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‘Quiet brilliance’

  • Pat Berzins

    ‘Quiet brilliance’

    Pat Berzins honored as a recipient of UMN outstanding service award

More than 40 years ago, Pat Berzins stepped into her first role at the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center (VMC). The steps and roles she has taken since have laid a foundation for bolstering the operations of the VMC and elevating the experience of those working within its hospitals and clinics and the patients they serve. 

Berzins is the hospital administrator and director of operations, and for her exceptional service and commitment to the VMC and College of Veterinary Medicine, she is a recipient of the 2023 University of Minnesota President’s Outstanding Service Award. The award recognizes individuals who go well beyond the regular duties of a faculty or staff member.

“Pat has dedicated her entire career to serving the VMC, and, through it, the animals in the region and their caretakers,” Dr. Mike Henson, interim co-director of the VMC, says in his nomination letter. “Throughout her tenure, what has propelled her to greater and greater responsibility and leadership has been her dedication to the U and her consistently working above and beyond the call of duty. The trust that the College and faculty have placed in her is well earned through continuous personal and professional development, creative problem-solving, supportive mentorship, trailblazing innovation, extremely hard work, and true grit.”

In her role, Berzins oversees operations for the center’s four hospitals and clinics as well as the 100 faculty, 200 staff, and more than 100 veterinary and graduate students they contain. Her institutional knowledge that keeps these facilities running has been acquired through years of demonstrated service and leadership. 

After earning her bachelor’s degree in animal science from the University of Minnesota in 1979, Berzins started her career at the VMC in 1980 as an animal attendant. A strong work ethic gradually earned her more responsibility and promotions. She advanced through technician job levels before her efficiency, problem-solving skills, and leadership abilities led to her promotion to assistant manager of anesthesia and surgery technical services in 1995, administrative director responsible for all technical services in 1999, and associate department director for the VMC in 2002. 

Berzin’s job title has changed a few times in the 21 years since, but her commitment to doing the best work possible continues. 

Dr. David Lee, a former VMC hospital director and CVM associate professor, worked side-by-side with Berzins for 14 years and credits her work ethic as a driving force for bringing positive change and navigating problems of all sizes.

“Pat was always prepared to roll up her sleeves and help out wherever needed,” Lee says in his nomination letter. “In doing so, she served as a great role model for those who reported to her and added tremendously to the ‘can-do’ culture of a hospital that has had to overcome tremendous challenges to become the national leader it remains to this day. With budget cuts, staffing challenges, and increasing demand, Pat never sees herself above any role in the hospital.”

Pat Berzins checks the day’s surgery schedule with Ryan Nichols in anesthesia prep in 2017. 

Among Berzin’s impactful achievements are strategic investments in new processes, programs, and training that continue to benefit the VMC and its staff to this day. She is credited with implementing TeamSTEPPS, a federal training program that integrates teamwork into practice to improve patient outcomes. The VMC became the first major veterinary hospital in the nation to successfully implement the program, reaching standards attained only by some of the world’s leading human medical centers.

Berzins also headed the VMC’s transition to an electronic medical record system, established the Veterinary Technician Specialist positions to help onboard new technicians, created new professional development opportunities across the VMC, and has served as a mentor to many people over the years. Among them are Anne Johnson, operational manager for the VMC.  

“Pat’s quiet brilliance when guiding me through the details of difficult staff interactions is matched by her financial acumen and patience when teaching her leaders to navigate the complex operations of our large hospital,” Johnson says in her nomination letter. 

Berzins also is a champion for diversity, inclusion, and equity at the College. She spearheaded the VMC Diviserity Initiative, which is an outreach program encouraging people of color in high school to explore careers in veterinary medicine. The program provides participants with mentoring opportunities, job shadowing, and valuable clinical experience. 

The aforementioned examples are only a handful of those listed by her award nominators, but they demonstrate the far-reaching impact Berzins has had on the VMC and all that it encompasses during her decades of service. 

“It is no understatement to say that Pat is absolutely critical to the smooth functioning of this veterinary medical center,” Henson says.