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Vice President, Animal Health

Shedd Aquarium
Chicago, Illinois, US
Closing date
Aug 12, 2022

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Aquarium / Zoo / Botanical garden
Conservation science
Salary Type
Employment Type
Full time

Shedd Aquarium ("Shedd" or "the Aquarium"), one of the oldest and most highly respected aquariums in North America, seeks an outcome driven leader and compelling communicator to serve as its Vice President, Animal Health ("Vice President" or "VP"). This is a rare opportunity to provide leadership to a world-class animal care and welfare program at a transformational moment for the organization. Shedd is boldly planning for its centennial while remaining anchored in an exciting strategic mission focused on compassion for animals, curiosity about animals and their ecosystems, and conservation to protect wild species and wild spaces in an urbanizing world.

A pillar in the Chicago community for generations, Shedd Aquarium welcomes approximately two million guests annually, cares for over 32,000 animals, and maintains one of the most diverse aquatic collections in the world with more than 1,500 species. The VP will be part of the Aquarium's executive team consisting of 14 leaders who are committed to guiding the organization at the highest level and ensuring that Shedd is among the most respected and amazing aquariums in the world. Shedd is governed by the Shedd Aquarium Society, composed of volunteer corporate, civic, and community leaders that make up the Board of Trustees with the primary responsibility for governance oversight and fiduciary accountability, as outlined in the Society's bylaws. The board provides strategic direction for institutional priorities through work in both governance and programmatic committees.

As Shedd approaches its 100th birthday, the organization has launched its Centennial Commitment. This ambitious plan prepares the Aquarium for its next 100 years by accelerating access and connection to nature for all and amplifying ways to care and conserve to ensure an equitable, sustainable, and thriving future for people and aquatic life. This bold vision is energizing the entire Shedd community and is a transformational investment in Chicago communities and aquatic ecosystems around the world. The new VP will play a pivotal role in the execution of this transformation. In doing so, an effective VP will create pathways for collaboration that lead to greater scientific discovery and even higher levels of care of Shedd's incredible animal population.

With a team of 14 individuals and oversight of an advanced teaching hospital hosting dozens of preceptors, interns, and residents, the Vice President, Animal Health reports to the Chief Animal Operations Officer and occupies a strategic leadership role in the Aquarium.

Shedd Aquarium

The founding of the Shedd Aquarium began with the establishment of the not-for-profit Shedd Aquarium Society in 1924, supported by a $2 million donation from John G. Shedd. Walter Chute, who would become the aquarium's director, worked with architects to create the state-of-the-art Shedd Aquarium which opened its doors in 1930. At the time it was the largest aquatic animal facility of its kind. Since then, the Aquarium has expanded twice to include the Abbott Oceanarium (1991) and Wild Reef (2003).

Since its founding, Shedd Aquarium has continued a trajectory as one of the leading aquariums in North America. Shedd is aligned with renowned organizations including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Smithsonian Institution, Chicago Park District, Museums in the Park, International Union for Conservation of Nature, and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. These partnerships demonstrate its commitment to fostering a love and understanding of aquatic life and a commitment to conservation on an international, national, and local level.

Shedd is committed to partnering with people at home and around the globe to build a world thriving with aquatic life, sustained by people who love, understand, and protect it. This work is framed through key initiatives including Care and Conservation, Taking Action for Animals, Research, and Sustainability.

Shedd is in a strong financial position with attendance holding at two million visitors a year. Financial and physical guest access has been and remains a key priority of the leadership of Shedd and more than 600,000 visitors attend annually at no cost. As the physical plant transforms, physical access will also improve. An economic driver in the region, Shedd's current economic impact is approximately $360 million annually and employs more than 388 Chicagoland residents.

Centennial Commitment

In 2022 Shedd announced its Centennial Commitment, a $500 million, eight-year effort to prepare the Aquarium for its next 100 years by accelerating access and connection to nature for all and amplifying ways to care and conserve to ensure an equitable, sustainable, and thriving future for people and aquatic life. More than half of the $500 million investment will power the programs and partnerships needed to achieve Shedd's Centennial Commitment's aspirations onsite as well as in communities, on the water and in nature, in virtual experiences and informal learning engagements, and through new and expanded onsite and field-based research and science portfolios centered on advancing durable solutions for the dual and intersecting threats of climate change and biodiversity loss. The remaining investment will focus on needed physical improvements to the historic Beaux-Arts-style building, modernizing aquarium galleries and experience, enabling greater accessibility, enhancing animal care and welfare, restoring architectural features, and creating a more welcoming outdoor area. Shedd's highly active teaching hospital will be rebuilt and relocated to inhabit a Center for applied science and animal care. In addition to clinical treatment the Center includes microbial ecology, pathology, genome sequencing, and water chemistry. The VP oversees Center activities in collaboration with the VP, Conservation Research.

The key strategic drivers moving Shedd forward are: Expand the Aquarium's reach and access; Personalize engagement; Celebrate, sustain, and protect a thriving, living collection; Safeguard species and nature; Partner for enhanced impact and connectivity; Ignite Chicago's economic recovery and mobility; and Steward the next generation of enthusiasts and advocates. Responding to the key strategic drivers, three commitment areas - For People, For Communities, For Aquatic Life -structure Shedd's ambitions to develop creative guest engagements on site at the aquarium and to cultivate relationships that connect people to aquatic life out in nature, in cities and communities, and online in the digital world.

Centennial Commitment outcomes will include the structural transformation of how divisions operate internally and how the aquarium engages externally. Opportunities for collaboration will flow both across the organization, in the region, nationally, and internationally. Following this transformation, the expected economic impact of the Aquarium will exceed $410 million annually.

More about the Centennial Commitment can be found at

Experience Master Plan

The aquarium's new Experience Master Plan is one component of the Centennial Commitment's multi-layered plans. It aims to honor the historical integrity of the building's unmistakable architecture while augmenting spaces for the needs of guests and the over 32,000 animals that call Shedd home today.

The multi-year, four-phase construction project will begin in late 2022 and is expected to conclude in 2026 with new galleries, programs and experiences opening each year on a rolling basis. Project highlights include: a modernized guest experience; more complex aquatic habitats; enhanced animal welfare; a new learning commons; a centralized science hub; greater physical accessibility; and activated outdoor spaces.

Vice President, Animal Health

The Vice President supports the veterinary medical program, participates in the development of long-term strategic plans, and initiates findings from veterinary cases. They represent the aquarium to professional organizations, consult with animal care team members, and collaborate with other Vice Presidents within the Animal Care and Science Division to assure the highest quality of veterinary care and animal welfare at Shedd Aquarium.

The Vice President plays a critical role in the implementation of the Centennial Commitment as does the entire Animal Health team. Accomplishing these ambitious goals, including transforming and modernizing the historic aquarium galleries while seeing to the safety and care of the animals, will require strong leadership, understanding of critical pathways, and strategic management of resources within the Animal Care and Science Division. The VP will inspire the Animal Health team to see their efforts as part of the interdependent work of the entire aquarium. As a leader, the VP will clearly articulate the vision of the Aquarium so that goals and objectives are clearly defined, and that the Animal Health team is supported in meeting benchmarks of success.

The Vice President must actively promote, through annual planning and strategic execution, connecting guests and the community with the animal world and deepening their understanding of the natural history and biology of the animals in Shedd's care. They will relish adding value to the core guest experience; a participatory aquarium rich in animal encounters, with affirming calls to action and an "earth optimism" approach to conservation. The Vice President understands and acts on guest engagement as the core business and works closely with the Vice Presidents of Conservation Research and Animal Care to ensure animal care, health and on-site sciences works in concert with in-situ conservation research and programs.

Duties & Responsibilities
  • Lead, direct, and support teams of talented, best in class animal health professionals with a focus on maintaining high performance standards, accountability, and supporting collaboration among and between departments;
  • Support Shedd Aquarium's pioneering work in aquatic animal welfare, medicine, and conservation science, as well as advancements in preventive care and treatment of animals;
  • Contribute to the development and execution of a strategy for ensuring the continuity of a robust living animal collection that meaningfully connects millions of visitors to the natural world;
  • Continue to infuse a culture of high standards through compliance and monitoring, to mitigate risks throughout the division;
  • In close partnership with Animal Care lead team collaboration to ensure thriving animals and systems, a high-level of preparedness, and tremendous critical response in the oversight of hundreds of animals and ecosystems ranging from polar to tropical and salt to fresh waters;
  • In close partnership with Conservation lead team collaboration to advance animal health, integration of ex-situ and in-situ applied science, and acceleration of mission-aligned impact.
  • In coordination with Finance and Development, play an active role in responsibly managing resources, fundraising, and ensuring departments under their purview play an active role in efforts to model and encourage collaboration in these endeavors;
  • In close coordination with Learning and Community, Planning and Design, and External Communications, ensure team alignment to fulfill an incredible guest experience, promote brand awareness and public perception, and drive Aquarium attendance.

An Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine is required and attainment of licensure in the state of Illinois. Diplomate status in the American College of Zoological Medicine is preferred. In addition the VP must maintain a Drug Enforcement Agency registration at all times along with USDA APHIS federal accreditation.

While no one candidate will meet all the desired criteria, the successful candidate will bring most of the following qualifications and attributes:
  • At least 10 years of experience in veterinary medicine, with at least five years of work with aquatic species, including marine mammals in a zoo, aquarium or rehabilitation environment.
  • At least 7 years of experience in a leadership position overseeing direct reports;
  • Experience executing multi-layered plans, projects, or initiatives across a complex organization;
  • Strong professional affiliations and presence within veterinary, research, conservation and other professional communities;
  • Contributions to professional publications;
  • Demonstrated history of implementing new ways of thinking and engagement while thinking strategically and tactically;
  • Deep understanding of resource management in terms of time, effort, budget and funding, and evidence of strategic decision making in allocation and tracking of resources;
  • Demonstrated success in identifying, implementing, and monitoring multiple tactical moves needed to achieve a strategy and large measurable objectives (i.e. population management, animal acquisitions and transitions, facility improvements for animal care, etc.);
  • Proven skills as a senior leader, with the ability to mentor, inspire, and support, and to produce results consistent with the mission and vision;
  • Strong decision-making record related to financial, staff, policy, and other segments that impact the success of the overall enterprise;
  • Forward-thinking approach in addressing near- and long-term goals (both programmatic and financial);
  • Acute judgement: capacity to make and stand by decisions, mindful of the need for fairness and consistency, and the potential impact of each decision on individuals and the broader community;
  • A record of building and maintaining external relations and advancing an organization's profile and reputation regionally, nationally, and internationally (experience in, or familiarity with, fundraising and media relations is also desirable); and
  • Vision and strategic collaborative leadership to advance Shedd toward its highest aspirations and goals.

  • Passion for and a commitment to serve Shedd Aquarium's mission;
  • Strategic approach and mindset;
  • A credible and engaging spokesperson; ability to represent the Aquarium's work to scientists and non-scientists, leaders across various communities, and the public;
  • The Vice President of Animal Health will complement the Shedd culture. Driven to accomplish tasks with an enthusiastic approach; they will be firm but not too rigid in their approach. They will embody and live out Shedd's values;
  • Goal-oriented yet flexible management style that respects the capabilities and independence of people, but also provides them with a clear sense of direction and accountability;
  • Genuine commitment to accessibility, diversity, and an appreciation for different perspectives, experiences, and traditions;
  • Dynamic yet diplomatic leadership style: able to communicate clearly, galvanize teams toward a common goal, and lead within a complex, multifaceted organization;
  • Possessing the highest level of personal and professional integrity and quality standards;
  • The disposition of a natural collaborator, taking the lead by engaging in dialogue.

We strongly encourage people of color, LGBTQ+ community, veterans and active duty military, parents, individuals with disabilities, and individuals from all cultural backgrounds to apply. Shedd Aquarium is an equal opportunity employer and welcomes everyone to our team.

If you need a reasonable accommodation at any point in the application or interview process, please let us know. In your application, please feel free to select which pronouns you use (For example - she/her/hers, he/him/his, they/them/theirs).

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