Dr. Patrick McCue: Scientist, clinician, educator honored for lifetime work in equine reproduction

Back in 1954, when veterinarians in Fort Collins formed a group to make sure bulls did their part to produce healthy calves, the field did not even have a name. They called their confab the “The Rocky Mountain Society for the Study of Breeding Soundness in Bulls.”

Now known as theriogenology – the study of animal reproduction – the field has grown to include embryo transfer, artificial insemination and genetic testing.

The Society for Theriogenology evolved out of those early gatherings, and this August, returns to its roots for its annual conference. At the Fort Collins meeting Aug. 2-5, Dr. Patrick McCue, CSU professor and board-certified equine reproduction specialist, will be named Theriogenologist of the Year.

McCue coordinates mare and stallion clinical services at the CSU Equine Reproduction Laboratory and provides reproductive care at the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital. He is the Iron Rose Ranch Professor of Equine Theriogenology in the Department of Clinical Sciences and studies reproductive endocrinology, reproduction pathology, hormone therapy and embryo transfer.

“Dr. McCue excels in each of the three key areas of theriogenology: as a scientist, clinician and educator,” said Dr. Charles Franz, executive director of the American College of Theriogenologists. “He is tireless in furthering awareness and understanding of the discipline, and educating students, horse owners and breeders in reproduction.”

Colleagues admire McCue’s dedication to their field. “Pat and his staff at CSU are leaders in providing continuing education for veterinarians and producers,” said Dr. John J. Dascanio, a fellow board-certified theriogenologist, in his nomination letter. “Pat has made a significant contribution to the area of equine embryo transfer and has taught hundreds of veterinarians over the years about the technique.”

We caught up with McCue between foalings for a conversation about his life leading up to the Theriogenologist of the Year Award.

Did you always want to be a veterinarian?

I wanted to be a veterinarian most of my life. I grew up on a small dairy farm in northern New York state. I obtained a bachelor’s degree in biology. For a few years, I was a wildlife biologist. 

How did your interest in wildlife biology influence you to pursue veterinary medicine?
Dr. Pat McCue poses with a horse and a colt
Dr. Pat McCue at the CSU Equine Reproduction Laboratory. Photo: ©RMB Photography

My interest in wildlife biology stemmed from the fact that I grew up doing outdoor activities. Being a wildlife veterinarian was an early interest. However, I felt a draw to be a large animal veterinarian for the opportunity to help livestock owners. A lot of that stemmed from my early childhood. The local veterinarian would assist my family on the dairy farm and I could see how they contributed to the success of my family’s farm. The impact a veterinarian can make on livestock is huge and I always thought that was the kind of person I wanted to be. I wanted to directly help people.

Helping people was part of what drew me to working with horses. Part of the attraction to the equine world is the bond between horse and owner. It’s very similar to the bond between a companion animal such as a dog or cat. Working with people who have that connection with their horse is very positive for me.

What does being named Theriogenologist of the Year mean to you?

It’s recognition of all the work that goes into being a reproductive specialist. It’s a lifelong process and to be acknowledged for the duration, the overall body of work, and the immense amount of effort it took to reach this point in my career was deeply meaningful. It’s a tremendous honor.

Receiving an award like this is not just about an individual, it’s about a program, a program that I have been fortunate to be a part of at Colorado State for 23 years. I could not do what I do without all of my current and past colleagues at CSU and the start that I was given at UC Davis. I owe this award to an awful lot of people. Colleagues, residents, interns, students are all, in their own way, part of this award.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

I would say there are two. One is education. I really do like to teach. I especially enjoy small-group teaching when veterinary students are in their fourth year, their clinical year, and they spend time at our facility. To be able to help educate students in a small group environment is very rewarding.

The other part of it is working with clients. Getting a mare in foal and watching the joy in the face of an owner, when their valued and beloved mare is pregnant or after the birth of a new foal — it’s pretty awesome.

If you could give advice to aspiring students in equine reproduction, what would it be?

Find an area of veterinary medicine that is of high interest to you and pursue it. Don’t be passive about your education. Volunteer, look for opportunities above and beyond the classroom and laboratory. Spend some time with veterinarians in private practice. Spend some time away from the university to get a different perspective in veterinary medicine. It will allow you to have a better global view of what veterinary medicine is beyond the walls of the classroom.

What does the future hold for you? What are your next goals?

I’ve been a veterinarian for 31 years. Technology in the equine breeding world has changed dramatically over the past 30 years and it has been exciting to be a part of it. It’s been fascinating to watch the science of equine reproduction develop and to be a part of it.

I want to focus on expanding educational opportunities for students, horse owners and veterinarians. CSU is poised to be on the forefront of providing educational opportunities for students, owners and veterinarians and we want to continue to be the leader in that. In this electronic age, there are lots of ways to broaden education and make it accessible. The Equine Reproduction Lab wants to be a leader in advancing education and accessibility.