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Animal & Veterinary

Congratulations Dr. Joan Gotthardt!

By Melanie McLean, DVM, Center for Veterinary Medicine, FDA

Congratulations to Joan Gotthardt, a veterinarian in CVM’s Office of Minor Use and Minor Species Animal Drug Development (OMUMS), for her 2011 FDA Honor Award of Merit. The inscription reads, “For sustained superior performance throughout a distinguished career at the Center for Veterinary Medicine, and for inspired leadership as a supervisor and mentor.”

Joan Gotthardt
Dr. Joan Gotthardt

Dr. Gotthardt started at CVM after graduating from veterinary school in 1995, but her path taken was anything but typical; it involved learning Italian, making maps, and studying plants.

Her desire to become a veterinarian showed in many areas of Dr. Gotthardt’s life, including in her living arrangement during undergraduate school at the University of Maryland. In exchange for working at College Park Animal Hospital and caring for the patients after hours, she lived there rent-free. She also chose animal science as her major, graduating with a bachelor’s in 1973.

At that time, Maryland residents had no in-state veterinary school, and women found it especially difficult to get accepted. That’s a different landscape from today – Maryland residents now have an in-state veterinary school (the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine) and nearly 80% of veterinary students are women.1

Italian, Maps, and Plants – A Road Less Traveled

With the goal of becoming a veterinarian still in mind, Dr. Gotthardt traveled to Italy in 1976 to learn Italian at the University for Foreigners in Perugia. After studying the language for three months, she enrolled in veterinary school in Perugia and took classes in a large movie theater. Realizing after one year that this was not the veterinary education she wanted, Dr. Gotthardt returned to the States to begin her government career.

In 1978, Dr. Gotthardt joined the Department of Defense (DOD). She became a cartographer with DOD’s Defense Mapping Agency.2 After holding several positions at the Defense Mapping Agency, including supervisory cartographer, a position similar to division director, Dr. Gotthardt moved again, but didn’t jump across the pond this time!

Moving a few hours south of D.C., to Blacksburg, Va., Dr. Gotthardt attended Virginia Tech. She received a second bachelor’s in 1989, with a major in horticulture and a minor in fisheries. By this time, the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine had opened on the Virginia Tech campus. Dr. Gotthardt headed to veterinary school there in 1991, with the idea of practicing small animal medicine after graduation.

Public Health Attraction

Public health also drew Dr. Gotthardt’s attention. As a fourth year veterinary student, she helped investigate a case of human exposure to Rabies in New Hampshire during an externship with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Gotthardt also had two externships with FDA, one at CVM and the other at the Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH).

Her CVM externship was in the Office of New Animal Drug Evaluation’s (ONADE) Division of Therapeutic Drugs for Food Animals, the division Dr. Gotthardt would later lead. At the time, the division was led by veterinarian Steven Vaughn. (Dr. Vaughn is now the office director of ONADE.)

During her externship at CDRH, Dr. Gotthardt worked under Mary Torrence, a board certified veterinarian in veterinary preventive medicine who also holds a doctorate in veterinary epidemiology and public health.3 “Dr. Torrence was my role model for working at FDA,” said Dr. Gotthardt. (Dr. Torrence now works at the U.S. Department of Agriculture as the National Program Leader for Food Safety in the Agricultural Research Service.)

Dr. Gotthardt’s dedication to public health as a veterinary student was recognized when she was named National Public Health Student of the Year in 1995. The award was presented to her at graduation. Dr. Gotthardt recalled that she “was very surprised by that award and this one” (her FDA Honor Award of Merit).

Career at CVM – Then and Now

Although she entered veterinary school intending to go into small animal practice, Dr. Gotthardt couldn’t ignore her past federal service or her interest in public health. When Dr. Vaughn, her externship leader at CVM, offered her a job after graduation, she accepted.

Dr. Gotthardt started as a drug reviewer in the Division of Therapeutic Drugs for Food Animals, the same division in ONADE where she externed as a veterinary student. In 1999, her minor in fisheries came in handy when she became head of the division’s Aquaculture Group. When the group expanded and became the Aquaculture Drugs Team in 2000, Dr. Gotthardt became the team’s first leader. She was promoted to division director in 2003.

Fish, ferrets, and parrots came calling in 2008, when Dr. Gotthardt left ONADE to join OMUMS, the center’s smallest and newest office. Currently, she is the director of indexing and also runs the Minor Use/Minor Species grants program. “OMUMS is special. We’re a small, diverse group of dedicated folks who genuinely like working together to get important things done for minor species and minor uses in major species” Dr. Gotthardt said. She was drawn to OMUMS because of the chance to “launch something new for CVM” with indexing.

Despite not starting and building a small animal private practice, Dr. Gotthardt has “never regretted coming to work at CVM,” calling her 16 years at the center, “extremely rewarding.”

Un Saluto Affettuoso (A Fond Farewell)

After more than 28 years with the federal government, Dr. Gotthardt is retiring at the end of this year and moving back to Blacksburg, Va.4 “Virginia Tech offers a lot of cultural and sporting events,” she explained, describing herself as “a big Hokies fan” and listing women’s softball, women’s and men’s basketball, and football as her favorite sports to watch. Her partner of 35 years, two Siamese cats, and one Chihuahua mix will make the move with her to Blacksburg.

Congratulations Dr. Gotthardt on your well-deserved FDA Honor Award of Merit and enjoy your retirement!

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2 The Defense Mapping Agency is now the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (

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4 UPDATE: Dr. Gotthardt worked six more months for CVM, retiring in June 2012, after 29 years of government service. She spent more than half of that time at CVM.

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