For Alea Harrison, DVM ’06, the inspiration for her pursuit of a career in veterinary medicine was creating meaningful impact through treating pets. As the newly appointed Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of Banfield Pet Hospital, her latest career endeavor brings an opportunity to impact pet treatment for thousands of veterinarians and their clients nationwide.
A Home-Grown Opportunity
Dr. Harrison started her career at Banfield in 2006 immediately following her graduation from Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine (Ross Vet). She has served in several medical leadership roles throughout her tenure, first beginning as an associate doctor practicing at Banfield locations in Willoughby, Ohio, and Pineville, North Carolina.
“Having been raised in our hospitals, that is a perspective that keeps me grounded every single day,” said Dr. Harrison. “The hospital-centric mindset is critical -- especially for the trials and tribulations that we face today. If we are going to truly deliver a better world for our people and the pets they support, keeping that hospital-centric mindset is crucial.”
Her personal experiences treating pets and building strong relationships with clients helped shape what will now be the wisdom, leadership, resources, and strategies she shares with Banfield’s more than 3,600 veterinarians to make informed, best-in-practice treatment decisions rooted in the latest medical research.
Fostering Team-Based Care
Since taking office last August, Dr. Harrison’s first priorities were to ensure the continuation of foundational work being carried out by her predecessors. Initiatives to promote safer anesthetic procedures and lessen heartworm disease remain ongoing, but the opportunity for Dr. Harrison is now to forge new paths and priorities for both Banfield and the broader field of veterinary medicine.
“As I sit in this position, one thing is very clear and that is our need for more veterinarians in the profession. When we consider the shortage of veterinarians, we must look to create a culture where we do things differently. For me, that embodies an environment where we truly foster team-based care, and that is going to allow a greater effectiveness on how we deliver care and quality outcomes.”
A team-based model of care strives to meet patient needs and preferences by including clients as full participants in their pet’s care while supporting every member of the care team, from doctor to technician, to function to their fullest extent. Most importantly, according to Dr. Harrison, it provides access to care for pets that need to be seen across all spectrums of veterinary medicine.
“It takes all of us to drive our profession forward,” she says. “Medical quality is of vital importance and will dictate how we show up every day for every pet, every client, every associate.”
The passion for veterinary medicine and dedication to quality care is something that comes innately to Dr. Harrison. As far back as her childhood in Boston, Massachusetts, long before the last two decades spent at Ross Vet and Banfield, this path in life was always the vision. Within the home movies and videos her father keeps is a video of an 8-year-old Alea answering questions like ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ and replying with one swift and firm response - a veterinarian.
“I wanted to take care of animals. It was always in me."
Valuing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Dr. Harrison studied biology and biological sciences at North Carolina Central University. After her senior year, she enrolled in an introductory veterinary summer program that connected her to four students on their way to Ross Vet. She started researching the opportunity to attend Ross Vet, contacted recruiters, heard stories directly from other students, and was enrolled shortly after.
She recalls something felt completely different in the way Ross Vet saw her. “I most appreciated the inclusivity and intimacy -- that I was not made to be just an enrollment number. I felt valued.”
From Ross Vet to today, Dr. Harrison has always been advocating for diversity, equity, and inclusion in veterinary medicine. Being the first Black woman to be appointed CMO at Banfield makes her a trailblazer in the field. More personally, it’s a recognition she hopes enhances the notion to aspiring veterinary leaders that you don’t have to fit the traditional mold and our differences should be embraced.
“Where I might sit here as the first Black woman in this role, I won’t be the last and it’s important for me to share my story and the stories of others who may sit in similar roles throughout the profession to understand what’s possible and celebrate that.”
Outside her day-to-day roles, she also volunteers with Banfield’s Associate-led POWER Diversity Resource Group. Though it has already been a lifetime commitment, her new role brings a refreshed motivation and increased access to continue advocating for change across veterinary medicine.
“There are vast opportunities in this profession, and to be in a position where I could enhance those and truly have impact for the better … We must start centering our focuses around quality of care, but to deliver that quality care we must diversify our pipeline to be able to create access for patients.”
All Possible Through Ross Vet
As her career in veterinary medicine reaches new heights, Dr. Harrison never forgets the foundation Ross Vet laid in getting her to this point. Just a mention of St. Kitts is enough to bring a huge smile to her face and endless memories from her time as a student.
“I am now afforded this amazing opportunity to help support veterinarians and veterinary professionals at a much larger scale, and that was all made possible through my time at Ross Vet. There is something about being uprooted from your familiar surroundings and being embraced by this university that taught me a skillset that wasn't available to me through a book. It was through life lessons, and I learned so many things from a leadership standpoint that I didn't realize when I was in it. That's what Ross Vet gave me, and I hope any student now given the same opportunity takes advantage of it, sees the positives of their opportunity, and drives that forward.”
Learn more about how your passion for animal health can lead you to a world of possibilities here.