Chris Byron named new head of Large Animal Clinical Sciences at Virginia Tech veterinary college amid equine crisis
The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine has named associate professor of large animal surgery Chris Byron as the next head of the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences.
Byron, who has been a faculty member at the college since 2014, currently divides his time between teaching, research, and clinical work. He performs surgery on animals such as horses, small ruminants, and camelids, and his orthopedic research focuses on joint health and ties into his clinical work. He also has been involved with cancer research. For example, he currently serves as surgical support for a study led by Coy Allen that explores a new therapeutic option for pancreatic cancer.
He will succeed Sherrie Clark, professor of theriogenology, who has held the position of interim department head since January 2021.
“I sincerely thank Sherrie Clark for her service as interim department head and recognize that the department and the college as a whole have benefitted from her commitment and dedicated efforts in this leadership role over the past two years, ” said Dean Dan Givens.
“We are excited to have Chris take on the important role of department head of large animal clinical sciences. In this position, he will further advance the department’s activities in teaching, research, and clinical service. I anticipate progress in advancing wellness, well-being, and sense of community as opportunities arise to strategically focus departmental efforts.”
Byron will take the helm during a challenging time for the profession. The United States is facing a shortage of veterinarians, especially large animal veterinarians. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 500 counties across the country reported critical shortages this year. "We have tremendous challenges right now. There's a lot of discussion about the shortage of veterinarians in rural areas, and that's certainly true where we are right here in southwest Virginia,” said Byron.
To tackle this issue, he will focus on outreach, because the vast majority of veterinary students intend on pursuing small animal medicine. This may be because, before veterinary school, many students do not have prior exposure to large animals, so Byron wants to facilitate more experiences and educate veterinary students about these fields.
One major challenge to large animal veterinarians is maintaining a healthy work-life balance, as the career requires long hours and lots of traveling. "We want to find solutions that we can model here that may contribute to a better balance for people,” said Byron.
In addition to the large animal services on site at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, the department encompasses the Equine Field Service, the Production Management Medicine team, and the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, a premier, full-service equine hospital in Leesburg. The department has seen an increased demand for clinical services over the pandemic, and Byron looks forward to expanding further into sports medicine, which incorporates advanced diagnostics, podiatry, and surgery. In recent years, there has also been a greater demand for services beyond production animals and equines — for example, companion animals such as miniature pigs are growing in popularity.
"Right now, I’m serving as section head of the equine group. I enjoy that aspect of my job quite a bit as I facilitate the faculty’s goals and advocate for faculty. I see the department head position as an opportunity to expand on that. For me, it's about service. It's an opportunity to continue to serve the college and the university,” said Byron.
Byron looks forward to working with other department heads and learning from them and hearing their ideas. While leading the department, he will maintain his involvement in clinical service, teaching, and research.
Byron, a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, earned his bachelor's degree and DVM from Cornell University. He earned his master's degree while completing a residency in equine surgery at Michigan State University.