The chief

The chief

Equine veterinarian Dana Zimmel is leading the way at the UF Veterinary Hospitals

By Allyson Fox

Dana Zimmel, D.V.M.

“Where’s Dana?” her mom would constantly ask.

As a young girl, Dana Zimmel, D.V.M., could usually be found in one place: feeding grass to the horses over the fence.

Her love for animals turned into a profession that revolves around them. Today, Zimmel is a leading equine veterinarian and chief of staff of the UF Veterinary Hospitals.

Growing up in Cincinnati, Zimmel was surrounded by animals and had a house full of hamsters, guinea pigs, dogs and canaries. And when she was 7, she got the first of five horses she has had during her lifetime.

“(Veterinary school) was a natural path,” Zimmel said. “I always loved animals.”

She received her undergraduate degree at UF in 1990 and transitioned into the College of Veterinary Medicine, from which she received her D.V.M. degree in 1995.

UF appealed to her because she wanted to be in a state with a strong horse population. It was also one of few universities with a veterinary school.

As a veterinarian, Zimmel has dealt with everything from infectious diseases to hurricanes, including assisting with pet rescue during Hurricane Katrina.

She took on her latest challenge in 2010, when she became the chief of staff of UF Veterinary Hospitals after 10 years on the college’s faculty, first as an equine extension veterinarian and subsequently as a clinical assistant professor of large animal internal medicine. She now oversees about 75 veterinarians and the entire hospital staff, including the diagnostic lab and pharmacy, residents and students. Her job is to know everything that happens in the hospital, and she deals with any clinical problems.

“I’ve always had a very strong interest in business,” Zimmel said.

Her biggest concern: the hospital’s ability to become financially independent, which is a challenge because state support is shrinking, she said.

Some people are reluctant to bring their pets to UF’s veterinary hospitals because they think students are treating their pets without supervision. However, this is a misconception because UF veterinarians provide care to patients and oversee everything students do, she said.

“We don’t let them do it alone,” Zimmel said. “I value the opportunity to teach students in the clinic.”

This is where her job comes in. Zimmel needs to run a good business model and put communication first.

As chief of staff, Zimmel doesn’t work with animals anymore, but she is constantly communicating with people. In a 10-hour workday, she spends about eight-and-a-half hours talking to people.

“The hardest part (of my job) is not working with animals,” Zimmel said. “It’s easy to be a clinician and leave at the end of the day and feel good.”

Chris Sanchez, D.V.M., Ph.D, one of Zimmel’s classmates in veterinary school and an associate professor in the college, said Zimmel stands out as an administrator because of her empathy for veterinarians, drive and organization.

“She has a true understanding of the process of veterinary care,” Sanchez said. “This is not necessarily typical of all administrators.”

For now, Zimmel’s goal is to continue to improve the hospital. In the future, she sees a larger radiation oncology program and the development of new techniques.

“I just want to steer us in the right direction and make sure I’m spending my time on the things that matter,” she said.