.

The announcement is part of an initiative funded through the Presidential Awards for Interdisciplinary Research (PAIR) created last year by Auburn President Steven Leath to propel Auburn to new levels of research and development distinction. PAIR funding will span three years.

Auburn’s research teams are tackling local and global challenges ranging from housing affordability to advanced manufacturing of medical implants.

“Auburn research is on the move,” said President Leath. “Our world-renowned faculty are leading Auburn in our drive to solve problems, provide real-world benefits and serve the social good.”

“The College of Veterinary Medicine is proud of its faculty’s success in the PAIR competition,” Dean Calvin Johnson said. “It demonstrates the importance of our college to the university’s interdisciplinary research mission in the health sciences, bioengineering, and agriculture.”

“This is an exciting time for research at Auburn,” added Dr. Frank “Skip” Bartol, associate dean of Research and Graduate Studies at the college. “The College of Veterinary Medicine is pleased that 11 members of our faculty, representing all of our academic departments and the Scott-R itchey Research Center, are engaged as team members on PAIR projects funded in all three tiers.”

The College of Veterinary Medicine recipients include:

  • Dean Schwartz, Jennifer Panizzi and Vinicia Biancardi, Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology;
  • Sarah Zohdy, Department of Pathobiology, who holds a joint appointment with the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences;
  • Nancy Merner, Department of Pathobiology;
  • Dr. Bruce Smith, Department of Pathobiology, and Doug Martin and Chad Foradori, Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology; and
  • Drs. Kayla Corriveau, Debra Taylor and Julie Gard Schnuelle, Department of Clinical Sciences

Additional research topics include rural health disparities in poverty-stricken areas, treating the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, neuroscience research and graduate education, reducing carbon dioxide emissions or using them for other means, and other critical areas of human and environmental health.

Project teams were selected from three award tiers: Tier I for new teams, with funding up to $100,000 per year; Tier II for established teams, with funding up to $250,000 per year; and Tier III for high-impact teams, with funding up to $500,000 per year.

All proposals received an in-depth evaluation from Auburn’s associate deans for research, and Tier 3 proposals were also externally evaluated. Top-evaluated proposals were those that most closely aligned with the goals of PAIR as stated in the program guidelines. From 101 proposals received, 11 project teams will receive funding (the two top-evaluated proposals per tier for up to three years of funding, as well as five additional, top-evaluated Tier 1 proposals for two years of funding with a third-year no-cost extension available).

A complete list of the Tier I, Tier II and Tier III research teams and detailed descriptions of their research projects is available online at:



Additive Manufacturing of Durable, Next Generation Implants and Orthotics– $1,275,000 over three years.

Project Team includes 15 faculty: Drs. Kayla Corriveau, Debra Taylor, and Julie Gard Schnuelle, Department of Clinical Sciences, and 12 faculty from Samuel Ginn College of Engineering and School of Pharmacy.

This project aims to determine best methods for using additive manufacturing (“3D printing”) to fabricate conformal, drug-delivering (and non-drug-delivering) implants and performance-enhancing/rehabilitative orthotics for both small animals (dogs, cats) and humans. This work should better position AU to compete for health science funding, including the National Institutes of Health. PAIR funding will be used to considerably enhance the capabilities of Auburn’s recently initiated Center for Additive Manufacturing Excellence.


Establishment of a Center of Neuroscience (CNS) – $637,500 over three years.

Project Team includes 28 faculty: Dr. Bruce Smith, Department of Pathobiology; Doug Martin and Chad Foradori, Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology; and 24 faculty from the School of Pharmacy, College of Human Sciences, College of Liberal Arts, Samuel Ginn College of Engineering and VCOM.

With the long-term objective of establishing the CNS as a flagship entity for Auburn University, the project team will engage in activities to foster extramurally supported neuroscience research including (1) infrastructure development in which CNS members will be given priority access, including core facilities operated by CNS members; (2) biweekly CNS work-in-progress meetings and a monthly CNS seminar series creating awareness of the scope of neuroscience and neurological disease research on campus, fostering interdisciplinary collabo-rations and multi-investigator applications for extramural funding; (3) a yearly retreat with an organized symposium with outstanding national members of the neuroscience community, as well as senior research administrators from federal agencies; (4) formation of “CNS Ad Hoc Review Committees” to provide internal and external pre-submission reviews of manuscripts and grant applications by study section members of various funding agencies; (5) bridge funding for those faculty members with scored but not funded extramural proposals related to neuroscience; and (6) development of a proposed neuroscience certificate program (MS/PhD).


Emerging Contaminants Research Team– $150,000 over two years.

Project Team includes six faculty: Dean Schwartz, Jennifer Panizzi, and Vinicia Biancardi from the Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology and three faculty from Samuel Ginn College of Engineering and the School of Fisheries and Allied Aquaculture.

This project will establish the Auburn University Emerging Contaminants Research Team (ECRT), initially comprised of researchers from Auburn Univer-sity’s College of Engineering (Civil), the College of Agriculture (Biosystems Engineering and Fisheries), and the College of Veterinary Medicine (Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology). The team will study the behavior, fate, ecological and human health conse-quences, and mitigation of emerging contaminants of concern. Initially, the ECRT will focus on a class of emerging contaminants of recent and growing interest and concern to major extramural funding groups and the general public: emerging per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs).

PFASs represent a large group of purely synthetic organic compounds with known or suspected endocrine-dis-rupting properties in both humans and wildlife.

A Prototype Framework of Climate Services for Decision Making – $150,000 over two years.

Project Team includes eight faculty, including Sarah Zohdy, who has a joint appointment in the School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences and the Department of Pathobiology; and seven faculty in the College of Agriculture and the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering.

The goal of this project is to develop and incorporate science-based climate information and prediction into planning, policy and practice at the regional, national, and global scales. The central hypothesis is that the unified climate information system (UCIS) will provide actionable climate services and result in improved climate resilience and risk management practices in agriculture, natural resources, and public health sectors.

Extra-virgin Olive Oil Prevents Conversion of Mild Cognitive Impairment to Alzheimer’s Disease – $150,000 over two years.

Project Team consists of eight faculty including Nancy Merner, Department of Pathobiology, and faculty from School of Pharmacy, Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, the College of Liberal Arts, and VCOM.

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder of the elderly that afflicts about 30 million patients globally and more than five million Americans. Despite the considerable research effort to prevent, treat, or cure Alzheimer’s disease, effective strategies remain lacking. Many disease hallmarks have been identified among which is the compromised blood-brain barrier (BBB). Team members have developed a high-throughput screening assay to identify hit compounds that rectify the BBB integrity from vascular amyloid toxicity associated with AD progression. One of the identified hits is polyphenols-rich olive oil, such as extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO). In multiple subsequent preclinical studies, the research team was able to show the positive effect of EVOO on modulating the disease hallmarks, including the leaky BBB, in mouse models of AD. The natural extension of this work is to test EVOO performance, in addition to other identified lead compounds, in human clinical studies.

Tuskegee, Auburn Collaborate to Increase Diversity, Veterinary Specialists

Increasing diversity in the veterinary profession is one of the major priorities of the American Veterinary Medical Association and one of the driving forces behind another historic initiative in veterinary medicine between Tuskegee and Auburn Universities.

Dean Perry and Dean Johnson signing document
Dean Ruby Perry and Dean Calvin Johnson sign historic agreement at Tuskegee University.

The long-standing relationship between both veterinary colleges has resulted in the development of an initiative to increase under-represented board certified specialists and diversity in the veterinary profession. Tuskegee will allocate funding for a Tuskegee veterinary medical graduate to train as a resident in a clinical area of need at Auburn’s College of Veterinary Medicine and return to Tuskegee as a board-certified specialist and a faculty member.

The agreement was signed June 27 at Tuskegee University by Dr. Ruby L. Perry, Tuskegee veterinary dean, and Auburn CVM Dean Dr. Calvin M. Johnson.

The initiative benefits both veterinary colleges by strengthening their diversity programs and serving as a model for other collaborative efforts.

“Although veterinary medicine is still one of the most ethnically, racially and culturally homogenous professions in the country, this initiative is another way to make a difference and help achieve the goal of addressing diversity and emphasize that diversity matters in the veterinary profession. The signing of the MOU between the two colleges underscores how we can combine efforts and resources for a common good by responding to the call to improve diversity in the veterinary profession,” Dean Perry said.

“Auburn’s College of Veterinary Medicine enjoys a strong collaborative relationship with the Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine in many areas, including joint engagement in student activities, sharing of faculty expertise, and collegial interactions between our teaching hospitals. By signing this MOU, Dean Perry and I have extended that collaboration to the training of an outstanding Tuskegee veterinarian as a resident in radiology at Auburn’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital under the direction of Dr. John Hathcock,” Dean Johnson said.

The AVMA Council on Education, the accrediting body for the veterinary profession, has emphasized that every veterinary college/school demonstrate efforts to increase diversity and inclusion in the profession and has also integrated it into the accreditation standards. This action validates the importance of ensuring that changes continue to address the increasingly diverse veterinary workforce, which currently does not reflect the population of this diverse nation.

“Dean Johnson and I are excited about this collaboration and share a strong commitment to identify ways to promote awareness and understanding of diversity and inclusion within veterinary medical education for our students and faculty. There are valuable learning opportunities for our administrative and student leaders that we continue to have conversations on those issues that impact the future of the veterinary profession,” Dean Perry said.

“East Alabama has many unique strengths, and one of its greatest is the concentrated focus on veterinary education at two major universities. Tuskegee University is renowned for its ongoing commitment and compelling vision for excellence in the veterinary profession through diversity and inclusion. Auburn’s partnership with Tuskegee in veterinary specialty training is one example of a synergistic relationship that will lead to real progress in preparing veterinarians to better serve the public,” Dean Johnson said.

Diversity and inclusion should be celebrated and embraced by every veterinary medical school/college across the country as emphasized by the AVMA and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (A AVMC). “As other veterinary schools and colleges are engaged in various efforts to promote diversity and inclusion, Purdue University—where our alumnus, Dr. Willie Reed, serves as dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine—houses the Center of Excellence for Diversity and Inclusion in Veterinary Medicine. The initiative between Tuskegee and Auburn is another way to help change the face of veterinary medicine around diversity and inclusion,” Dean Perry concluded.

Student Awarded Prestigious Scholarship

Rachel Pfeifle, a fourth-year student at Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, is among three distinguished veterinary students aspiring to careers in equine medicine selected to receive the national $75,000 Coyote Rock Ranch Veterinary Scholarship.

Rachel Pfeifle holds a horse

The scholarships will be awarded by the American Association of Equine Practitioners Foundation on Dec. 3 during the A AEP’s 64th annual convention in San Francisco.

“This is an extremely prestigious scholarship and the selection process is very rigorous,” said Dr. Anne Wooldridge, an associate professor of equine internal medicine in the Department of Clinical Sciences and one of Pfeifle’s faculty mentors.“

I’ve worked with Rachel previously in a horse-related research project when she was a Merial Summer Scholar (now the Boehringer Ingelheim Veterinary Scholars Program). She has worked hard and is very deserving.”

Dr. Erin Groover, also an associate professor of equine internal medicine and another among Pfeifle’s faculty mentors, added, “I was honored to write a letter of recommendation for Rachel for the Coyote Rock Ranch Scholarship. She exemplifies the criteria for which the scholarship was awarded: academic excellence, leadership and a devoted interest in equine practice.“

She is going to be an outstanding equine practitioner and I’m so happy for her to have been presented this life-changing award. She is truly deserving of the recognit ion.

”The Geneva, Florida, native wants to pursue an equine internship and possibly a residency in sports medicine. She says she can hardly remember a time when she didn’t want to be an equine veterinarian. “By pursuing further education and learning from some of the brightest minds in equine medicine, I truly believe I’ll be better equipped to help our equine partners to the best of my ability. Ultimately, it’s about helping the horses and their people,” Pfeifle said.

She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Florida before coming to Auburn. “I wanted to go to the veterinary program here because I liked the Auburn family atmosphere and the caring environment the faculty and staff create,” Pfeifle said.

The Coyote Rock Ranch Veterinary Scholarship started in 2015 by Penelope Knight, an avid horsewoman and strong advocate for horse health. Since awarding of the first scholarships in 2016, 10 A AEP student members have benefited from a cumulative $750,000 in assistance.

“With the help of the A AEP Foundation, I am pleased to offer this great opportunity to benefit our next generation of veterinarians,” Knight said. “Helping future veterinarians is one way I am able to give back to the industry I hold dear to my heart, and I will continue my support for years to come.”

Dr. Allen Retires as Hospital Director

Dr. Hathcock Named Interim

Dr. Doug Allen, director of the Auburn Veterinary Teaching Hospital for the last 10 years, retired effective June 30.

Dr. John Hathcock, professor and section chief of radiology in the Department of Clinical Sciences, has been named interim director. A search committee will be established for a permanent director.

During his tenure, Dr. Allen, a 1976 AU CVM graduate, saw the growth of clinical veterinary education and animal healthcare through the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Most significantly, the Wilford and Kate Bailey Small Animal Teaching Hospital, which opened in 2014, is one of the largest and most technologically advanced teaching and referral hospitals in the country.

“Since his arrival in 2009, the college has benefited greatly from Doug’s vision for centralized management of the Teaching Hospital’s operations,” Dean Calvin Johnson said. “Under his leadership, we have planned, constructed, and placed into operation the Bailey Teaching Hospital, and have advanced the infrastructure and mission of the John Thomas Vaughan Large Animal Teaching Hospital.

”During his 10-year leadership span, the teaching hospital caseload has increased by nearly 30 percent, and perfor-mance metrics reflecting the satisfaction of clients and referring veterinarians moved to a top position among the nation’s 26 participating academic teaching hospitals.

“Dr. Allen also has been an important member of the college’s Executive Committee, providing insight into strategic budgeting, human resource management, and national benchmarking of teaching hospital performance,” Dean Johnson added. “He has worked cooperatively to create a better learning, working, and patient care environment for the Teaching Hospital, and we congratulate him on his success and wish him well in his retirement.

”Dr. Hathcock, a 1976 Auburn DVM grad, spent three years in private practice before returning to Auburn for a residency in radiology, receiving board certification by the American College of Veterinary Radiology in 1982. He completed the master’s degree program in veterinary radiology at Auburn in 1983, followed by one year of private practice in Lakeland, Fla.

In 1984, Dr. Hathcock returned to Auburn as assistant professor in radiology and has risen through the academic ranks to professor; he has been Section Chief since 2001.

Faculty, Alumni, Students Attend Veterinary Leadership Experience

Nearly a dozen Auburn faculty, students and alumni attended a national veterinary conference aimed at bringing together those in the profession to develop skills in leadership, communication, self-awareness, and self-care.

Six people in group in front of lake
Students and faculty at the VLE, from left: Jonathan Tubbs, Dr. Erin Groover, Racheal Lander, Dr. Lindsey Starkey, Brandon Weyhing, and Dr. Brandon Brunson.

Held in Post Falls, Idaho, in June, the Veterinary Leadership Experience is a week-long intensive leadership training program to encourage participants to think outside the box for personal and professional growth.

VLE is a program of the Veterinary Leadership Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to the development of healthy and resilient leaders.

Three faculty—Drs. Brandon Brunson, Erin Groover and Lindsey Starkey—and current students Rachael Lander, Jonathan Tubbs, and Brandon Weyhing attended VLE. CVM alumni included Drs. Carolyn Henry ’90, Anna R ichburg ’13, and Emily Tincher ’16.

Veterinary Leadership Experience attendees learn skills necessary to be healthy and resilient in a demanding and stressful profession.

Dr. Brunson, a histology lecturer in the Department of Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology, has attended VLE in the past and returned this year as a facilitator.

“VLE gave me vital experience in experiential learning and servant leadership, two skills you don’t often associate in veterinary medicine but are crucial to the profession,” Dr. Brunson said.

“I apply those skills daily in our curriculum in teaching students and in my interaction with colleagues. VLE allows you to ask yourself ‘who you are,’ ‘why are you the way you are,’ and how to develop skills to become a stronger, more effective communicator.”

Through large- and small-group settings, the 117 participants and more than 35 VLE staff and facilitators challenged and encouraged one another to explore issues such as self-awareness, social awareness, communication skills and conflict resolution.

Dr. Groover, an assistant clinical professor of equine internal medicine in the Department of Clinical Sciences, said, “VLE allowed me to evaluate and advance my skills in these areas, but more meaningful to me was exploring my skills with working in a new team environment.

“It was really enlightening, and I brought home skills that can be applied to my role at AU CVM.“

I also absolutely loved seeing our students shine at VLE. I was so proud of how open they were to the experience and the enthusiasm they brought home to the college. It’s inspiring.”

Dr. Starkey, an assistant professor of parasitology in the Department of Pathobiology, said she would recommend the experience. “It is an immersive and, at times, mentally and emotionally exhaustive week.

“But it wasn’t sitting and learning the skills, it was living them and putting them into practice in an environment conducive for being vulnerable to allow for personal growth. Every scenario led to open and honest conver-sations in small group setting—I never thought I’d feel so comfortable with 11 strangers so quickly, but, on just our second full day, we all worked together to hoist/pull every single person over a 12-foot wall!”

Dr. Starkey said attending VLE will make a difference in her teaching and professional work. “My biggest take-away [is] to practice active listening when in conversations with others, to increase my awareness of non-verbal communication, and to practice servant leadership. I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend as an Auburn faculty member, and I am grateful for the eye- and heart-opening experience.”