When did you decide to pursue veterinary medicine?
I do not even remember not wanting to be a veterinarian—that is how early the dream started for me. I think my dad may have planted the idea in my head, but I ran with it. I grew up on a farm in Northern MI where we bred Shire draft horses and pasture-raised beef, pork, chickens, and various other species of poultry. Our local veterinarian was at least 45 minutes away in an emergency, and the closest referral hospital was 3-5 hours south depending on the traffic. I was raised to believe that if I expected to gain something from the life of an animal—be that companionship, sport, food, etc.—then I was responsible for making that life as pleasant and productive as possible. So whenever an animal under my care did get sick it was torture to wait for the veterinarian—I wanted to know how to help them myself, right then. I suppose that desire never left me.
What did you do to prepare for veterinary school?
I was in 4-H for eight years before college, and competed in Horse Bowl—an equine knowledge quiz-bowl—through that organization up to the national level. At that level I was mostly just gathering animal handling knowledge and skills. I also taught riding lessons, worked on multiple farms, and had my own horse training business. Once in college I completed two majors—Equine Pre-veterinary Science and Biochemistry/ Molecular Biology. I think even more importantly, though, was that during this point I pursued other passions and became a more well-rounded person. I ran a weekly service program for my college, was in charge of the institution’s voter registration drives, held down several jobs, attended leadership conferences, began a research project, and started showing my horse more seriously. I believe it was the combination that helped me to be so successful in the application process to vet school and beyond.
What advice to you have for high school students who are interested in becoming a vet?
I think the most important thing is to make sure that you are ready for the lifestyle. A typical veterinarian does not work 40 hours a week—it is usually at least 60 if not more. I would suggest taking on multiple jobs or responsibilities during breaks from school to see if you are interested in that kind of constant commitment. Working odd hours—for instance, night shifts—is also helpful since veterinary work is often emergent and happens at all hours of the day. Finally, I would very seriously consider how you will pay for it. Has anyone in your family—parents, grandparents, yourself—set any money aside? Most veterinary educations today cost more than a very nice house, so you need to know how you will afford it: that may mean working through college, going to a local school, joining the military, etc. You should not count on loans to pay for everything, or you will have a hard time ever getting out from underneath them. The government does have relief programs but the fine print is key to its success and the positions are often difficult if not impossible to meet the requirements for!
This is not meant to be discouraging in any way—it is just to help kids have an honest conversation with themselves. Veterinary medicine is not a get-rich-quick scheme, or a hobby. Being successful means having a passion for the work. If that does not exist, then it is better to know that soon and find another career—but if it is something that a person is serious about, there are endless possibilities.