As an attending veterinarian for agricultural animals and wildlife at the Pennsylvania State University, as well as an assistant professor of veterinary medicine and dairy and animal science, 35-year-old Jacob Werner ensures the proper care of a variety of animals used in teaching, testing and research.
He oversees the health and welfare of Penn State's agricultural animals and wildlife, or as he likes to tell people, "I get to take care of the Nittany Lion."
Werner returned to Penn State after earning his bachelor of science in animal bioscience in 1997. He went on to attend veterinary school across the commonwealth at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine where he earned a VMD in 2000.
"I grew up riding horses and nosing my way around my great-uncle’s dairy farm. I always enjoyed working (with) and being around animals," Werner said.
It was during his time working at the Elk County Veterinary Clinic, under Dr. Greg Moore and Dr. Nancy Meyer, that Werner realized that there was more to veterinary medicine than treating animal patients.
"Dr. Moore, Dr. Meyer and the staff there taught me more than just caring for animals. It was there that I realized that being a veterinarian meant more than just being a doctor, it meant showing care and compassion to people as well," he explained.
Werner said he was also interested in becoming a vet to help farmers learn to care for their animals.
"Their livelihoods depend on healthy, well-cared-for animals, and I wanted to be part of improving production and animal care while helping a farmer improve their farming operation," noted Werner.
Werner also completed an internship in large animal medicine and equine and food animal production management medicine at the Virginia/Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg, Va. Over the past eight years at Penn State, he has had the chance to work with some of the best farmers in the world, as well as educating the general public about farm animals and how to care for them.
"Penn State farms pride themselves in the quality of animals produced, but also in the care, attention to detail, and time put into ensuring that animals are cared for appropriately and meet high standards in animal welfare--that makes me the most proud of my job," Werner said. "I not only get to play with farm animals (cattle, sheep, deer, pigs, horses and poultry), but I get to work with people who take pride in their work."
He added that as society moves further and further away from agriculture, there are many misconceptions and misunderstandings. Werner said he finds it very rewarding to help people understand how and why veterinarians do the things they do.
His job doesn't come without its challenges, and he noted there is never a typical daily routine when working with animals.
"Just when you think you have your day planned, something happens to change plans for the day," Werner said. "This can be a challenge but also makes things exciting--you never know what you might find yourself getting into."
Additionally, Werner emphasized his concern over potential state budget cuts for Penn State and the possibility of eliminating programs and downsizing farms at the university as a result.
Throughout his veterinary career, Werner has had the opportunity to travel to Rome, Italy and Aix-en-Provence, France, where he presented research which he conducted with a friend and colleague on ultrasound technology used to treat different diseases like diabetes and heart arrhythmias.
"I have had the chance to travel more with this job than I imagined I would," he said. "I get to visit institutions using farm animals in teaching and research across the country, and have met some great people and learned new ways to raise and care for farm animals. I’ve had opportunities to visit places in the States I may not have otherwise been."
Werner is the son of Bob and Janet Werner of St. Marys and the grandson of Rose and the late George Werner and Jane and the late Paul Sorg. His siblings include an older brother, Dan and his wife Liz (Burchill) and daughters Annalie and Sadie of White Haven; and younger siblings Jeff and his wife Nikki (Wilson) and sons Caleb and Austin of Lickingville, and Julie and her husband Scott Herzing of Erie.
"I was given a great educational foundation attending St. Mary’s Parochial School and Elk County Christian (where he graduated in 1993). This foundation gave me the background information needed to succeed in college," Werner said. "More importantly, I’m proud of my Catholic upbringing and believe that nothing is accomplished without God."
While growing up in St. Marys, Werner earned his Eagle Scout award as a member of Troop 200 and was a member of St. Mary's Catholic Church.
"I love St. Marys. I miss it every day. There is something to be said about knowing your neighbor and lending a helping hand when needed—having family and friends close, running into familiar faces at the store, talking after church—it all builds a sense of community, teaching you to care about others," he said. "I do believe it helped me in my career--with every animal is a person--you can be the best doctor in the world, but if you can’t communicate, understand people, and understand their concerns, I don’t think you will be very successful."
Werner explained that being a veterinarian can be a lot of fun and very rewarding; however, it isn't always as glamorous as it looks on television.
"It takes more than just a love of animals to be a vet. Work hard in school, research the field, and find a mentor who will allow you to shadow and give insight and firsthand experience into the career," Werner advised.
In his spare time, Werner enjoys gardening, horseback riding, spending time outdoors and performing volunteer work with the Center for the Performing Arts
"I don’t like to look too far into the future," Werner said. "Someday I’d like to move home to St. Marys and help people care for their animals, both at farms and with their pets, but I’ll take one day at a time."