Faces of Food Safety: Douglas Fulnechek, Supervisory Veterinary Medical Officer
"Wanting to become a veterinarian began when I was 14 and visited a racetrack with a family friend and his race horse," recalled Dr. Doug Fulnechek. He liked being around horses and having no life plan yet, this gave him something to consider.
Throughout high school, Fulnechek was a member of an academic team that competed each year in making farm-related business, bank, tax and other economic decisions. His winning team competed in the state contest held at Oklahoma State University. During the competition, the University's veterinary college had an open house where he saw a dairy cow with a rumen fistula (a surgically created opening on the side of a cow [a look inside the first of four stomachs] where researchers collect digestive samples to identify the nutritional needs of a cow). That cinched it for Fulnechek. His decision to become a veterinarian was now a reality about to happen.
What gets him up in the morning?
"Because I love my job so much as an Inspector-in-Charge/Supervisory Veterinary Medical Officer at the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), I really don't need an alarm clock to get me up in the morning," says Dr. Fulnechek. "And I've felt this way for 24 years now."
For the last 15 years, he has worked as the senior FSIS official at a chicken slaughter and processing establishment in Springdale, Ark. As a Public Health Veterinarian, he leads a 30-member team of supervisory consumer safety inspectors, consumer safety inspectors and food inspectors who verify that the products from the 250,000 chickens that the establishment slaughters and processes each day are safe, wholesome and correctly labeled and packaged. The work that Dr. Fulnechek and his team does is at the core of FSIS's mission as a public health agency. He is committed to it; has a passion for it; and is very aware that because of the team he leads, American consumers enjoy the safe food they expect.
|"As a FSIS employee, I take great pride in working with my co-workers to prevent foodborne illness and protecting the public health of consumers, we are one team, with one purpose."
Dr. Douglas Fulnechek
"My inspection team, and others like it across the country, protects Americans from foodborne illness. Together , we examine every chicken slaughtered at our assignment," said Dr. Fulnechek. "During our workday, we watch plant employees perform their production duties or take samples to ensure each chicken carcass, drumstick, thigh and wing is clean and handled properly. We also make sure that products in the processing departments are kept cold and are truthfully labeled. Most importantly, we make sure that consumers get a safe wholesome product every day."
"As a FSIS employee, I take great pride in working with my co-workers to prevent foodborne illness and protecting the public health of consumers, we are one team, with one purpose," said Dr. Fulnechek.
Starting a career
After earning a Bachelor of Science degree and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Oklahoma State University, Dr. Fulnechek worked as an associate in a mixed animal practice. He then bought his own veterinary clinic in 1982 and practiced for several years. Later, he worked for the Kerr Foundation's brucellosis education project.
Dr. Fulnechek took his experience in the world of animal health and applied it to the world of public health, when he started his career with FSIS in Springdale, Ark. His first position with the agency was as a Supervisory Veterinary Medical Officer with assignments in about 40 establishments. "Becoming a veterinarian, marrying my wife, Effie, and going to work for FSIS are among the best decisions I've made."
He has authored a number of publications and was a member of the Blue Ribbon Task Force that authored, "The Future of FSIS Veterinarians: Public Health Professionals for the 21st Century." Because of the task force, the working title of veterinarians in FSIS was changed to Public Health Veterinarian to reflect their role in protecting the public from foodborne illness.
From 2007-2009, Fulnechek served as President of the National Association of Federal Veterinarians, an association of supervisors and managers representing all veterinarians in the federal government. He will begin a second term as President in 2013.
FSIS is the largest employer of veterinarians in the United States—there are 1,100 dedicated Public Health Veterinarians who are trained in public health and regulatory medicine. These veterinarians verify the health of the animals destined for the food supply.
"For the last 20 years, what really gives me great satisfaction is being a trainer and mentor for newly hired veterinarians." He sees the impact of his own training efforts and feels the same satisfaction in knowing his interns are now successful FSIS employees. "Being able to say 'That is one of my interns,' is a good feeling," said Fulnechek, whose count is now 101 interns. Additionally, he feels a sense of pride that he has helped people in their careers do a good job in looking out for the public. "I have an especially good day at my job when a member of my inspection team excels in his or her job."
"My hope is that there will be a large group of well-prepared public health veterinarians who have learned leadership and food safety principles from my inspection team and me."