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Hampton Alum Has All the Answers About Pets

By Brenda Buchanon, Contributing Writer

From watching an older cousin exam her dog, Dudley, at a family gathering when she was around six years of age, JoAnna Pendergrass made the decision to become a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.

Pendergrass was born in Heidelberg, Germany (her father was in the Army) and grew up in Arnold, Maryland, the youngest of three siblings. Herparents, who inspired her to pursue college, met at Hampton University inHampton, Virginia. Her mother graduated from Hampton University in 1970;her father attended for two years, then transferred and graduated fromNorth Carolina State University. She has been married for seven years, Pendergrass said the beginning of her introduction to Hampton University was by her parents, but other family members had attended the university as well. She grew to love the Hampton University campus from her visits and her parents’ inspiration, therefore, it was an easy transition from high school to her mom’s alma mater. In her senior year in high school,she started thinking about early college admission at Hampton, applied,was accepted in 1998 and offered a partial scholarship. Thus, her college educational journey began.

Listening to her speak about her family, the love, encouragement and support shown to her, one realizes how she has become so successful -through persistence, focus and commitment. Pendergrass holds degrees fromHampton University, Hampton, Virginia – Bachelor’s in Biology, (2003) andVirginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, Blacksburg, Virginia -Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (2010); she earned a Postdoctoral research fellowship in drug addiction from Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia(2010-2012); is a freelance medical writer and owner of J PenCommunications, LLC; and a proud member/officer of the American MedicalWriters Association, Southeast Chapter.

Pendergrass is a veterinarian but said she did not open a privatepractice. The definition of a typical veterinarian is a professional who diagnoses animal health problems, treats and dresses wounds, vaccinates against diseases in animals, and advises pet owners about feeding and behavior. She is a veterinarian by training but did not believe private practice was a good path for her, so after completing her fellowship atEmory, she made the conscious decision to become a full-time medical writer in 2012. After some hesitation, Pendergrass finally made the jump from employee to business owner by opening her freelance medical writing business, J Pen Communications, in August, 2016.

“In 2015, I left my second job as a medical writer,” she said, “I lookedfor full-time writer jobs but didn’t find anything I wanted to do.”Sometime later, a friend suggested Pendergrass meet with her business coach in 2016 for some helpful advice. She met with the business coach, but said she was “still on the fence” about whether to continue looking for a full-time job or possibly opening her own business. As a result ofthe consultations, the coach helped her understand what it meant to workfor yourself rather than someone else. Was she apprehensive about becoming a freelance medical writer? Yes, however working with the coach, she said,“changed my mindset” and gave her the confidence to start J PenCommunications, LLC.

What helped her reach this milestone in her life? Her passion and lovefor education. While still in veterinary school, Pendergrass said theprofessors instilled in their students to “speak to pet owners withcompassion.” She didn’t realize her journey would lead to becoming amedical writer but her professors’ message remained in her mind’s eye andhelped propel her medical writing career. Pendergrass said she becamepassionate about pet owners’ education and wanted to write about thecomplexity of veterinary medicine but, but she said, “in a way the publiccan understand.” Her desire is to assist her readers to “learn more about their own health and their pet’s health” according to Pendergrass. She isnot only passionate about her field of expertise but compassionate as wellfor her readers and their pets.

The excitement in her voice is prevalent and the passion for her work is explicit. On average, Pendergrass writes for approximately two to three hours per article; writes for five to six websites; works, on average, 12to 15 hours per week; and the articles are usually 500 to 700 words in length.

When asked what advice she could give young girls interested in the field of veterinary science, Pendergrass opined: “Stay focused on academics; don’t be afraid to love science and math; shadow a veterinarian; stay committed to your dream (there will be many obstacles in your way- people may not see you as the traditional image of a veterinarian); do not be discouraged; and do not be afraid to do something different with your degree.”

Pendergrass also advised, “Take your expertise and degree to do somethingcompletely different, if that is your desire.” That is great advice from aDoctor of Veterinary Medicine, freelance medical writer and business owner.