Veterinary Nursing Program Enables Student Gwen White to “Go the Distance” with New Career

Friday, December 10, 2021

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An accomplished career is something that Gwen White, of Greenwood, Ind., already had when she chose to begin a new chapter in her life by enrolling in the Purdue University Veterinary Nursing Distance Learning Program.  Her story provides a compelling illustration of how distance learning not only opened the door for her to explore conservation connections to veterinary medicine, but also paved the way for the veterinary medical profession to gain a new member with a breadth of professional experience, linked to a deep passion for making a difference in the lives of others.

Gwen enrolled in the Veterinary Nursing Distance Learning Program (VNDL) in 2016.  As is customary for many distance learning students, she added these studies to an already full schedule.  Today she is completing the clinical portion of the program while working as an adjunct biology professor at the O’Neill School for Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University and teaching Diversity of Life at Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis. 

Gwen holds a happy pup on an exam table
VNDL student Gwen White with a patient at the VCA Advanced Veterinary Care Center in Fishers, Ind., where she is completing the mentorship component of the program and doing videos showing what she is learning in this clinical phase.

Gwen grew up in small towns in Kansas and Colorado, where seeds of curiosity were planted in her young mind, motivating her to see the world as soon as she was able. During high school, she acted on that desire, spending two summers in Brazil and Mexico before taking a college semester to serve in a refugee camp in Honduras, where she discovered a deep desire to learn more about cultures around the world.

Gwen earned a master’s degree in marine ecology from the University of Maryland in 1988 before returning to Honduras as a U.S. Peace Corps aquaculture volunteer. In that role, she worked with generous and inventive fishermen to discover new ways to improve their lives with available, natural resources. “I realized firsthand how important quality natural resources are for underserved communities,” Gwen said. These global interactions inspired her to further pursue environmental sciences.

In 1990, Gwen began researching impacts of urbanization on stream ecology as part of a PhD program in conservation biology at the University of Minnesota.  With her degrees in hand, Gwen began working as a biologist for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Lake and River Enhancement Program and in the Fisheries Section.  She gained a connection with Purdue University as she received guidance from Dr. Anne Spacie, now professor emerita of forestry and natural resources, while working on fish communities in Indianapolis and teaching in Purdue’s Forestry and Natural Resources Department.

After coordinating the state Invasive Species Management Plan, she continued working on public relations and stakeholder engagement as a communications specialist with DJ Case & Associates based in Mishawaka, Ind. Subsequently, she assumed the role of science coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where she engaged with a team of state, federal, and nonprofit leaders to find mutually beneficial solutions for agricultural production, wildlife conservation, and water quality concerns across the Mississippi River basin.  In each of these positions, Gwen sought opportunities to develop curricula, train teachers, mentor interns, and teach more than a dozen graduate and undergraduate courses at Purdue, IUPUI, Franklin College, and the universities of Indianapolis, Maryland, and Minnesota.

“We are faced with rapidly changing community and global issues that are very complex. Working at the intersection of veterinary medicine, wildlife conservation, public health, and economics will help us address these concerns. Academic programs like VNDL can provide the opportunity and context for engaging more communities in the constructive dialogue and actions that can meet these challenges.”

Gwen started taking courses through the Purdue Veterinary Nursing Distance Learning Program to develop some semi-retirement options such as care for domestic and exotic animals in low-income communities, assisting with wildlife rehabilitation, and incorporating principles of wildlife disease into her university curriculum. “Distance learning programs can provide a major opportunity to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the veterinary field,” Gwen said. “Distance learning can serve people who do not have a school nearby, cannot leave their families or existing jobs to pursue an education, or who want to shift or expand their knowledge base while still working in a different field. I hope that the Purdue program continues to intentionally explore how these different demographics can be well-represented in veterinary medicine.”

Gwen’s variety of scientific contributions throughout her career enabled her to flourish on the job and as a teacher and mentor. Her stories and experiences provide invaluable insight into what a degree in veterinary nursing may hold for students’ future careers. “As humans penetrate farther into wilderness areas and increase global trade in wildlife products, there are increasing opportunities for disease transmission between humans and wildlife – to the detriment of both,” Gwen said. “Veterinary medicine can help us understand how to manage human development patterns in a way that minimizes potential negative impacts.” Gwen also emphasizes how veterinary professionals can play a major role in disaster preparedness, adaptation, and recovery for wildlife, domestic animals, and people in areas affected by climate change.

Gwen is extremely grateful for the knowledge she’s gained from the Veterinary Nursing Distance Learning Program.  In conjunction with the coursework, she has learned a great deal working as a veterinary assistant for two years at Angel Animal Hospital in Greenwood, focusing on surgery and general practice care. She is eager to complete the mentorship component of the program, while working in the ER and other services at the VCA Advanced Veterinary Care Center specialty hospital in Fishers, Ind.

Reflecting on how veterinary nursing students can positively impact numerous communities around the world, Gwen said, “We are faced with rapidly changing community and global issues that are very complex. Working at the intersection of veterinary medicine, wildlife conservation, public health, and economics will help us address these concerns. Academic programs like VNDL can provide the opportunity and context for engaging more communities in the constructive dialogue and actions that can meet these challenges.”

Stay tuned next month for a series of features on students in the on-campus Veterinary Nursing Program, beginning with a spotlight story on a student in the VN Class of 2024 in the next issue of the Vet Gazette Friday, January 14, 2022.


Writer(s): Madeline Brod, PVM Communications Intern | pvmnews@purdue.edu


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