CARTHAGE, Ill. — The advice that Dyneah Classen’s mom gave her, when Classen was still in high school and trying to figure out if she wanted a career as a math teacher or as a veterinarian, paid dividends.
“Before I spent eight years on an education and didn’t know what I was getting into, she suggested if there was any way I could work in a vet’s office, I should do that,” Classen said.
Classen, then Dyneah Augsburger, applied for and was hired to work, at the age of 16, at Eastside Veterinary Clinic in Fairbury.
She told the staff and veterinarians there that the job was to help her decide if she wanted a career in veterinary medicine. The clinic was a mixed practice of small animals and large animals.
“As I stayed there and gained their trust, they allowed me to go with the veterinarians on farm calls,” Classen said.
She also worked on a swine farm owned by one of the veterinarians in the practice then.
Classen did not come from a farm background. Her parents worked in non-farm jobs, her dad as a bricklayer and her mother as a bank teller.
The family did have a small herd of hogs when Classen was growing up, but sold those when the hog markets declined.
“I loved working with the pigs,” she said.
Classen stayed on the job for a few years, working part-time during school and full-time during the summer.
When it came time to fill out her application to veterinary schools, the time at the veterinary clinic paid another dividend.
“On the vet school application they asked how many hours I spent in preparation for applying to work in a veterinary practice. I pulled all my old paystubs from the clinic and added up the hours from the six to seven years of working after school, weekends, long vacations and summer breaks in the veterinary office. That lent strength to my application for vet school,” Classen said.
Today, Classen is a partner and veterinarian in the Carthage Veterinary System. She serves as director of health for the Carthage System, writing health plans and protocols for the swine farms in the system. She spends plenty of time on the farms and in the barns.
“I am a herd vet for several of the herds, and if we have anyone out on vacation or sick leave, I will jump in and provide service in their absence. I’m on farms two to three days a week and the other days are spent doing managerial-type work. Currently, I can be on a farm five to six days a week if it’s needed,” she said.
She’s been at Carthage since she graduated from veterinary school at the University of Illinois in 2007. Prior to working at Carthage, she did an internship there.
That internship affirmed to Classen that veterinary medicine and specifically swine veterinary medicine was the place she was meant to be.
“It allowed me to meet all the veterinarians on staff. They had me helping out with a research trial. As I got to spend more time showering in and out of hog barns, meeting the people who worked on the hog farms, it really just continued to confirm that this was something I would enjoy,” she said.
In March, Classen was honored as the Swine Practitioner of the Year by the American Association of Swine Veterinarians. The award is given to “the swine practitioner who has demonstrated an unusual degree of proficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of veterinary service to clients.”
In the nomination, a peer said of Classen that “her strong work-life balance makes her a good role model for students entering into our swine veterinary profession.”
When Classen was in vet school, Jim Lowe, now the director of the College of Veterinary Medicine I-Learning Center at the U of I, gave a presentation in one of her classes about specializing in swine veterinary medicine. His point about the typical hours sounded good to Classen.
“He said pig vets can have more regular hours than cattle vets and pig farmers are usually only in the barns from 6 a.m. to around 3 p.m. and he said as he looked across the sea of mostly women — my class had 80 women and 20 men — that would be a good lifestyle for our demographic. I will tell you that person in vet school was never having children, but I thought that 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. didn’t sound too bad, I wasn’t afraid of pigs and it sounded like something I could do,” she said.
Classen and her husband, Nathan, now have four children. Their oldest daughter, Elsa, is 10, then Freya is 7 and twins Willa and Noah are 4.
“I have a very good partner. I told my husband when we married that he would have more of a role than he saw other dads his age having. I was a vet first and I was a vet when my husband met me, so it’s not like he has known anything different,” Classen said.
When their twins were born, Nathan decided to leave the workforce and stay home with their children.
While her hours can be long — one recent workday started at 4 a.m. and finished at 6:30 p.m., Classen is able to move her schedule around so she can put her mom hat on.
“There is some flexibility and we can end our day at 3 p.m. and head home and do the school functions and the after-school functions. After the farm staffs leave at 2:30 or 3 p.m., it’s a lot of managerial stuff, so I can pick work back up at 6 or 7 and work through the evening. You just have to make time for things like that,” she said.
Even with the work-life balance she works hard to maintain, now that she has a family, that wasn’t always the case.
And that is part of Classen’s advice to others, especially young women, who are thinking about a career as a veterinarian, for their first year or first few years, as a new vet.
“Everybody talks about work-life balance, but I still can’t help but feel like your first year out, you need to be more available. You need to be there earlier and later than everybody else. You need to learn the ropes and you need to become invaluable to your company very, very quickly. I know that doesn’t allow for much work-life balance that first year or two, but you still have a lot to learn when you get out of vet school,” she said.