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For 35 Years, a Guiding Light for CVM Students

Lizette Hardie
Lizette Hardie, professor of general surgery, joined the CVM in 1985. She stepped down as head of the Department of Clinical Sciences earlier this month after nearly 12 years in the role. Photo by John Joyner/NC State Veterinary Medicine

Lizette Hardie’s hands have removed cancerous lung tumors. They’ve helped craft complex therapies and sent countless pets back home.

But Hardie’s real power lies in guiding class after class of veterinary students with her firm yet affirming hands, from the moment students join the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine to the day they leave.

She meets all students during orientation, and soon her hands guide theirs as they quickly dive into practicing a range of surgical skills. She follows their surgery progress during their second year and third year and fourth year. Her surgical expertise — a life-saving art of precision and confidence — stays with them.

“I can truly say that I hear her voice in my head while scrubbing for every surgery I perform in practice, reminding me of important things to remember, even sometimes during the actual surgery,” says Meg Walker Stewart, a 2018 CVM graduate who is now a veterinarian at a hospital in Matthews, N.C. “Her intelligence, drive and honest guidance was integral to my journey from student to veterinarian.”

Hardie’s words echo. She is always to the point, perhaps even intimidating at first, she says. But DVM students become good surgeons because of her. They remain great surgeons because of her.

“You do know that I’ve been called the scariest teacher in the vet school,” Hardie says with a laugh. “I teach surgery. I have to give very direct feedback. I remember the students would get to clinics later and they would say, ‘Man, you’re a nice person. I was terrified of you in junior surgery’”.

 “And I say ‘It was always in your best interest. I always had your back.’”

Lizette Hardie
Hardie in the classroom. CVM students awarded her the Zoetis Distinguished Teacher Award in 2017. Photo by Nathan Latil/NC State Veterinary Medicine

For 35 years, Hardie has been a force at the CVM and the NC State Veterinary Hospital. For more than 20 years she has been a professor of surgery and developed cutting-edge educational and clinical curriculum at the CVM. Since 2008, she has served as head of the Department of Clinical Sciences.

Now a new chapter begins. On July 1, she stepped down as clinical sciences head with Anthony Blikslager, professor of equine surgery and gastroenterology, taking the lead.

But she’ll still be at the CVM, doing the work she has loved for so long. She’ll continue as a Clinical Sciences professor of general surgery, teaching students, guiding curriculum and co-leading the CVM’s Health and Wellness Center.

She will now be even more involved with the exotic animal service, a field that helped drive Hardie’s interest in veterinary medicine in the first place.

“I feel like I’ve absolutely come 360,” says Hardie. “Exotic animals need a champion. There are many things I am passionate about, but that’s one that’s always been there.”

Veterinary medicine has allowed Hardie to do all of the things she has wanted to do the most in her life. After earning a DVM from Cornell University and a Ph.D. from the University of Georgia School of Veterinary Medicine, she joined the CVM in 1985 as an assistant professor of surgery and never left. 

Though she loves every part of surgery — being an avid sewer since childhood predestined it — teaching is what has kept her in academia. Graduates tell her that when they perform surgery, they still hear her advice in their head.

“I think I realized I was a good influence when someone would go out into practice and I would hear from them 10 years later and they would say, ‘Thank you,’” says Hardie. “As a teacher, that means the world because that means you’re doing something right. You remember every one of them who tells you that, you sort of tuck them away and say, ‘Yup. Did good with that one.’”

But Hardie has never focused solely on teaching or surgery. She developed a groundbreaking research group for understanding pain in animals when very few in the veterinary community recognized it as a research field at all.  For a decade, she worked on a committee to support women in academia and help them thrive, she says.

She has established collaboratives for veterinary educators, to train faculty, administrators and staff so they can train future generations of veterinarians. This year, she has been actively helping to develop a modified curriculum for DVM students as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

There has never been a challenge Hardie was afraid to tackle.

Lizette has always looked out for our people, faculty, staff and students, as well as our mission,” says CVM Dean Paul Lunn. “Amongst her many accomplishments, nobody did more to foster our culture, build strong teams and work for equity across our college.

Laura Nelson, CVM associate dean and director of academic affairs, calls Hardie a pioneer in veterinary education, both as a teacher and leader. To work with Hardie as a colleague, Nelson says, is to watch an expert quickly see and act when a student needs encouragement or when a surgical knot isn’t quite right. Hardie knows when a student team’s skills are finally clicking. She doesn’t just know when to prod, but precisely how to prod.

Hardie has brought that same level of commitment and passion to her leadership roles, Nelson said.

“When I arrived at NC State in 2017, I knew that I was joining a college that has an established track record in educational excellence. Dr. Hardie’s leadership in clinical sciences was a major part of that,” says Nelson. “She worked to elevate the importance of evidence-based, scholarly educational practice as an essential part of what it means to be a veterinary educator.

“I am grateful for her mentorship and leadership. As a surgical educator and academic leader, it’s an honor to help carry on the work that she has accomplished. She leaves big shoes — or is it surgical gloves? — to fill.”

Lizette Hardie
As a clinician, Hardie (center) specialized in soft tissue surgery. Photo by Nathan Latil/NC State Veterinary Medicine

It’s both. As a clinician, Hardie has been a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons since 1986 and a member of the North Carolina Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Veterinary Clinicians, which this year honored Hardie with a Faculty Achievement Award. That barely scratches the surface of her accomplishments.

Unsurprisingly, she’s honored by CVM students as much as she is her professional peers. When Hardie won the Zoetis Distinguished Teacher Award in 2017, based on student vote, submissions repeatedly described her as upbeat, understanding and patient. She is, “tough enough to inspire me to do better,” one student wrote.

“Dr. Hardie knows how to push students to achieve success in a way that drives them to be their best self,” says Stewart. “She is in an inspiration to me. Her wit, passion for teaching and willingness to go above and beyond for her students have made a lasting mark on myself and the entire CVM.”

Hardie calls herself an introvert, but she’s also ceaselessly positive, outspoken and fearless. It’s a surgeon’s personality, she says, but at the CVM it’s a personality that is distinctly Hardie’s.  

“I will admit one thing I am blessed with — the personality that tries to see the bright side. The other thing is that I’m pretty persistent,” says Hardie.

“I love this profession. It is not an easy profession. You have to be prepared for the challenges of it. But if you’re really going to be good at something, you’re going to have to work really hard at it. I just embrace that. I say, ‘OK, we can do this.’”

~Jordan Bartel/NC State Veterinary Medicine