Alumni Spotlight: Joni Scheftel

May 22, 2019

When Joni Scheftel, ’82 DVM, ’01 MPH, graduated from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, she never imagined she would end up working for the government. Scheftel grew up on an island in Lake Minnetonka, where she raised many different kinds of animals. She became passionate about animal agriculture at a young age. “I had dairy goats, horses, sheep, and all kinds of poultry,” she says. “I knew I wanted to be in animal agriculture when I was 4.” Scheftel says that getting those animals was all part of her plan for her career. “Being a little kid and wanting to raise animals for food was pretty unusual. I loved the relationship of animal agriculture to humans and the environment,” says Scheftel.

Immediately after graduating from the CVM, Scheftel began working in private practice at a mixed animal practice in Watertown, Minn., where she would stay for 19 years. “When I started in 1982, it was an 80% dairy practice,” says Scheftel. “When I left in 2001, the practice became all small animal.”

As the clientele began to change, so did Scheftel’s interests. “While in practice, I sat on a five person citizen board that oversees the State Veterinarian’s office — also called the Board of Animal Health,” she says. “I was impressed by the level of dedication of the veterinarians working there and the complex problems they handled, and grew interested in public policy. For the first time, I could see myself working in government,” says Scheftel. She cut down her hours at the clinic, and came back to the U in pursuit of her masters in public health.

Her career change was supported by a number of factors, including the mentoring she received from members of the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association (MVMA). A member as a student, Scheftel retained her membership after graduation and served on the public health committee out of interest. Scheftel says, “The mentoring I received during my time with the MVMA helped me make the transition in my career in my 40’s.”

During her shift to public health, Scheftel was worried that she wouldn’t be helping people as much as when she worked in private practice. However, she quickly realized that wasn’t the case. “It’s a service job,” says Scheftel. “We do a lot of consulting, helping people through tricky situations, advising health care providers or individuals themselves.”

Scheftel works for the Minnesota Department of Health and was appointed to the position of State Public Health Veterinarian after working as an epidemiologist in the foodborne illness unit for two years. Recently, she was elected as president of the MVMA. Through these positions, Scheftel has been able to have a positive impact on numerous areas of public health and veterinary medicine.

Joni Scheftel in high school with a goatScheftel with her favorite milking goat on Big Island in Minnetonka, 1975

Perhaps Scheftel’s favorite duty as president was giving a speech at the CVM’s White Coat Ceremony. “I have given coats out before but giving the speech was really important to me. I gave the oath at the commencement ceremony, too, and the oath is also really important to me.”

On a broader level, Scheftel is working with others at MVMA on Minnesota’s response to the opioid crisis in veterinary medicine. “It’s a heartbreaking situation,” she says. “Every state veterinary association is being challenged with this issue. We have developed our own prescription monitoring program, but we are not yet sure that it will work for us long term. We are also working to raise awareness by developing educational materials and continuing education for our members on diversion of controlled substances by clients, and in the clinic by veterinary personnel.”

In August, Scheftel will also become the chair of the Committee on Antimicrobials for the American Veterinary Medical Association, and is also currently the vice chair of the Committee on One Health for the US Animal Health Association (USAHA). “I am the first veterinarian working on the human health side to be asked to chair a USAHA committee,” says Scheftel. “I am proud that I have enough animal health sensibilities that they wanted me to be a co-chair.”