Meet Erica: Toxicologic pathologist and veteran employee resource group member
After 39 years of service in the U.S. military, Erica chose to continue her pathology career supporting drug discovery and preclinical safety studies at Covance, Labcorp’s drug development business.
While Erica came to the Covance site in Greenfield, Indiana, U.S. as a board-certified veterinary pathologist, getting there was a circuitous journey. In fact, her first experience with undergraduate organic chemistry was so intimidating that she quietly withdrew from the sciences altogether.
“Whereas high school had been relatively easy and enjoyed with friends, college academics were suddenly more demanding and solitary. I thought I just didn’t have the aptitude for it,” said Erica. “I felt out of my element and was too shy to ask questions.”
Erica double-majored in French and Russian in her undergraduate studies. While her interests in science and animals were on hold, her love of languages and travel led her to serve in the U.S. Navy, Naval Reserve, Illinois Army National Guard, the Army Reserve and Army.
Serving as a cryptologic officer in the Navy, Erica studied Italian while stationed in Italy, then explored a psychology program at a U.S.-affiliated university, focusing on one course at a time. She continued to study psychology, taking evening classes after transferring to Hawaii where she eventually earned a master’s degree in counseling psychology from the Chaminade University of Honolulu.
“Ironically, it wasn’t until after the bachelor’s, when I focused on one course at a time that I realized that I simply needed to work harder to ‘ace’ courses. Pretty basic, huh?” she said. “That positive feedback for the Italian and the psych courses gave me courage to revisit my earlier interest in science.”
With newfound confidence, she decided to pursue a civilian career in veterinary medicine. This coincided with a move from active-duty Navy to the Naval Reserve, during which she took pre-veterinary coursework at the University of Hawaii. Because the Army is the only military branch with a role for veterinarians, once she completed her doctorate at the School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison, she transferred to the Army Reserve.
As a civilian, Erica practiced veterinary medicine in Green Bay, Wis. while serving in the Reserve, completed a medical internship to boost skills, and returned to UW-Madison for a PhD in veterinary science, specializing in immunology and oncology. After 9/11, during her final year of research, the Army made her an offer and she switched to active-duty status.
The deal entailed a transfer to the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research upon completion of her PhD. She later completed a residency at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, passed the board exam in 2008 and served as an Army veterinary pathologist.
In her last assignment before retiring from the military, Erica, then a lieutenant colonel, served as Chief, Division of Toxicologic Pathology at the U.S. Army Public Health Center, where she provided pathology support for GLP-compliant toxicity studies and oversaw the necropsy/histology suite.
Finding a match with core values at Covance
Erica had heard of several fellow Army pathologists who successfully transitioned to a career at Covance. The concept of serving the greater community fit with Erica’s principles from her military career, leading her to join the company in January 2017.
“The concept of service seems to be fairly important at Covance, which also fits my values,” she said. “My local site is involved in a food bank, collections for the American Red Cross, and always doing something to help people that are less fortunate. Those opportunities to volunteer made the transition easier.”
Erica found another point of connection with the veteran employee resource group (VERG) and, before the pandemic, was helping set up in-person volunteer efforts at a local food bank.
Sharing the spirit of teamwork with veterinary pathologists
Erica enjoys her role as a veterinary pathologist at Covance.
“There is a single position as a toxicologic pathologist in the entire Army,” said Erica. “I felt it was a tremendous opportunity, like a stepping stone, to transition from the Army toxicologic pathologist slot to become a Covance toxicologic pathologist.”
She shared that, because the skill set is unique, Covance pathologists, like Army veterinary pathologists, tend to be a tightly knit group regardless of geographical borders.
“There aren’t many veterinary pathologists at any one Covance site,” she explained. “We come from different parts of the world but have similar training, so we speak the same professional language. I enjoy my coworkers and miss the on-site comradery of pre-pandemic days.”
Collaboration also factors into Erica’s appreciation of her work environment as a veteran who moved into a civilian career:
“One aspect of the Army that I really liked was the emphasis on teamwork: You haven’t succeeded unless the team has succeeded. I see that emphasis on teamwork here as well. You know you’re not alone in your work, and we learn from each other.”