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New to the CVM: Meet Sarah Townsend

Sarah Townsend holds a dog
Sarah Townsend, assistant professor of soft tissue and oncologic surgery, holds a soft tissue patient during an appointment. Photo by John Joyner/NC State Veterinary Medicine

Sarah Townsend ended up at NC State College of Veterinary Medicine by accident. She grew up on her family’s farm in a rural village in England. After attending veterinary school an hour away, she applied for a very competitive internship in Canada, fully expecting not to get the position. 

“I thought I’d go away for a year and then return to England for my residency,” Townsend said. “But I fell in love with traveling and meeting new people.”

After her year in Canada, Townsend completed a research fellowship in Florida and stayed on for her residency, again expecting to return home afterward. 

“I called my mum one day to tell her that I’d met someone in Florida. Once she met him, she  said, ‘well you’re definitely not coming home now!’”

Tyler Townsend, who would become her husband, and Sarah Townsend looked for a place that would be a happy medium between Canada and Florida. While they came to North Carolina for the climate, they stayed for the people. 

As an assistant professor of soft tissue and oncologic surgery, Townsend hopes she can inspire other visitors to campus to fall in love with NC State for the same reason. 

What made you want to work in veterinary medicine? 

Growing up on a farm surrounded by animals, I always wanted to be a veterinarian. After high school, I thought I might want to do something else and spent a year studying human genetics, but I found that I really missed all the animals. That solidified it for me. I definitely wanted to be a veterinarian. It’s really the only job that I’ve ever wanted to do, and I love it. 

Originally I thought I wanted to be an equine veterinarian since I grew up on a farm around horses. But on a surgery rotation, I fell in love with surgery, especially oncologic and minimally invasive ones.

What will you be doing in your role at the CVM?  

As a faculty member, my time is split between clinics, research and teaching. I’m really excited about research, and I love interacting with students on clinics. They keep me grounded and remind me why I’m in this business. 

This can be a difficult profession, and I hope to help students learn to laugh and enjoy being in the business for a long time. It’s not sustainable as a profession if you don’t love and enjoy what you’re doing.

What is your background? 

I received my veterinary degree with honors from the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. Following graduation, I completed a one year small animal rotating internship at the University of Guelph in Canada. Then I completed an orthopedic research fellowship and a residency in small animal surgery at the University of Florida.

I am a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, with interests in complex wound management and interventional radiologic techniques.

What’s something someone would be surprised to learn about you? 

When I was in my teens, I used to be national fencer. My husband and I are very sporty. He used to be pole vaulter. 

When you’re not on campus, where could we find you?  

I’m probably out running in nature. Growing up in a rural place, I love to be outside. I like living close to Raleigh, but I don’t want to be in the city all the time. Tyler and I love to go running at Umstead State Park to destress after work. 

I also love to read, which can be difficult to find time to do, so I’m getting into audiobooks and podcasts. I especially like crime dramas. My favorite author is Dick Francis, who writes about horse race crimes. It’s very British. 

Do you have any pets? 

We have three cats named Finn, Marmite and Crumpet; a dog named Chester, who is nearly 13 years old and an adorable old man shepherd mix; and four chickens that currently live in Florida. 

Our chickens are living with friends of ours because we’ve had a hard time trying to find a neighborhood that will let us keep chickens. We miss them greatly and are petitioning our homeowners association to be able to keep chickens. Hopefully we’ll be able to bring them up to North Carolina soon.