“Tom isn’t in the office today. He’s working about 500 cattle in Chase County.”
That’s a common response from the receptionist at Jernigan Veterinary Clinic in Council Grove.
Actually, it’s Dr. Tom Jernigan, second generation animal practitioner at the office, and a busy doctor caring for animal health issues in Morris and Chase counties, often well beyond.
It was near bedtime before the popular veterinarian could take a breather and reflect. “It’s been a great life serving my friends by helping care for their livestock and pets,” Tom admitted.
Best clarify; this Dr. Jernigan became known as “Tom,” when he joined his dad Dr. L.D. Jernigan in the practice.
Fresh out of K-State in 1979, Young Doc had to be identified from the popular Old Doc, who’d already been serving the Flint Hills communities 32 years.
“Most people still refer to me as ‘Tom.’ Sometimes, it’s Dr. Jernigan. To a few: Doctor Tom. I’m fine with whatever they call me,” the smiling Veterinarian of the Year said.
That “distinct title” was bestowed by the Kansas Veterinary Medicine Association (KVMA) this year. It recognizes Dr. Jernigan’s “longtime service to veterinarian medicine, K-State, his community and the KVMA.”
Tom insisted: “I’m so honored, but it was a complete surprise. The recognition is even more meaningful since my dad also received the award back in the ’70s.”
Serving as KVMA president among many professional and community leadership roles, Doctor Tom was again following Old Doc’s footsteps.
“Dad was always and continues my inspiration. He had a passion for veterinary medicine, active more than 60 years. Dad never wanted to retire, still working into his 80s,” Tom credited.
Dr. L.D. Jernigan was longtime on the K-State faculty as senior veterinary medicine students came to his clinic for hands-on experience.
Growing up in Council Grove, Tom and his siblings Doug, Jeff, Randy and Heidi especially enjoyed time at their grandfather L.B. Jernigan’s farm near Osage City.
“Grandad was my inspiration, too. I learned a lot about cattle, sheep, and hogs helping Grandad. He continued farming into his 90s.” Tom said.
Yet, decision to enter the animal care profession wasn’t immediate. “Dad said he always wanted to be veterinarian, and my older brother Doug was that way, too.
Doug was a veterinarian in Topeka for many years,” Young Doc remembered.
“I was uncertain about my career during college,” he admitted.
A K-State yell leader, Tom married his high school sweetheart Diane (Fritchen) in 1971, and then graduated in resource management the next year. It was the “Vietnam era,” Tom joined the National Guard, stationed in Fort Leonardwood.
(Noteworthy, his dad graduated from vet school in four years, age 20, too young to be licensed a veterinarian, but served the profession in the Army.)
Career opportunities took Tom and Diane, a teacher, to Colorado. “I was working in land development, and just came to the realization I wanted to be veterinarian. My wife was shocked, and of course my folks were thrilled,” he said.
Returning to campus town, Tom was accepted into vet school and back to the books. “Our first daughter Jenny was born at Christmas time when I was studying for finals. Then, our second daughter Julie came two weeks before state board exams,” tense-time-now-fond memories flowed.
The couple’s son Jay was born a year after Tom graduated a doctor. “There was no pressure ever for me to become a veterinarian, or to work with my dad,” Young Doc said.
Old Doc was a one-man-practice headquartered at the clinic he’d built in 1954 on the east edge of Council Grove, entering the profession there in 1947. A satellite office offering services at Cottonwood Fallstwo days a week was opened in 1981.
Already well known in the community, Young Doc worked side-by-side with Dr. L.D. Jernigan through the senior’s retirement. “Even when dad was at assisted living, he’d sometimes help, and sure always was willing,” Tom credited.
Today, Jernigan Veterinary Clinic has been modernized including expanded working facilities, a mixed practice for large and small animals, with a public kennel, too.
Dr. Mona Metzger has been on staff 18 years, and Dr. Drew Crisler for five years. “Vicki Britt has been receptionist 38 years, and now we have a fulltime vet technician, too,” said Tom, who continues serving the Cottonwood Falls office two days a week.
Change is constant, and Dr. Jernigan has seen many. “Really the biggest thing is the calmer, gentler methods. Very little is done with cattle on the end of the rope,” he said. “Dad was a good roper, but I never could rope very well. Facilities have improved as cattlemen take better care of their livestock.”
Size of herds has grown. “When I started, most operations had 30-40 cows with large herds of 100 head. Today, there are many ranches keeping twice, three times that many up to 5-600 cows,” Tom calculated.
While the veterinarian could serve two or three ranches a day three decades ago, one ranch cowherd is often today’s maximum. “There are more fall calving herds today, vs strictly spring calving. That’s increasing, to help spread out marketing,” he predicted.
Preventive medicine is emphasized by Dr. Jernigan to clients. “Vaccinations are essential to herd health, and I recommend practices so ranchers don’t have to call for my services,” he said.
However, Doctor Tom emphasized importance of not overdoing a good thing. “Sometimes vaccinations are more for marketing than health reasons. I try to advise what’s best for the livestock,” the honored veterinarian said.
Of course, there are many memorable times of the notable career. “One time an elementary student’s boa constrictor got loose when he brought it to school. When they found his snake the next day, it had a laceration. I couldn’t put stitches in, so I used super glue, and it healed up fine,” the good doctor smiled.
Be difficult to name an animal health issue that Jernigan hasn’t been asked to treat, but he readily refers patients to the nearby university. “I send the exotic stuff to the experts. I know my limits, and always want to do what’s best for all animals,” Tom verified.
Retirement age, Dr. Tom Jernigan sees no near term slow down. “I’ve become passionate about veterinary service, just like my dad, and like Flint Hills ranchers are for their business. I enjoy caring for livestock, and especially helping all of the people. They’re more than clients, they’re my friends.”