Hello, I’m Dr. Suelee Robbe Austerman. I work at USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa.
Agriculture has always been my first love. I grew up on a ranch, but like many girls of my generation, there were limited opportunities to become part of the operation. During college, I fell in love with veterinary medicine – as I could combine my interests in agriculture and science. I spent my first six years out of vet school in large animal practice in South Dakota. Then, I taught food supply veterinary medicine at Iowa State while working on my Masters and PhD. While working on my PhD, I joined USDA’s Agriculture Research Service working on Johne’s disease.
I came to Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in 2007 as a veterinary medical officer, and recently accepted the position of Section Head for the Microbacteria/Brucella section. I now lead an amazing team of microbiologists, molecular biologists and technicians who are dedicated to supporting USDA APHIS’ Brucellosis, Bovine Tuberculosis and Scrapie Eradication programs. We work closely with NVSL’s Pathobiology Laboratory and others at NVSL with the goal to seamlessly integrate our work and provide the most timely and scientifically accurate laboratory results to our field veterinarians and staff.
One of the advantages of having a heavy load of program work is it gives our team the experience and equipment necessary to assist regional laboratories, zoos, and other countries in diagnosing unusual, rare and sometimes exotic diseases. Examples include: rare Brucella sp. in marine mammals; atypical mycobacterial infections threating valuable aquarium or reptile collections; tuberculosis in elephants and endangered primates; assisting other countries with genotyping procedures and even conducting or providing regional laboratories with support to diagnose and conduct susceptibility testing on mycobacterial skin infections of dogs and cats.
When asked about what were my greatest learning opportunities, I have to simply say it is everyday work. We never know what will show up at our door, and we let that drive our learning. We could and have recognized a pattern of submissions that identified a genetic mutation or identify and characterize a new organism.
One of the most gratifying discoveries I made when moving to APHIS was realizing how highly skilled our State and Federal Veterinarians workforce is. This is evident the questions asked, the quality of samples submitted, and dedication to their clients or program. This quality and dedication also drives me and my team; as our National veterinary workforce deserves to have the very best veterinary diagnostic laboratory in the world supporting their work.
APHIS and USDA are joining with organizations around the world to celebrate World Veterinary Year by highlighting the work of veterinarians on the USDA blog. This post is part of a series underscoring the important and diverse work of APHIS veterinarians. Check back each Thursday as we showcase the work of a different veterinarian.