The Consult: then and now

An illustration of two people in lab coats talking

Emily Harrison, D.V.M. ’07, and Allison Miller ’03, D.V.M. ’07

Emily Harrison, D.V.M. ’07, and Allison Miller ’03, D.V.M. ’07, have been friends ever since meeting at a high school vet camp. After attending Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine together, the two women stayed close as Miller went on to teach equine anatomy at the college while Harrison launched a private practice in large animal medicine and acupuncture. The two friends reminisced over their decades of friendship.

Animation by White Knight Productions

Memory lane

Emily Harrison: Do you remember when we first met?

Allison Miller: I do. We first met at a vet camp at Tufts before our junior year of high school. We were wee little teenagers back then.

Harrison: What's really crazy when you think about it is that was a two-week summer program that yes, confirmed that we both wanted to be a veterinarian, but also launched a friendship that I think has lasted longer than we ever could have expected. So that's sort of amazing to me.

MillerWe formed a really quick friendship and we've maintained it over the years. We have a lot in common, although we are certainly different people. But I think, you know, we've made a priority in our lives to stay close friends and for that I'm very grateful.

Harrison: I don't think I could have put it better myself. It never occurred to me that I would get a best friend at vet camp for life. And I agree we have so many similarities and such fundamentally core values, but we're pretty darn different.

Emily Harrison, D.V.M. '07, and Allison Miller '03, D.V.M. '07, pictured in the college's Class of 2007 yearbook.

MillerWhat are some standout memories of our friendship during college and high school?

Harrison: Well used to write letters, like old-fashioned, sit down with a pen and paper letters. I remember once the internet came along and long before I had it in my home, I would go to my high school library before school. I would read the email that you had written the day before and respond to it.

And then you went to Cornell undergrad, and I went to Brown and we still kept in touch regularly and commiserated over chemistry, organic chemistry, physics.

MillerAnd then we planned what vet schools we'd be applying to and went through that entire process together. I remember agonizing over GREs and you are certainly much better at standardized tests than I.

Do you remember about applying to vet school in general. Like, how that process went?

Harrison: I remember that the only overlapping schools we applied to were Cornell and Tufts. We were rejected some Tufts outright on the same day. And then Cornell waitlisted us. We got in off the waitlist on the very same day, April 15. I will never forget that.

MillerI’ll never forget it either. It was within hours of each other. I remember because I was waitlisted, that was why I got a cell phone because, the way they made it sound is like you had to be able to respond quickly or they'd kind of move down the list. And until that point senior year it didn't have a cell phone.

Harrison: Why did you want to become a vet?

MillerI wanted to be a vet as long as I could remember. Probably first or second grade, I wanted to be a vet. And when I told my parents I wanted to be a vet, they said, “You better study hard cause you're going to want to go to Cornell. That's the best vet school.” A little bit of a pressure for a six-year-old or seven-year-old! Why did you want to become a veterinarian?

Harrison: I have the same story. I have always wanted to be a vet since I was a little kid and I never, ever wavered.

Miller: What's something you remember about being in vet school with me?

“I think it was pretty amazing that I got to show up to vet school, day one, with a best friend.”

Emily Harrison, D.V.M. '07

Harrison: Oh, lots. With many years behind us now, I think it was pretty amazing that I got to show up to vet school, day one, with a best friend. How often do you get to show up for your graduate school experience with your best friend in tow?

We had so much fun in school … we worked so hard, but we had so much time for fun — even waking up at four o'clock in the morning to go work on Dr. Ainsworth's research horses at the equine research park. I can't believe we did that in retrospect. Four in the morning and then, you know, worked all day in class.

But we bonded, we bonded with horses. Dr. Ainsworth's a really good baker so she fed us, and we got to get to learn how to pass stomach tubes right off the bat. And I graduated from that school, I think really competent at passing stomach tubes because of that.

What do you remember about school?

Miller: Obviously a lot of our memories overlap. I think probably my best memory from that time is when I got married after second year and you were one of my bridesmaids and we went through that entire experience together.

I think we made so many memories, it's hard to choose just one. What would be your worst memory of vet school?

Harrison: Definitely after the neuro test first year, I was pretty sure I had bombed that. We went home over spring break right after that test and I was terrified that I had failed, and that I wouldn't be allowed to go back to vet school and I would have the shame of trying to explain to my friends and family why it was that I couldn't be a veterinarian. I was so upset — and I can't tell you the relief I felt when it turns out that I didn't fail the test.

And while I certainly was not the one that wrecked the curve on the neuro test, it probably also wasn't the worst. Maybe becoming a neurologist wasn't going to be in my future, but I got through it just like everybody else. What about you?

Miller: The worst memory from vet school that I remember is when my grandmother passed away fourth year. I remember being on small animal emergency and critical care when there were still overnights and finding out from my mom, and just being so emotional at two in the morning doing treatments and kind of just sitting down in the runs, you know? It was just one of those memories that kind of stick with you. And I remember reaching out to you and how supportive you were through that. You were just so important then, and you still are such an important supporter in my life — then and now.

Divergent paths

“You were just so important then, and you still are such an important supporter in my life.”

Allison Miller '03, D.V.M. '07

Harrison: How would you describe me?

Miller: That's a tough one. One of the things I admire most about you is how strong you are, how you stand up for yourself. And that's one of those qualities that I most admire about you. You support me to try and make me be a little bit stronger. You know, looking at the life you've carved for yourself, your career decisions, and owning your own business, I don't know if we ever would have guessed that that was what you were going to do.

Harrison: Absolutely. You know when you went off for your equine internship and I went off for my equine internship, our professional experiences were relatively parallel and then probably about five or six years ago, things started to diverge. Owning my own business was never part of my initial game plan.

You are one of the smartest people I know, Allison — and I've had to spend 22 years hammering that home. I know when I want someone to have a second set of eyes on a set of X-rays that I took or look at a mass, or look at blood work, you're the first person I turn to. You're so good at everything you put your mind to.

Miller: Oh no, you are going to make me cry...

My career right now is very different than I imagined it to be at graduation. You are successful business owner balancing practice with parenting. I'm now in academia and you know, kind of split my time teaching students preclinical content and just very recently have been able to start to do some more clinical work.

Acupuncture is something that we have in common. One of our bonding experiences was my coming down to visit you and getting my internship hours with you, going to farms and needling horses and watching you needle dogs.

And to this day we kind of bounce back and forth ideas. I think that's one of the things that I love about our friendship — and veterinary medicine — is that when you graduate we have so many people that we can reach out to and ask questions to. And you're my Obi-Wan Kenobi about what points you might use or how you treat this. That's been invaluable for me as well.

Harrison: I remember when you came down to do those internship hours with me it was a very invigorating couple of days because I loved that I got to be the mentor for like four seconds.

We would go from needling a horse to ultrasounding someone else's tendon — you're so good at that. I loved learning from you and having someone to bounce ideas off, and I remember coming out of that those few days that we spent together and thinking, “Oh man, this is such a great profession. I love that we get to do this together.”

“I love that I never have the same day twice.”

Emily Harrison

Miller: Absolutely.

What do you like most about our profession?

Harrison: I love that I never have the same day twice. I never wake up thinking “I don't want to be a vet today.” I love being on the road and going somewhere different and I love it's never boring. Obviously I love the animals. I love the relationships that have formed with clients. And now that I've been in my area for the better part of 12 years, I've been taking care of these people's animals for a long time now, and I love that.

Miller: I have to agree with you that what I love about our profession are the relationships that we form. For me it's been relationships with clients in multiple different places … Once an animal passes, it’s an emotional loss for me because not only am I saying goodbye to the pet, but sometimes I'm saying goodbye to the clients. But the clients always amaze me in that they so very often stay in touch, which means a lot to me as a veterinarian.

Harrison: That's a testament to the impact that you have on their lives.

Miller: I think in the veterinary profession, we sometimes forget how much of an impact we have on the people that we work with. It's so important to recognize that it's not just taking care of animals, it's taking care of their owners, too. And now working in academia with the students, I love the relationships that I form with them and guiding them in their career with what they’re learning in their preclinical content, like anatomy and physiology, putting it in the context of their future patients. I hope that that's helping them look at the material in a completely new or different context and igniting a fire in them that I remember being ignited in me as soon as we hit vet school — that I'm so excited to learn this stuff and this is what I've wanted to do my whole life. Even though some of it's really hard, like neuro anatomy or other subjects — in the end it's worth it.

“In the veterinary profession, we sometimes forget how much of an impact we have on the people that we work with. It's so important to recognize that it's not just taking care of animals, it's taking care of their owners, too.”

Allison Miller

Harrison: Your students are so lucky to have you. I know that and I have a confidence that if I were to poll your students, they would gush about you possibly as much as I do.

Perpetual juggling act

Miller: What don't you like about our profession?

Harrison: Definitely work-life balance is hard, especially for the last six years that I've had my own practice. I am a party of one, which means that even when I'm not working, I always have my cell phone on me for that client who has an emergency or needs something urgent. It's really hard to turn that off. I've gotten a little bit better at that since having children, but it's hard to not be available to someone.

Miller: I have to agree. I think some of it stems from what we love about it so much — forming these relationships with clients — they're like family. When we are not there for them, you feel bad, right? I think it's hard to prioritize the work-life balance. You've been better at doing that because you've become a mom. What's that experience been like for you?

Harrison: It's a perpetual juggling act. I haven't dropped a ball yet. I worked hard to set myself up for to be able to continue to take care of my patients and my clients the way that I was doing it before I had kids. There's going to be a time where someone needs me in the field where I can't leave my children. It hasn't happened yet because I've been so proactive about having backup and coverage, but the first time it happens where I can't get there, that's going to be really stressful to me.

Being a mom is the best thing I've ever, ever done with myself and it was always part of my life plan. It feels so natural. My babies were born very prematurely and spent a month in the NICU in what was a very upsetting and trying time for me to start motherhood with sick, tiny babies. I got everything tied up and passed off to the people covering for me since they were born so unexpectedly early.

And then I didn't think about work for the next month. It was the first time in my entire life that I hadn't been thinking about work. I was really only thinking about my babies. Everybody survived just fine in my absence. And when I went back from maternity leave, everyone was there waiting for me. And being able to take the time to just to be a mom was precious and priceless and it wouldn't change that for anything.

How do you handle being a mom and being super woman in all other areas of your life?

Miller: It kind of goes back to that work-life balance. I certainly feel guilty sometimes doing too much work when I'm not with my kids.

Tomorrow I'm going into work for a number of hours rather than having the weekend day with my kids — but I left early on Thursday to pick them up. So I’m trying to value the time that I have with them and prioritize that and be focused on them when I'm with them. And then the same thing with work, trying to keep them separate — but it's certainly a balance.

I love my kids. I don't know if they fully grasp yet what I do for a job. I'm hoping over time that they start to understand. I think my oldest knows that mommy's going to work to help dogs and if she doesn't do that, then those dogs might be sad. Hopefully over time they understand that more and more.

“I'm hoping by watching me balance work and home life, that [my daughters] will be more empowered to do that.”

Allison Miller

Harrison: My kids are first of all growing up with a dog so far and are going to grow up surrounded by fun barnyard animals and just in case you're wondering, 12 weeks of age is not too young to sit on a pony.

Miller: I still remember bringing [my daughter] Natalie and her little infant seat to a horse emergency and leaving her locked in a stall while I worked on a horse. She slept the whole time. I'm hoping by them watching me balance work and home life that they'll be more empowered to do that if the time comes for them to be a mom and work at the same time.

Harrison: My kids are probably going to think it's totally normal to de-horn baby goats in your garage. This doesn't exactly tie in to the thread that we were just on, but I feel like we have to talk about our amazing experience. One year ago, you came down to present at a conference and we had one day to spend together. That was the day that I told you that I was pregnant with twins and the rest of the world didn't know. I think I was like 13 weeks pregnant at that point. We had like a really good professional working day together and we thought, you know what, let's go get manicures, which is not a regular part of your life or my life, but it seems like the ultimate fun thing to do, you know, since you were away from your kids that we had this relaxing evening planned.

While we were on the way to get a manicure, I get a series of frantic, panicked phone calls from clients of mine about a horse with a broken leg about 15 minutes north on a side of the road.

And we didn't get a whole lot of explanation for what we were walking into. So instead of getting our manicures, we drove to where the cops had traffic stopped in both sides of the divided road. Tragically there was a horse with a horrific compound fracture because she had tried to jump over a car as she hit the road. Fortunately no people had gotten hurt. But this was clearly going to be a terminal injury and you helped me manage this scene and we wound up having to put her to sleep right there in the ditch in the side of the road. And then the two of us then had to get this deceased horse out of a ditch and into a front loader to get it back to the farm to be buried. And fortunately you have way more front loader loading experience.

Emily Harrison, D.V.M. '07. Photo: Kristen Vallejo

Miller: I do fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it.

Harrison: And you were really upset because you knew that I was pregnant with twins and we were trying to get a 1400-pound horse into a front loader. And I remember saying to the cops like, can we get an extra hand with this? Cause they were watching the two of us struggling with this horse. You were petrified that this was going to be detrimental to my pregnancy. But in the end, we got everything done and the horse was removed and buried on the property, but we never did make it to our manicures. We were a little shell-shocked, but then went out and had a nice dinner afterwards.

Miller: We did! And then the next morning at the conference I was presenting sort of some different innovation things that I've integrated into the curriculum to teach students. And I went to the person that I was presenting with and I said, “You know what, there's just some things that we can't prepare students for before they graduate — guess what happened to me yesterday?”

Words of advice

Harrison: You have advice to veterinarians considering having children?

Miller:  I think one of the things for me advice-wise is that if you think you want to have kids, have them — because there's never going to be a good time. I'm a planner and fairly regimented in my life plan and I wanted to wait until the right time. And I guess I don't know if there is a right time. What about you? What's your advice?

Harrison: I can't imagine a life without children. And it took me longer and definitely more circuitous route to land there, but no one ever says on their deathbed, man, I really wish I had worked more. And having children is the best thing that's ever happened to me. I would also say if this is something you want, don't wait because there is never a convenient time to have a child.

Miller: I one-hundred percent agree and I love my kids. They bring happiness to every day. Sometimes there's, you know, more trying moments at the end of a long day. But I always remember to laugh with them. They helped me laugh. They help keep things light and they remind me that your career is not everything.

Allison Miller '03, D.V.M. '07. Photo: Cornell Vet

Harrison: That's true. And I probably told you this a long time ago, but when I heard the news that your first daughter had been born, I promptly burst into tears, which is not super easy for me to do. And you say you weren't already sure that you wanted children, but I was sure you always wanted children.

Miller: Exactly. Yeah. I mean, I think it's just a testament to our friendship and everything that we share with each other. We talk just about every day on the phone — and you know, if we don't talk for a couple of days, I feel it feels weird.

Source of joy

Harrison: Where do you think we're going to be in 10 and 20 years?

Miller: I think we'll certainly both still be veterinarians and we'll both still be very close friends sharing different life experiences.

Harrison: I think our relationship will be exactly the same wonderful thing in 10 years, 15 years, 20 years as it is today because we've been really consistent — and I can't think of anything that would change that.

Miller: I wish you were here so I could give a hug.

Harrison: Aw man. Then we’d both start crying, which we don't do often.

I don't often get to articulate just how grateful I am to have you in my life and what a constant source of joy your friendship has been to me for 22 years. So for that, I love you.

Miller: Oh, I love you too, man. Now I'm crying a little bit.

Harrison:  Do we have advice that we want to give it to our younger selves?

Miller: I would tell my younger self not to sweat the small stuff in high school. I was so worried about getting into college. In college we were so worried about getting into vet and we were waitlisted for Cornell. And for me I felt like that was the end of the world. And that worked out all right. And then vet school, you know, it's don't sweat the small stuff. And I think a lot of it is small stuff and we forget that in our everyday lives.

Harrison: I think just about all of it is small stuff. And I think the fact that you and I are here 12 years out of vet school talking about being moms and the fun things that we do just goes to show that if you don't do all that well on your neuro tests, the world's not going to end.

“Don't sweat the small stuff. And I think a lot of it is small stuff.”

Allison Miller

Miller: The world will not end. And the other thing is, I don't think I recognized through vet school and through college how important the relationships are that you form and how it's just such an emotional time during college and vet school. I mean, it’s just such an intense emotional experience … and you're just bonded for life. We're bonded for life I think from everything that we've been through, not just vet school

Listen to Miller and Harrison's full conversation below