Photo credit: JPC-PROD/Adobe Stock
Dr. Vernard Hodges has made a name for himself in the veterinary profession but may be better known as part of the “Critter Fixers” duo. He and his partner and friend, Dr. Terrence Ferguson, star in the Nat Geo Wild television show, which debuted in March 2020 and was renewed for a third season debuting this spring. The Tuskegee University veterinary graduates own and operate Critter Fixer Veterinary Hospitals, located 100 miles south of Atlanta. The two are shown working around the clock with their staff on everything from emergency visits to farm calls throughout rural Georgia.
Dr. Hodges was one of the keynote speakers at the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference, Jan. 6-9, in Chicago (see keynote story). AVMA News sat down with Dr. Hodges, who was raised in Fort Valley, Georgia, to talk about his background, how he and Dr. Ferguson built three veterinary hospitals from practically nothing, how the name “Critter Fixers” came to be, and how easy it is to find minority kids interested in veterinary medicine—you just have to know where to look.
Q. What drew you to veterinary medicine as a kid and specifically to aquaculture?
A. Growing up in the rural South, animals were a part of our daily lives. I lived near a creek and played with animals. There was always a stray dog. A lot of times, we didn’t know about veterinary medicine and didn’t have money to take our animal to a doctor, so we’d figure out ways, like old wives’ tales, to try to fix animals and make them feel better. There was a guy who had a cattle farm, and I would help deliver calves.
As for getting into aquaculture, my stepdad was Japanese, and he always had koi fish, so I was raised learning to care for them and developed a lifelong passion for aquaculture. My undergrad (degree) was in fish biology, and my adviser, Melinda Davis, PhD, she helped me write up a project where we’d use carp to feed a village in the developing world. So here I am, a country kid headed to Nepal. In that part of the country, they needed a cheap source of protein, and it doesn’t get much cheaper than fish. So, we had the carp eat phytoplankton, which you don’t even need to feed.
Q. You went to Fort Valley State University for undergraduate studies and Tuskegee University for veterinary college. both are historically black universities. What made you pursue that kind of higher education?
A. The beauty of HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) is they give you a chance. Back then, some of the bigger universities weren’t going to give an average 2.0 (GPA) kid a chance. I also knew from friends of mine and school visits that HBCUs provided a nurturing experience for young Black kids, and I needed a place where I could grow and mature as I learned.
I didn’t have the best SAT score or best grades, and I failed ninth grade, but knew I couldn’t give up. There wasn’t a “what if?” There wasn’t a foundation to go anywhere else. You keep going. Even on the bad days, you keep going.
Nothing could be worse than picking peaches for 25 cents a bucket in the hot Georgia summer. I knew I didn’t want to do that anymore.
Dr. Davis, she pushed me and said: “I believe in you. Maybe you got a C, but I believe in you. Keep fighting. We’ll get you internships.”
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