To nominate alumni of the College of Biological Sciences to be profiled, contact:
Betsy Towner Levine
Keith Rode, Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior ’02
When Keith Rode was in middle school, UC Davis made a lasting impression by hosting a speaker with one of the coolest careers possible: a veterinarian astronaut.
“My neighbor brought me to a talk at Freeborn Hall given by Marty Fettman, the first veterinarian in space,” Rode said. “The excitement of being on campus for an interesting talk, coupled with a great culinary experience at Woodstock's Pizza, really endeared me to Davis from a young age.”
Okay, a lasting impression thanks to a veterinarian astronaut and a good pizza pie.
But when he got to Davis years later, the pre-vet student suffered a trauma common to many health sciences majors—the infamous organic chemistry series shook his confidence.
“My first midterm exam in Chem 118, I scored in the mid-thirties out of 100. With the curve that was a C, but it was still earth-shattering to me,” Rode recalled.
“The professor addressed the class after the midterm, saying that many of the students may want to reconsider their career paths after that first test. While his advice was harsh, it was the wake-up call I needed.”
The rest of the quarter found Rode studying like mad¬—he not only finished with an A, but he said he realized that he could overcome any obstacle to becoming a veterinarian as long as he was determined enough.
And indeed he did. Today the small-animal vet co-owns and practices at Woodland Veterinary Hospital in Woodland. He credits his UC Davis education for his success.
“The scientific principles that I learned as an NPB major are still the foundation of my knowledge today,” Rode said. “I took many classes as an undergraduate that directly relate to my profession: animal behavior, physiology, biochemistry and endocrinology, to name a few.”
One class the particularly influenced him was called Frontiers in Physiology; a seminar-style course in which students read published clinical studies and discussed them as a group. At the end of each week, each study's author came for a Q&A session, in which they discussed the scientific process and the pros, cons and limitations of studies.
“Today, I constantly come across clinical studies in veterinary journals, and I have a very good grasp at how to critically evaluate a study. I can understand how it might assist me in providing the most up-to-date level of care for my patient,” Rode said.
Last year, Rode launched a campaign at his animal hospital to promote wellness veterinary care for cats. He says that even though pet cats outnumber pet dogs by approximately 10 million in the United States, dogs are far more likely to receive routine veterinary care than cats.
“I experience this at work—for every three canine annual exams performed, we see one feline annual exam,” Rode said. “There are a few national organizations offering possible solutions. I have taken some of those resources and added some of my own to help educate our clients as to why their cats need routine veterinary care, even if they seem healthy.”
Rode’s goal is to create ongoing awareness on this subject to increase overall feline health. In fact, he has a broad range of clinical interests, including endocrine diseases in dogs and cats.
But his professional activities don’t end at the clinic.
He is also the current president of the Sacramento Valley Veterinary Medical Association. Readers can enjoy his regular veterinary column in The Davis Enterprise. He works to ensure that federal, state and local legislation affecting animals is scientifically based and animal-oriented. And as if all his local work weren’t enough, Rode has gone on a number of veterinary mission trips to remote areas of Mexico and Africa.
Off the job, Rode enjoys spending time with his growing family—his wife and fellow Davis alum, Jen, their almost-two-year-old daughter, Abigail, and newborn son, Noah. He sings in the UC Davis Alumni Chorus and is very involved with his local Rotary club.
As evidenced by his busy calendar, Rode thrives on variety. In fact, if he could give current UC Davis students one piece of advice, he would encourage them to branch out and explore new activities.
"The undergraduate college years provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have just about any experience at your fingertips,” Rode said. “Try something new!”