In the Blink of an Eye

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Legacy student and her mom talk about their shared experiences

Dr. Diane Hendrix in screen scrubs stands next to her daughter, Emma, who is wearing a black scrub top. They are in a veterinary hospital hallway.
Dr. Diane Hendrix and her daughter Emma are both graduates of the UT College of Veterinary Medicine.

Emma Hendrix (CVM ’24) was introduced to veterinary medicine at a young age. She and her sister, Anna, would sometimes join their mom, Dr. Diane Hendrix (CVM ‘90), when she was called in for late-night ophthalmology emergencies. Hendrix is a professor of ophthalmology and Small Animal Clinical Sciences interim department head at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.

Two young girls wear oversized scrub suit, facemask and surgical bonnets.
Anna (left) and Emma (right) Hendrix in 2005.

“I never purposefully influenced the kids in what profession they wanted to pursue, but I always shared an excitement for science. My daughter Anna, is in the middle of a pediatric residency at the University of Utah at Salt Lake City.”

While she got to see cool things associated with the profession at an early age, ultimately, Emma opted for the diverse field of veterinary medicine because it offers many career options.

While attending the University of Tennessee, Knoxville for a Bachelor of Science degree, Emma, along with more than 1,000 students applied for a seat in the UTCVM Class of 2024.“Having mom here was very helpful. Because she was already in the field of veterinary medicine, she was able to guide me and set me up for being studious and academically oriented from the beginning.

“I was very proud when Emma was accepted, although I had no doubt she would be – she’s an exceptional student who did what she was supposed to do with getting her shadowing and research experience. I was a little concerned because vet school is really hard, and I knew it would be stressful.” But Hendrix offered her daughter sound advice, “Keep studying, be nice, help your classmates out when you can, and in turn, they will help you out because four years is a long time, and everyone will need help at some point along the way. Be there for your friends when they need it. I’m here for your friends and classmates if they need it.”

And need it they did. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Class of 2024 didn’t have the opportunity to take part in team-building exercises, the Tennessee Welcome, or the white coat ceremony before beginning their professional educational journey. In the fall of 2020, they started vet school via Zoom and watched their professors adjust to the transformation of delivering the curriculum online. The only class they were on campus for the entire first year was anatomy, and even then, students were placed in small groups. They didn’t know they would not be meetings their classmates in person until their second year when they were a quarter of the way through veterinary school.

“I kept telling her and her friends it would all be ok, we will figure out a way to deliver your education,” Hendrix remembers. “They were concerned. They were told they had to stay within their anatomy groups and couldn’t socialize outside those anatomy groups. Emma’s group would come for dinner and study and bake cookies.”  Emma says the class bonded through their struggles.

Being at the same college for four years has strengthened the mother-daughter bond. Emma says she’s lucky most people like her mom and Hendrix says it might be different if Emma wasn’t a good student. “I know Mom gets it when I’m having a hard time because she went through it herself.”

The two enjoy bringing food to each other on long days or grabbing a minute after work to walk the greenway. The two can only think of a few downsides to being at the same place. “Sometimes I think my classmates hesitate to share things with me. And I hope no one thinks I got here just because my mom works here.”  

“I wasn’t nervous about teaching Emma in class or in the clinic; she’s my daughter and has to love me no matter what. I was nervous about lecturing in front of her friends. I didn’t want them to think I was a bad teacher!” 

Having Emma at UTCVM has also helped Hendrix develop a deeper understanding of the importance of mentorship for those who may not have a solid support network in place.  “Those students need to be able to turn to faculty and mentors for advice. We need to make sure we are set up as faculty and a university to be that support they can come to if they can’t get it from family.” Hendrix says mentorship isn’t one size fits all. “We need to identify the ones who need involved mentors.”

Emma is ready to begin the next chapter in her life. She’s been accepted for a small animal rotating internship at the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine – the same place her mom completed an internship. “To this day, I remember the stress of applying for an internship and then a residency and then taking boards. I am concerned my daughter will face those same stresses.” It’s neurology, not ophthalmology, that sparks Emma’s interest. “I haven’t been able to make her see the light and open her eyes to ophthalmology!” jokes Hendrix.

The Class of 2024 elected Hendrix and UTCVM endocrinologist Luca Giori to place the hoods on the students at graduation.  

“I thoroughly enjoyed spending this time of her life with her and I wish her the very best and know that she will do great things with her life and with veterinary medicine.”