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Teaming up for animals at VMC

jane turpin moore/daily globe Sheena and Jason Christensen, according to Veterinary Medical Center President and Managing Partner Steve Dudley, "are the first veterinary husband and wife team we've ever hired. They are high-quality individuals, and we're excited to have recruited them and to see them getting settled in Worthington."

WORTHINGTON -- Brimming with energy, intelligence and enthusiasm, veterinarians Sheena and Jason Christensen joined the staff of Worthington's Veterinary Medical Center (VMC) in early June.

"We're having a really great experience so far," said Jason, a May 5, 2012, graduate of Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine. "I'm trying to be the best mixed animal vet I can be."

"Something that people outside of the veterinary field may not realize is that VMC is a fantastic, very progressive clinic," added Sheena, who finished her veterinary training at Iowa State in 2011 and has since been working on a master's degree in public health at the University of Iowa. "From a career standpoint, this was an opportunity not to be missed."

According to Dr. Steve Dudley, president and managing partner of VMC, the Christensens' hiring provides a unique marker for the business.

"The Christensens are the first veterinary husband and wife team we've ever hired," Dudley confirmed. "They are equally impressive, and while both will be mixed practitioners, Sheena will be a little more focused on pet care and Jason will spend a little more time in the country.

"They are high-quality individuals, and we're excited to have recruited them and to see them getting settled in Worthington."

The Christensens met during their undergraduate years at Iowa State, when both were student workers at the school's Wildlife Care Clinic.

"I was Jason's superior at the Wildlife Care Clinic, so we've always joked that we already had the rules for our marriage figured out at that point," teased Sheena. Married since 2008, the couple has a 3-year-old son, Kolton, who they admit is more challenging than either of their pet dogs -- a 130-pound English mastiff and a lab mix.

"The little guy is full of energy," revealed his dad. Added Sheena, "Kolton keeps us running. He loves vet medicine, too, and thinks he's already a doctor. He carries around a toy vet kit and 'helps' us out occasionally."

Jason, a native of Algona, Iowa, grew up on what he calls a "small diversified farming operation."

"I was always hanging around when the vet came, watching C-sections and vaccinations," he recalled. "Becoming a vet was always there in my mind, and as I got older, I worked toward it."

Sheena, originally of West Des Moines, Iowa, arrived at veterinary medicine in a more indirect fashion. Having always excelled at math and physics, she started her undergraduate work with the idea of becoming an architect, but a short internship convinced her that architecture wasn't quite the right fit.

"I sat down in my dorm room, flipped through the course catalog, looked at all 150 majors and checked 'no' to all of them," Sheena laughed. "But my family had moved out to the country a few years earlier and I enjoyed the farm cats and dogs, so I thought, 'Maybe veterinary medicine.'

"Then I got a summer job at a vet clinic in West Des Moines, working in animal ecology, and the more I got involved, the more I realized I enjoyed it.

"Veterinary medicine found me more than I found it."

Jason was heavily involved in 4-H and FFA during his high school years and holds Iowa FFA and National FFA degrees as a result.

"I like fishing, hunting and camping, and Sheena and I have traveled to national parks in the west, southeast and southwest," listed Jason. "Last year we went to South Africa for 18 days, where we spent time guarding and transporting wildlife, but Sheena has done a lot more international travel than I have."

Sheena, in fact, has likely traveled far more than most people.

"Since I was 5 years old, I told my mom I was going to travel the world," noted Sheena, whose first major trip was a two-week jaunt following her freshman year in college to Australia with International Student Volunteers. There, she worked at a reptile wildlife sanctuary.

"I was hooked," she confessed.

Subsequent trips included a spring break journey to Costa Rica, time in Guatemala and Jamaica (where she volunteered in animal neutering clinics), travel to Brazil (where she lived on a boat and slept in a hammock on the Amazon River), and a three-week stay in Tanzania, where she tested her Swahili while guarding cape buffalo, wildebeests and giraffes, among other exotic creatures.

"I don't do the resort-style travel," she understated. "Spanish is my strongest second language, and I like to study up on the culture before I go somewhere.

"The neutering clinics serve by neutering animals for population control purposes in developing countries, because keeping the number of stray animals lower is really an effort to keep people healthy due to the transmittal of diseases from animals to humans," Sheena noted. "That's something I'm focusing on in my public health degree work -- that by helping the animals in a community, we can help the people in a community."

In joining the VMC staff, the Christensens boosted the veterinarian count there to 12. Next week, one more new veterinarian -- Dr. Amber Hazel, a University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine graduate who has a large animal/dairy emphasis -- will come on board, bringing the total to 13.

"It is difficult to find large animal vets, so we are excited to have these young professionals coming to Worthington and joining our practice," Dudley said. "They will all be good citizens as well as able professionals, and we are enthused for the future with them here."