Dr Ryan Cavanaugh Receives 2021 Zoetis Distinguished Veterinary Teacher Award

Jan 24, 2022
Dr Cavanaugh operating on a turtle

The Zoetis Distinguished Veterinary Teacher Award is an annual award given to educators in recognition of their character and leadership qualities, as well as their outstanding teaching abilities. Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine (Ross Vet) is thrilled to announce Ryan Cavanaugh, DVM, DACVS-SA, ACVS Founding Fellow, associate professor of small animal surgery, has been selected as a 2021 Zoetis Distinguished Veterinary Teacher.

Nominations for the prestigious award are submitted by leaders in Ross Vet’s Clinical and Biomedical Sciences departments based on the teachers’ academic production for the year.  Nominees are then passed on to the students in their clinical year for voting on the award recipient. “It is incredibly humbling to win any teaching award, but the Zoetis Distinguished Teacher Award is particularly special to me,” said Dr. Cavanaugh. “In clinical practice, it is often much easier to know when you are being effective with your work as you can objectively assess patient outcomes. With teaching, it can be a bit more challenging. Since this award is voted on by the clinical year students, it suggests that the pre-clinical education that I have provided for them is translating well as they progress into their clinical rotations. My area of emphasis is clinical oncology and surgery, so to know that the knowledge I am conveying to the students is translating well for them is particularly satisfying.”

Dr Ryan Cavanaugh and partner

Dr. Cavanaugh attended veterinary school at Colorado State University and upon graduation in 2003, was selected for a rotating internship in small animal medicine and surgery at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. Dr. Cavanaugh then remained at the Animal Medical Center to complete a three-year residency in small animal surgery and became board certified through the American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS) in 2008. He continued to pursue advanced surgical training by accepting a one-year post-doctoral fellowship in surgical oncology at the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine. In 2012, he was recognized by the ACVS as a Founding Fellow in Surgical Oncology. In all, Dr. Cavanaugh spent 15 years after graduation working primarily in high-volume, multi-specialty practices, experience he believes built his foundation to become an effective teacher of clinical medicine and surgery. “I always knew that I wanted to be an educator, but my goal was always to be able to deliver practical, real-life information that would be translatable to the students when they entered the workforce. To me that meant acquiring the hard-earned practice experience on my own before beginning to teach it.”

Dr. Cavanaugh joined Ross Vet in 2017, a path set before him by his wife, Ross Vet alumna and fellow faculty member, Dr. Sarah (Scruggs) Cavanaugh ’05. “We shared the same teaching philosophy of gaining real-world experience prior to teaching. Sarah’s goal was to always get back home to Ross Vet to teach, and the stars happened to align for us when Ross Vet needed both of our services at the right time — the rest is history.”

The couple’s stars aligning to come to Ross Vet would not be the only time fate would have a special way of finding Ryan and Sarah – Ryan’s 2021 Zoetis Distinguished Teacher Award comes one year after an end-of-year virtual staff meeting had a surprise reveal announcing the 2020 Zoetis award winner – Sarah Cavanaugh. “It was surreal,” Ryan recalled. “I was so excited for Sarah when she received the award. We just so happened to be watching the all-staff meeting together on the same computer when it was announced, and it was so incredible to see how surprised and honored she was. Neither of us saw it coming and it was a special moment. Sarah and I both pursued very intensive postgraduate training to become board-certified specialists. We have always been proud to be affiliated with the institutions where we trained and felt that the sacrifices we made to complete the training were well worth it.  Receiving the Zoetis awards is further validation of this and it’s great to now be in the position of passing along the knowledge we have gained along the way to the next generation of veterinarians.” 

Now part of a household with back-to-back Zoetis Distinguished Teacher Award winners and heading into his fifth year at Ross Vet, one of the special things Dr. Cavanaugh has found about working at the university as a professor is the emphasis on teaching students. “Other accredited veterinary institutions ask faculty to carry a heavy clinical burden in addition to the expected institutional, administrative, and research outputs. We do have opportunities to provide clinical service here, which is wonderful, however, it is not mandatory and therefore can be done on a more flexible schedule. Having the opportunity to teach through three semesters in a calendar year as opposed to just one at other institutions really allows faculty to gain proficiency and confidence in your subject matter. The faculty here are very collegial and we all support each other in our various academic endeavors so it is a very comfortable place to work.”

Congratulations to Dr. Ryan Cavanaugh, 2021 Zoetis Distinguished Veterinary Teacher!

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