Dr. Dawn Sprouls Lives Out Her Veterinary Dream
By Suzanne Hensell, OPACE
Dr. Dawn Sprouls, District Manager for the Des Moines District, began her career with FSIS 28 years ago. After completing a Bachelor of Science degree in biology at Wayne State College in Wayne, Nebraska, she got married and worked on her husband’s family dairy farm for seven years. She then returned to her studies at Iowa State University in Ames where she pursued her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree and joined FSIS as an intern her sophomore year. After earning her DVM, she joined the Agency full time as mini-circuit supervisor covering the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.
In 1999, she accepted a frontline supervisor job (or “circuit supervisor” as it was called then) in the Norfolk, Nebraska, circuit, which has facilities that slaughter and process meat and poultry in addition to several egg products plants. Four years later, she accepted a Deputy District Manager position in the Des Moines District Office. In 2007, she was detailed to FSIS headquarters in Washington, D.C., where she served as special assistant to the Undersecretary for Food Safety from July 2007 to February 2008. She was named Des Moines District Manager (DM) in March 2008. A brief detail in the Office of Policy and Program Development during her tenure as DM helped Dr. Sprouls gain perspective on how policies and procedures are made and how headquarters functions.
A Childhood Dream
Since she was a young girl, Dr. Sprouls always wanted to be a veterinarian. In high school, she worked in a veterinarian’s office and later, worked on the dairy farm. She majored in biology and minored in chemistry because she loved science.
That little girl may not have imagined that one day she would be responsible for the delivery of major aspects of a food safety and public health regulatory mission in five states. The Des Moines District has over 530 plants that are covered by over 840 employees who ensure that meat, poultry and egg products are safe, wholesome and properly labeled. Dr. Sprouls makes sure that the inspection team has the tools, resources and training to do their jobs. “Our Agency and our workforce have a great responsibility to the American public, and I am very proud of the work that our inspectors, district office staff and veterinarians do every single day to fulfill that responsibility entrusted to us,” she said.
Dr. Sprouls and her husband, Wes, enjoy a beautiful day at Lake Mead in Boulder City, Nevada. Photo by Dr. Sprouls, summer 2019.
Meeting the Challenges of 2020
This past year challenged all of us, as we learned to navigate unique situations presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. For Dr. Sprouls, new tasks ranged from a new level of ensuring the safety and well-being of FSIS employees to working in-plant in the summer of 2020 as a public health veterinarian (PHV) at a large beef slaughter plant. Said Dr. Sprouls, “While I was covering PHV duties in the establishment, I had the opportunity to work side by side with our inspection staff, allowing me to gather real time feedback on face shields, masks and other issues and I was able to communicate that to headquarters.” This feedback helped the Agency determine which face shields worked and which didn’t, which fogged up and which easily scratched.
Sherri Johnson, Executive Associate for Regulatory Operations in the Office of Field Operations is Dr. Sprouls’ supervisor. “The last year has been extremely challenging for all of us as we’ve done our best to navigate all of the challenges of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Sprouls has continued to lead her district with compassion, flexibility and expertise,” she said.
Late in 2020, Dr. Sprouls was recognized at the FSIS 2020 Administrator’s Awards for Excellence and Under Secretary’s Awards Ceremony with an Honorable Mention for Leader of the Year (Non-In-Plant). The nomination noted, “Dr. Sprouls was involved in all aspects of inspection and management activities and managed two districts for the entire FY 2019.
She provided leadership to staff in [the] Denver and Des Moines districts during this period. Her efforts improved efficiency in the full range of inspection activities.”
Early in her FSIS career, Dr. Sprouls benefitted from having several mentors. She said, “I was fortunate in being able to work with very experienced people. I worked side by side with food inspectors who taught me how to keep my knife sharp and how to identify various issues on the slaughter line. In my first position covering the University of Nebraska, I worked closely with consumer safety inspectors who taught me about processing and were always able to answer my questions. I worked with veterinarians who spent time explaining pathology and the decisions that needed to be made. Through these mentors, I was able to gain the confidence in the actions and decisions that I needed to take and to make daily.”
In the Now
Today, Dr. Sprouls directly supervises 10 employees, including deputy district managers and frontline supervisors. “We have a very good group of managers, supervisors and leaders who work well together and communicate to assure consistency throughout the field. They are passionate and have a commitment to ensuring food safety and public health. It is a true honor to call them my colleagues,” she said.
Of the four FSIS Core Values – Accountable, Collaborative, Empowered and Solutions-Oriented – her supervisor, Johnson, said, “She certainly exemplifies (among other core values) being accountable: Dr. Sprouls holds herself to the same standard to which she holds her own workforce as evidenced by the amount of effort she dedicates to fulfilling the Agency’s mission and serving the public.”
Dr. Dawn Sprouls presents a retirement gift to Frontline Supervisor Vern Van Beek on March 24, 2021. Photo by Dr. Paula Valeria, OFO.
In the next five years, Dr. Sprouls hopes to be retired and enjoying time with her family. She plans to volunteer more at her church, an animal shelter and homeless shelters in Lincoln, Nebraska. Dr. Sprouls and her husband, Wes, have been married for 37 years and have two married children and three grandchildren. She enjoys teaching each generation about food safety, especially when grilling.