Pamela Hess is Dean of the School of Equine Studies and Associate Professor of Equine Studies at Lake Erie College. Before joining the LEC faculty in 2009 the Cleveland native worked at her own private equine veterinary practice, Western Reserve Equine Medical Services, for 13 years.
Dr. Hess completed her undergraduate studies at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and the University of Kentucky in Lexington. Dr. Hess received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Purdue University in 1988. After completing an internship in equine medicine and surgery at Kansas State University, and a three-year residency in large animal internal medicine with equine emphasis at the University of California at Davis, she took a position as Assistant Professor of Equine Medicine at the School of Veterinary Medicine at Oklahoma State University. That first experience with teaching left an impression on her. So, in 2009 when she was ready to return to teaching after phasing out of her busy veterinary practice life, she got in touch with Dr. Elizabeth Giedt, an equine studies professor at Lake Erie and the dean of the School of Equine Studies at the time.
"LEC was a great opportunity for me,” she says. "Having an equine studies program of such high caliber and prestige as Lake Erie's within minutes of my home and farm in Chardon was a natural choice for me for teaching. The opportunity to teach in my field of expertise in a facility like the George M. Humphrey Equestrian Center and Lake Erie College seemed to be custom-made for me. Our students are some of the best and brightest, and the prestige and reputation of the LEC equine program [helped me] transition out of private medical practice and return to teaching, which was how I started my career in academic training.”
As a resident, and later on as a private veterinarian, Dr. Hess found out that she was a natural teacher. "I enjoy sharing information, and [I] want to explain and involve those around me in the details and the story behind what we are doing and why we are doing it. Teaching and working with students just seems to be a natural fit for me,” she says.
The self-described animal lover became interested in working with animals through her association with veterinarians on the racetracks and thoroughbred farms in Lexington, where she worked as a horse groom during her undergraduate college years. She credits these veterinarians with inspiring her to go into the profession herself.
"Veterinary medicine is a career that offers nearly unlimited opportunities for continuing education and learning, and redirection and change is always possible in this profession,” she says. "There is no limit to what I can learn or where I can take veterinary medicine and my desire to work with horses and even other species in my career. For several years I worked quite a lot with alpacas in northeastern Ohio. But teaching and horses is a great combination for me!”
At Lake Erie College Dr. Hess teaches a wide variety of classes, and she has developed the curriculum for some newer courses in Equine Anatomy and Physiology I and II. Her focus is primarily on the academic and scientific courses of the equine studies curriculum, including those classes with significant real-world application for pre-veterinary students looking to continue their education after LEC.
"A student came to me with a picture of a horse [that she encountered] at her home stable. The horse had ruptured his peroneus tertius, and she was the only one there [who] knew exactly what the problem was and what should be done for the horse. She had learned it in Anatomy class.”
For students in the LEC Equine Studies program, experiential learning and real-world applications of the classroom lectures are an integral part of the learning process. But sometimes learning can occur in unpredictable and unexpected ways, and lessons are learned both by the students and the faculty. One such situation occurred in the spring of 2011 when Penny, Dr. Hess’s five-week-old filly, lost her mother due to illness. Ten days later a mare at the LEC barn delivered a stillborn foal. This was a very sad development and a great disappointment for the students who had been on "foal watch” for well over a month, each of them waiting and hoping to be the one to deliver the new baby into the world—a tradition at Lake Erie.
"When [the foal] was born dead it was devastating,” says Dr. Hess. Soon afterwards, however, they came up with a plan. "Within a few hours after the LEC mare's colt died,we rushed the orphaned Penny up to the College in hopes that the mare would accept Penny and allow her to nurse and live with her.The two horses immediately recognized each other as mother and baby, and within a short time they were inseparable as a mare and her own foal.”
"It was an honor and quite remarkable to be able to experience this with the large crowd of LEC equine students [who] had gathered outside the stall door that night,” says Dr. Hess.
Despite all of her other positive experiences at Lake Erie however, Dr. Hess says that her favorite thing about the College is the students. "I may be prejudiced, but we have some of the very brightest students here in equine studies. Our students are here because they are passionate about learning about horses and becoming professionals in the equine industry. Our students are here at the Equestrian Center because they really WANT to be here, and they are a pleasure and an honor to teach and to know.”