Laura Molgaard

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Inventors and Innovators

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PEOPLE: THE HEART OF THE CVM

Laura Molgaard

As a Type A personality, Dr. Laura Molgaard is always trying to get someplace faster while doing it better. After developing or overseeing the creation of both veterinary assistant and veterinary medical curricula in Minnesota, Molgaard is now helping to set best practices for veterinary education on a global level.

“With each step of my career, I was looking for broader and broader reach,” she says. “When I was helping the client and patient, I was helping them one at a time. When I was teaching, I was preparing the next generation. Now as an educational administrator, I create programs and lead development of new initiatives, giving me an even broader reach. And with the international work, I have a broader reach yet. Maybe that’s megalomaniacal, I don’t know, but we have such limited time on earth.”

To ground herself, Molgaard practices yoga and mindfulness, a type of meditation that calms the mind, increases focus, and decreases reactivity. The daughter of a Lutheran minister and a mother who would later go on to be a faculty member at Iowa State University, Molgaard lived in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa while growing up. She received her DVM from Iowa State University and took a job in a small animal practice in Pennsylvania.

Dr. Laura Molgaard chats with Gigi Gutierrez, class of 2020.Dr. Laura Molgaard chats with Gigi Gutierrez, class of 2020, outside Ben Pomeroy Student Alumni Learning Center about the student’s summer plans to explore her public health career interests.

“After a couple of years in small animal practice and being homesick for the Midwest, I decided to explore other opportunities,” she says. “I was intrigued by a newspaper ad that I saw looking for someone to develop curriculum and teach at a veterinary assistant program in the Midwest.”

That was her first experience developing curriculum, and she quickly became immersed in the world of administration and teaching.

“I lost 10 pounds that first month because I was working my tail off, developing curriculum, developing content at night, and then teaching that content during the day,” she says. As part of that job, Molgaard also developed a practitioner preceptor program for veterinary assistant students to shadow local veterinarians.

In 1997, the College of Veterinary Medicine needed someone to develop and teach what at the time was the new clinical-skills curriculum and to create a freshman preceptor program. Molgaard was the perfect candidate. During her early days at the college, she was also tapped for special projects and had teaching and clinical duties. 

When the position of associate dean of academic and student affairs became available, Dr. Jeff Klausner, dean at the time, asked if she wanted to apply. At first, she was skeptical.

“It meant I would need to let go of practice, but that was OK,” she says. “I was ready for new challenges.” She was also pregnant with the first of her two children.

In her current position, Molgaard runs a department of eight full-time staff, two faculty members who devote much of their time to curriculum oversight, and a handful of student workers. She also oversees the DVM educational program, including recruitment, pipeline development, admissions, curriculum, student affairs, and advising, working with more than 400 students every year. Her broadest reach to date, however, is her work as co-lead of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges competency-based veterinary education working group. 

“There certainly are some lather, rinse, and repeat parts of the job,” she says. “But I will never run out of new challenges and new opportunities. The work that I want to do to advance veterinary education and support our students is infinite. It never diminishes.”

In addition to developing the college’s 1997 curriculum for clinical skills, Molgaard was an early adopter of e-learning and continues to look for innovative ways to engage students and faculty through new learning technologies. Her more recent endeavors have focused around admissions innovation, including implementation of a behavioral interview in 2004 and development of competency-based assessment.

The work that I want to do to advance veterinary education and support our students is infinite. It never diminishes.

Seeing students succeed academically and as developing professionals is what keeps Molgaard coming back for more each day. An advocate for social justice, she has been a leader in supporting students with differences—whether race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability. She oversaw the implementation of VetLEAD, an early admissions program for students of color, and supports faculty and student efforts to bring veterinary care to low-income communities.

Molgaard is the longest-serving associate dean in the University’s Academic Health Center, but is a nontraditional administrator in many ways. She is not a veterinary specialist, like most veterinary administrators, and never pursued a PhD.

“I have not missed having those things, because I am tasked with solving broad problems,” she says. “I rely on the content experts within their disciplines to do the detail work. Being a clinical expert wouldn’t have helped me.”