Alex, Class of 2024
When did you decide to pursue veterinary medicine?
Growing up around birds, I developed a love for animals at an early age. As my bird collection grew in middle school, I began to learn of various avian pathogens and diseases. Consequently, I became intrigued by veterinary medicine. I made it my goal to attend Cornell Vet and become an avian veterinarian. During my undergraduate years, I became enamored by the concept of One Health and the realm of conservation. I found the inextricable links between animal, human, and environmental health fascinating, as one can plug into the One Health equation in myriad capacities. How I wanted to make an impact, though, made me step back and re-consider my goals. I toyed with the idea of attending a medical school with a Global Health program, as my various veterinary experiences at the time were not an ideal match for the career and scope of impact I sought. Ultimately, during the summer before my senior year, I had phenomenal conservation medicine exposure in Indonesia via an Engaged Cornell program and in China via a Smithsonian internship. I had finally found that perfect fit for me, with those experiences re-kindling my passion for veterinary medicine. Thus, I applied to veterinary school in the fall of senior year. I am planning to pursue a research-oriented career at the human-wildlife interface. Disease transmission will become ever more prevalent as climate change and human activities like deforestation continue, so it is important to ameliorate human health, safeguard threatened animal species, and protect the environment.
What did you do to prepare for veterinary school?
When I was applying to undergraduate programs, I was under the impression that studying Animal Science would be most advantageous to me as a pre-vet. This mindset led me to Cornell CALS, where I pushed myself academically with each semester’s schedule packed with science courses that excited me. I pursued disease ecology research via the Lab of Ornithology, which ended up shaping my veterinary interests and helped me develop critical thinking skills. My research involvement led to domestic and international travel, culminating in published work. I expanded my leadership capacity and professionalism through the Pre-Veterinary Society and as a mentor for the Cornell Undergraduate Research Board’s Peer Mentorship Program and Animal Science’s Mentoring our Undergraduates Program, amongst other extracurricular activities. During the entire course of undergrad, I shadowed small animal veterinarians during breaks, which made for long-lasting relationships and valuable mentorship. In attaining additional animal and veterinary experience, I embraced the mindset of only pursuing opportunities that I was genuinely ecstatic about. Given my bird interests, I pursued various avian husbandry internships. One of those led to a Smithsonian internship that allowed me to fuse bird and veterinary interests via projects spanning from writing a chapter on cassowary veterinary care to capacity building with pandas in China. Additionally, I sought out wildlife and exotics veterinary medicine exposure by interning and volunteering at three other hospitals. My final international experience brought me to Indonesia to engage in conservation education, volunteer with an animal rescue, and partake in rhinoceros conservation. The secret to my success was that I was a planner and advocated for myself—innumerable opportunities exist behind closed doors that you, as a pre-vet, must find and open.
What advice do you have for high school or college students who are interested in becoming a veterinarian?
The most valuable piece of advice I can offer up is to always be true to yourself and your passions. It is easy to look up to veterinary students and sense a strong degree of linearity in their pre-vet journey, but that is not often the case on our end. Hurdles arise, first choice internships may not pan out, a tough prerequisite may get the best of you—we are all imperfect humans. What matters more is persistence and a desire to gain exposure to various dimensions of veterinary medicine. This tactic will allow you to broaden your horizons and may even shape your veterinary aspirations. It’s truly exciting to stumble upon your veterinary calling, but the path there might include an experience (or a few) that leave you dissatisfied or discouraged. It is just as valuable to cross something off your list as it is to have a fortifying internship that you enjoy. It is also important to normalize the fact that you do not need to have a set-in-stone career path laid out to gain admission to veterinary school. What matters is that you pursue career-clarifying opportunities that you want to partake in, as opposed to doing something just because you think the admissions committee wants to see it on your application. Keep an open mind and take advantage of mentors that arise along the way. I would not be in this program today without my incredible support network that continues to motivate and inspire me. Lastly, don’t be afraid to deviate from the mold of a typical pre-vet; having hobbies and interests outside of the profession and the natural sciences is crucial for a healthy balance. You will have the entire course of veterinary school for intense focus on this field, so absorb all that undergrad has to offer and don’t be afraid to take a gap year if you want!
Why did you choose Cornell and what do you enjoy most about the veterinary program?
As a Cornell undergraduate, I was fortunate to gain exposure to what Cornell Vet has to offer early on. I began connecting with faculty and veterinary students, laying the groundwork for valuable mentorship. I was particularly interested in the Cornell Wildlife Health Center, as there were multiple individuals pursuing meaningful conservation work internationally. I saw that their projects often involve students, affording invaluable field experience. It is one thing to receive a world class veterinary education, but another thing to have the flexibility in the program to allow for practical experiences in conservation medicine. As someone interested in wildlife and conservation medicine, I was really excited about the Expanding Horizons program, as I would be able to work in remote locations around the globe on conservation initiatives. To further seal the deal, I enjoyed the fact there are ample opportunities in the curriculum to take electives and personalize the program to one’s interests. Now that I am in the veterinary program, I have come to appreciate how you begin working with actual animals from the very first week of class. The coursework and labs are well-integrated and push you to think like a clinician from the get-go. You will be learning about one system in gross lab, examining its cellular complexity via histology labs, interpreting its presentation with different imaging modalities in imaging lab, and appreciating the physical assessment of said system during a physical examination lab with a lovely teaching animal. I also work as a wildlife student technician at the Janet L. Swanson Wildlife Hospital, so opportunities abound to develop clinical skills and apply what you are learning in each block to a clinical setting.