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Faces of Food Safety: Dr. Kysha Hendricks –Treated First Veterinary Patient at Age Six

Office of Public Health Science’s Applied Epidemiology Staff Veterinary Medical Officer and Surveillance Epidemiologist Dr. Kysha Hendricks takes a photo break during her team’s annual retreat in Washington, D.C. Hendricks is stationed in Atlanta. Photo by Andrea Cote, OPHS. 

Since the age of six, Dr. Kysha Hendricks wanted to be a veterinarian due to her love for animals. That devotion, she said, came from a very personal place. “I had just gotten over a bout of chicken pox, when one of my mom’s co-workers gifted me a grey striped Tabby kitten to help me feel better.” Hendricks recalled. “The kitten’s eye started to close, likely from an injury from a litter mate. I cared for Frisky’s eye — cleaning it with water and applying an over the counter antiseptic — and gave her lots of love. Her eye quickly healed.” Hendricks would soon have a menagerie of hamsters, fish, dogs, cats and a wild parakeet under her care. She even trained the bird to stay perched on her shoulder and not fly away even when they were outside. “It was my dream to be a veterinarian, and my focus never wavered,” Hendricks said.

Fulfilling a Dream

Years later, Hendricks, a native of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, headed to Alabama to continue her education en route to fulfilling her dream of going into clinical practice. In 2000, she earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Animal Science from Tuskegee University, followed by a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Degree from Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine four years later.

After graduation, Hendricks had an opportunity to participate in a rotating internship program at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. While there, she treated pets with health issues ranging from dermatological problems to cancer. Though she had success stories, she found it difficult to tell the parents the inevitable bad news in terminal cases. “Even when I was young, it was hard saying my final goodbyes to my pets. I loved my animals so much, I honored them with proper burials in my pet cemetery,” shared Henricks.

“…I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.”

Dr. Kysha Hendricks

Putting the Veterinarians’ Oath into Practice

Though Hendricks’ focus was small animal medicine in vet school, she always had an interest in public health topics. By happenstance, she was catching up with a colleague and learned that she worked at the USDA. Hendricks looked into the available opportunities in the Department and realized that FSIS was the right place for her.

In November 2006, she joined the Agency as an Office of Field Operations (OFO) relief public health veterinarian and covered establishments located in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. One of her initial assignments was in a red meat slaughter plant. She recalls it being a tough assignment because it was the largest of its kind in her district, extremely fast paced and she had to constantly resolve issues quickly. She says of her time as a PHV, “Most vets in Georgia are employed at poultry establishments, so they couldn’t give me much advice on what to prepare for, but I was up to the challenge. I was determined to do a great job for the Agency and the American public.” Besides her integrity and good work ethic, Hendricks followed (and continues to follow) the Veterinarian’s Oath. It reads in part:

“…I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.”

In 2009, Hendricks accepted an Inspector in Charge position and supervised a team of 10 employees. She was also certified as an Agency mentor and an OFO enforcement investigations and analysis officer. The three roles allowed Hendricks to teach the next generation of employees and to practice the Oath and the Agency’s core values. She says, “I had the opportunity to contribute to the Agency by mentoring and training many new veterinarians and inspectors. I emphasized the importance of accountable for the work we do and the role we play ensuring that animals are treated humanely and the food we obtain from them is safe to consume. I realized something, as well. Food safety is collaborative. We need field employees and employees from the various program areas within the Agency to complete the mission.”

A Decade Later

In February 2019, Hendricks became a veterinary medical officer and surveillance epidemiologist with the Office of Public Health Science’s (OPHS) Applied Epidemiology Staff. In this role, she handles investigation outbreaks, represents OPHS on food recall committees, is a team member on the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System working group and manages the Agency’s Consumer Complaints Monitoring System (CCMS). One of her CCMS cases led to an Agency recall of several million pounds of products that were rendered unsafe for consumers.

In Her Spare Time

Hendricks enjoys spending time with her one-year old daughter, as well as with her family and friends. Hendricks also finds time to explore new places and takes part in festivities that celebrate and explore her Caribbean heritage.

 

Last Modified Feb 28, 2020