Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on June 16, 2011. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
State public health vet honored for achievements
By Karen Templeton
MSU Office of Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE – As a student, Dr. Brigid Elchos chose a college major that would give her a lot of options. Little did she know that the path she was on would put her in a key position to respond to Mississippi’s animal health disease emergencies.
Elchos was recently honored as Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine’s alumnus of the year for her outstanding achievements and leadership. She credits her success to a quality education and her diverse work experiences.
“At first, I went into nursing because I had an interest in health and medicine,” Elchos, a CVM class of 1999 graduate, said. “It opened a lot of doors for me, and I enjoyed it.”
Elchos spent the first part of her career working with cancer patients, a job she found both fulfilling and heart-wrenching. In 1990, she moved to the Delta and began working in public health. As a tuberculosis control nurse with the Mississippi State Department of Health, Elchos handled tuberculosis crises, did public relations work and served as a liaison with nurses, physicians and administrators.
“I liked working with so many different people and getting the opportunity to travel,” Elchos said. “Everyday brought something new, and I was introduced to program management.”
Elchos knew she wanted to go back to school, and becoming a veterinarian was something she had always pondered.
“I didn’t choose vet school just because I loved working with animals. I really researched it and had an interest in the different species and liked the flexibility veterinarians have in their careers,” she said. “I knew that I’d get to be a decision-maker and that was, and still is, important to me.”
Elchos entered CVM along with her brother and after graduation returned to the Department of Health with a new role.
“I left the department to go to school and grow,” she said. “It was exciting to return as a veterinarian,” she said.
Following graduation, Elchos began working as a part-time small animal veterinarian and in 2000, became the state public health veterinarian. In this role, she provides education to physicians, veterinarians and other health care professionals on bioterrorism, rabies, West Nile virus and zoonotic disease agents. She also coordinates planning and response efforts to diseases that affect both humans and animals.
In 2004, Mississippi’s State Veterinarian, Dr. Jim Watson, offered Elchos a position with the Board of Animal Health. Elchos accepted, and the Department of Health asked her to maintain the role of state public health veterinarian as well. Elchos now serves two roles as deputy state veterinarian and as state public health veterinarian. She is based out of Hattiesburg but works all over the state.
“I would never have foreseen this coming about,” she said. “I’m so fortunate. I really have the best job in the world.”
Elchos and her colleagues were faced with the challenge of their careers when Hurricane Katrina destroyed much of the Gulf Coast and displaced livestock and companion animals.
“All of us involved in the operations got to see ourselves at our best and our worst,” she said. “The experience made me even prouder to be from Mississippi. The efforts validated all I knew we were about, and we couldn’t have done it without the good relationships all the animal health agencies have with each other.”
After Katrina, Elchos and her colleagues in surrounding states developed the Southern Agriculture and Animal Disaster Response Alliance. The group is constantly preparing for the next disaster and developing resources to protect animal agriculture.
“Dr. Elchos is one of the most positive and organized people I know,” said Dr. Carla Huston, associate professor in CVM’s Department of Pathobiology and Population Medicine. “She’s organized state working groups and spearheaded important emergency management efforts. She is such a wonderful asset to the profession and to CVM.”
Elchos credits her CVM education for giving her the problem-solving skills it takes to do her job successfully.
“My professors taught me to look at everything as if I were solving a problem. That approach makes what I deal with so much less daunting,” she said. “I also appreciate how my instructors at CVM treated us all as individuals, not just as part of a big group,”
As an adjunct professor at CVM, Elchos’ ties to the school are still strong.
“When I walk through the halls, people remember me and ask me questions about my brother and myself,” she said. “It’s just a nice feeling. It isn’t just about building medical knowledge, but also about developing a support system.”