Norman Rantanen, DVM, MS, DACVR

Norman Rantanen, DVM, MS, DACVR
Norman Rantanen, DVM, MS, DACVR
Diagnostic imaging pioneer Dr. Norm Rantanen graduated from Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1967 before serving in the U.S. Airforce Veterinary Corps at Walter Reed Army Hospital and, later, in Southeast Asia and Europe.

Upon completion of his service, Dr. Rantanen joined the Diagnostic Imaging staff at WSU as an assistant professor in 1976. He rapidly advanced his knowledge and abilities, securing Diplomate status in the American College of Veterinary Radiologists.

Dr. Rantanen worked tirelessly as a teacher and diagnostician. During his academic career, he authored or co-authored more than 30 peer-reviewed publications on diagnostic ultrasonography. He developed numerous techniques for identification of soft tissue injuries, respiratory lesions, and the acquisition of tissue biopsies, obtained by ultrasonic guidance. He left WSU in 1983 to begin a 37-year run in an exclusively equine private imaging practice.

Like all good pioneers, Dr. Rantanen devoted considerable effort to sharing what he knew through numerous workshops, continuing education events, and the development of two textbooks on diagnostic ultrasound. He has also lectured around the world, educating thousands of colleagues in the process.

He received the 1988 Pioneer Award presented at the History of Medical Ultrasound meeting and the AAEP’s 2003 Distinguished Educator Award.

Throughout his career, Dr. Rantanen was able to bring colleagues together around the multifaceted domain of diagnostic ultrasonography. He served as an organizing force for the creation of the Large Animal Diagnostic Imaging Society within the American College of Veterinary Radiologists; not surprisingly, the organizing committee elected Rantanen as their founding president.

Mentee Comments

Thirty-four years ago, I met Norm as he read radiographs each evening at the hospital. I would sit there for hours and he’d challenge me to assess the pathology, film quality, positioning and how we might better visualize the area of concern. We have all known those who have exceeded society’s expectations while respectfully not caring what others thought. Norm was unique and remains as such. I remember skeptics thinking he’d ‘lost it’ when he imaged areas with ultrasonography. Well, look where we all are now.

Seattle Slew’s crisis and treatment was described by some as crazy. “You’re going to base your entire career and reputation on trying to save a 26-year-old stallion?” I did with Norm and Barrie Grant and would again.

– Jim Morehead, DVM, Equine Medical Associates, PSC, Lexington, KY

There are two admonitions, I remember from my interactions with Dr Norm Rantanen. The first is, “if you’re going to do it, do it right.” The second, a corollary of the first is, “God hates a coward”. Both speak to the need to have courage and adventurousness as essential attributes for practicing the art of veterinary medicine. Every professional is confronted with moments in their career where finding the courage to remain stalwart in the face of conflict can be a struggle of the will. And there are other times where an adventurous spirit is required in order to stretch the limits of what we know, to go where we must to find answers. On a personal level, I have found his encouragement on these two attributes to be more important than the medical advice that he so willingly offered. He is, in my opinion, a great mentor because the wake left by his words left so many people better off as individuals, as well as doctors.

– Paul McClellan, DVM, San Dieguito Equine Group, Inc., San Marcos, CA

Dr. Norman Rantanen is one of those rare individuals that had a vision of diagnostic imaging that could greatly improve musculoskeletal evidence-based diagnoses of soft tissue injuries in the horse. He pursued that vision and thus created one of the world’s most commonly used diagnostic tools for the health and welfare of the horse. He along with Steve Dumond, Roby Gaines, Dr. Mike Hausler and a few others created field-use diagnostic ultrasound that would forever change the world of musculoskeletal diagnostic imaging. Dr. Rantanen made one of the most valuable diagnostic tools for the welfare of the horse ever introduced in our profession. In today’s vernacular “A game changer heard around the world.” Some 40 years ago, he started to teach our profession the skills of diagnostic ultrasonography and he favorably impacted the lives of many great equine clinicians.

The profession is deeply indebted to him for following his dreams. His contribution is one of the greatest steps forward in equine musculoskeletal diagnoses, treatment, and management. I was truly blessed by my ongoing 37-year relationship and guidance by Dr. Rantanen. He changed the course of my ability to serve the horse in a very meaningful and special way and for that I will be ever grateful.

– Ron Genovese, VMD, Cleveland Equine Clinic, Ravenna, OH

I arrived at WSU to do my internship just as the legend Dr. Rantanen was leaving, having put the field of ultrasound imaging in the horse on the forefront. I was devastated and lived that year in the shadow he created. Flash forward to being lucky enough to finally work closely with him at San Luis Rey Equine Hospital where his professional expertise and personal connection made me a much better clinician and colleague. I treasure those years and was so lucky to see the legacy he created.”

– Rich Pankowski, DVM, Veterinary Surgical Specialists, Tustin, CA

I have had the privilege of working with Dr. Norm Rantanen for 20 years. He is one of the original pioneers in the application and development of ultrasound as a diagnostic tool in equine medicine and surgery. Norm has been my mentor and friend as we worked together in equine hospitals and in the field throughout southern California. He has been a mentor to countless students, new graduates, and experienced veterinarians over the years. I always knew where to find missing students, interns, technicians and even a surgeon or two on the days Norm would be in the clinic as they would be huddled in a group surrounding Norm trying to learn everything they could from this gifted teacher. He was inclusive of all of us who wanted to learn, and in the 20 years I’ve worked with him I never saw him intimidate, humiliate, get frustrated or take anyone for granted. It was always just the opposite as he would graciously offer the ultrasound probe to anyone who wanted to learn and practice. He would skillfully guide us through parts of the exam and always praised us for some beautiful image that we were able to obtain through his guidance. He was always so free with his time and energy and very respectful, routinely thanking all those present for their assistance and collaboration regardless of what our contribution was. He would never forget to thank the barn staff holding the horse as he truly respects everyone and recognized the importance of their role.

My fondest memories of working with Norm are the really challenging cases we shared. We would discuss the history, then I, along with students and other veterinarians present, would do the physical exam followed by Norm performing the ultrasound. We would then collectively, with all who were present, discuss the case and decide on the best options for the patient. I recall one very challenging case that required multiple rechecks, biopsies and ultrasound exams. At one point, there was no less than six accomplished veterinarians attending this patient and trying to decipher the clues that would lead to a diagnosis. I remember looking around and marveling at how much brain power there was in the room to help this one patient. I have always been grateful for each and every case in which I had Norm’s support, experience, and knowledge to help guide me.

Norm has always maintained his inquisitive pioneer spirit throughout his 53-year career and has many accomplishments to show for it, his success due in part to his wife Marlene facilitating his efforts every step of the way along with a close-knit group of friends and colleagues who share his passion for our profession. Those of us who have had the privilege of learning from him were taught so much more than veterinary medicine as with each and every case we also learned about grace, respect and humility as Norm is the embodiment of these qualities. I doubt this humble man will ever realize how much he truly gave to our profession and continues to give back on a daily basis through all of the students and colleagues whose lives he has touched, including mine.

– Tina Kemper, DVM, DACVIM, Equine Internal Medicine and Consulting, Temecula, CA

There are really no words to properly describe my feelings about having Dr. Rantanen as my mentor. It has been the most meaningful part of my career and I will try my best to do him proper justice. Dr. Rantanen was the sole reason I became a radiologist. After spending time with him, I wanted to emulate all of his qualities, both professional and personal. I had the great honor of learning how to be an equine radiologist from him and strive every day to live up to the example of who he is as a person. I am forever grateful for all I have learned from him. His living legacy of being a remarkable veterinarian and an exceptional person will be a part of our profession forever.

– Natasha Werpy, DVM, DACVR, Equine Diagnostic Imaging, Inc., Ocala, FL

I have known Norm for years, as a fellow student at WSU, in different classes, in the same era. Great guy, bright and innovative. I attended one of his first ultrasound clinics in the early 1970s and was warned, “You need to get on board with diagnostic ultrasound or get left in the dust.” He was correct as he and a few of his cohorts ushered in a tsunami of useful information in that area and then continued into the other imaging modalities, MRI, CAT, and scintigraphy. Invaluable asset to the equine practitioners and the horse industry as a whole. He was not stingy with the knowledge he had gained as he seemed to always have a grad student or imaging specialty aspirant in tow, mentor par excellence!

– Gary Cranney, DVM, Cranney Veterinary Service Inc., Lehi, UT

I have known Norm since we both entered Veterinary school at WSU in 1963. Not only were we classmates but study mates and collaborators in a research project on using piezoelectric stimulation to increase the rate of bone healing in a rabbit fracture model. We also received our master’s degrees at the same time, also at WSU.

After Norm returned from being in the combat zone in Vietnam and as a base veterinarian in Germany, we became faculty members at WSU together. It was at this time that Norm was able to develop the use of Diagnostic Ultrasound in Veterinary Medicine.

Although his main interest and focus was the horse, he encouraged the use of diagnostic ultrasound in small animals as well. His name will always be associated with being the pioneer in the use of Diagnostic Ultrasound. The first years of making this technique widely used depended upon on improving the equipment so it could be more easily used by practicing veterinarians. He was amongst the leaders encouraging and testing new engineering in this area.

More importantly, Norm started the first short courses to teach the theory and practicality of this modality to practicing veterinarians, veterinary students, and veterinarians in graduate programs. He had a real talent for making these principles and techniques so exciting that everyone wanted to be able emulate his skills. To be present when he is able to use diagnostic ultrasound to medicate an arthritic articular facet on Seattle Slew, show a VSD on a stunted yearling or disruption in tendon fibers was magical! GO COUGS!

– Barrie D. Grant, DVM, MS, DACVS, Bonsall, CA

I met Norm Rantanen when I started working at San Luis Rey Equine Hospital in 2000 where he consulted regularly. He had a tremendous amount of accumulated case material and an especially deep breadth of knowledge in equine imaging. What I remember was his out-of-the-box, non-traditional thinking. How effortless it was for him to acquire and “see” things on ultrasound examinations. But what really stuck with me was how humble and genuine he was with everyone. He was basically the definition of professional collegiality. He might have been the smartest guy in the room, but he always valued everyone’s opinion and perspective—and not just in veterinary medicine. Norm and his wife Marlene invited my wife and I to their house numerous times for dinner and insightful conservations.

– Steven S. Trostle, DVM, MS, DACVS, DACVSMR, Blue Ridge Equine Clinic, Earlysville, VA