Sunshine Lahmers has won the 2023 Zoetis Distinguished Veterinary Teacher Award.

This award is an honor given to one faculty member at each veterinary school in the United States based on demonstrated leadership and character; teaching ability as demonstrated by the caliber of instruction and responsiveness to the needs of students. Faculty members are nominated by their students.

A clinical associate professor of cardiology, Lahmers works with students throughout their veterinary education, from their first year to their cardiology clerkships in their clinical year. Through facilitating discussion and listening to students work through problems, Lahmers gives students time to shine, and it also allows her to pick up on points of confusion. 

What makes a good teacher? To Lahmers, it's a question of "superpowers."

"I think it's utilizing each individual’s superpower, what strengths they uniquely bring that engages students,” Lahmers said. “What works for one instructor might not work for another instructor. I think my superpower is listening — I learn more by listening. In group learning sessions, labs, and rounds, I try to talk as little as possible so the students can take more ownership. It allows the students to challenge themselves more, and while listening, I can get a much better feel for what students understand and where they are confused. I can then use that information to continue to improve my teaching and the course as a whole.”

"Dr. Lahmers was chosen for this award because of her dedication to the students and the advancement of our curriculum, in addition to her ongoing commitment to improve methods of assessment for our veterinary students,” said Jen Davis, associate professor of clinical pharmacology, chair of the award committee and recipient of the 2021 award. “She is easy to approach, always considers the opinions and needs of others, and acts as an excellent role model for students and faculty alike. The fact that she can maintain this level of engagement with her students while coordinating one of our DVM 'mega-courses' is proof that she is highly deserving of this award.” 

By grouping related ideas, the veterinary curriculum is designed to bring together foundational and applied knowledge—for example, students now learn about the physiology of the heart around the time they learn about diagnostic testing that puts that knowledge into practice. Students learn from many different faculty members in a single “mega-course.”

"One of the things about course leadership that has been most valuable to me is perspective—I think it has changed me as a teacher dramatically,” Lahmers said. Through listening to students and asking for feedback, she has been able to broaden her perspective and pinpoint friction in the learning process. 

"Learning that I won the award definitely made my day,” Lahmers said. “I appreciate it very much, and the first thing it makes me think of is to thank the students for that recognition and say ‘Thank you’ to all the people who have provided me mentorship and opportunities over the years."

Written by Sarah Boudreau M.F.A. '21, a writer with the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine


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