The Scenic Route
When I was six, I used to introduce myself to new people by stating my name and my future career goals of becoming a veterinarian. In my teenage years, I brought home a variety of stray and wild animals that needed “saving”. In 1998, I started my freshman year at Michigan State University with the full intention of getting a degree in Animal Science and eventually applying to vet school. I always knew veterinary medicine was my calling, but what I didn’t know is that I’d take the scenic route to get there.
My journey to vet school has been somewhat unconventional to say the least. After struggling at MSU my freshman year, I decided to postpone a college education and join the military. It was there that I met my future husband, and after 8 years of service, I left the military to raise our children full time. I eventually made it back to MSU, where I graduated with a BA in Criminal Justice in 2005.
The summer before our youngest child started kindergarten, my husband and I talked about what career I wanted to pursue now that all our kids would be in school full time. We brainstormed options and various careers within the Criminal Justice field, yet none were appealing. My husband finally asked me what career I would choose outside of my degree field. I’ve always been happiest around animals and I had some regrets that I never made it back to veterinary medicine, so without a doubt it would be a veterinarian. He told me to go for it, to which I replied that he was crazy. But after some long discussions on logistics, time commitment, and finances, we made the leap.
I got in, Now what?!
After several years of prerequisite courses and one application cycle, I was accepted to Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine. I was elated and then panic set in almost immediately. What if I wasn’t good enough? What if they made a mistake? What if I’m too old for this? Will my family resent me? How will I manage kids, vet school, and life? I was terrified I’d made a huge mistake and was certain I’d be the oldest student (I’m not) and I’d definitely be the only parent (again, I’m not). I worried about fitting in, making friends with people half my age, and having time to explore clubs and activities outside of vet school.
The MSU College of Veterinary Medicine has been nothing but supportive of both my roles as student and parent.
These fears, while real, were unfounded and I wasn’t giving myself (or anyone else) enough credit. I’m not the oldest, nor the only parent. I bonded with a core group of women who have supported me whenever I needed a helping hand, a study buddy, or a shoulder to cry on, even when they know nothing about the stress of raising a family while completing a doctorate. Many of my classmates and professors have given me praise for taking on a second career while raising a family, and the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine has been nothing but supportive of both my roles as student and parent. I’ve served on executive boards of several veterinary clubs and organizations, taken trips to conferences out of state, and worked a regular job in the MSU Veterinary Medical Center (VMC). There are things I’ve missed out on, but I can’t do everything, so I prioritize the most important experiences.
My interest in emergency medicine began rather abruptly in December 2019 when I worked over the winter break in the Emergency and Critical Care Medicine Service (ECCM) of the MSU Veterinary Medical Center as a receiving student. I had been working as a student assistant in the ECCM since August but had never considered pursuing a career in veterinary emergency medicine. Prior to entering vet school, I worked in private practice settings as a veterinary assistant, yet none of these experiences were as personally satisfying as working in emergency medicine. With that in mind, when the application period for the summer ER fellowship opened, I jumped at the opportunity to apply. This unique opportunity allows 10 selected candidates to spend the entire summer in the ECCM learning clinical medicine before clinical rotations start. It is a highly competitive and sought-after fellowship, especially for those whose end goal post-graduation is emergency medicine.
After an application, an interview, and what seemed like an eternity of waiting, I received an email stating I had been selected for the fellowship. And then, COVID happened and the fellowship was cancelled. When I got the email, I was so disappointed. It was too late to apply for any other positions, so I refocused on what I could control. For three weeks, I kept myself busy and then I got another email stating the fellowship had been reinstated, and we could start immediately. I started the next day amidst new Hospital protocols, face masks, and a whole lot of uncertainty.
I have rapidly expanded my didactic knowledge in a kinesthetic approach, increased my confidence in my capabilities as a future clinician, and challenged myself as a human, all during a pandemic.
The ER is a fast-paced, ever-changing atmosphere that is unpredictable, sometimes urgent, and based on a principle of service, which all appeal to me in dynamically different ways. Working in the ECCM this summer has given me a preview of clinics and provided me with a drastically different perspective of myself as a student. I have rapidly expanded my didactic knowledge in a kinesthetic approach, increased my confidence in my capabilities as a future clinician, and challenged myself as a human, all during a pandemic. The diversity of clinical problems and lack of predictability I was faced with strengthened my skills in immeasurable ways both as a student and as a future clinician. I was able to connect conceptual information I had learned in the classroom with a practical application of clinical medicine, fueling a passion in me for veterinary medicine I had yet to feel since entering vet school. It has given me a both a sense of purpose and a clear direction for my future.
Veterinary Public Health
As soon as I was accepted to vet school, I applied to the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine’s Public Health Program. I have had a lot of questions about this choice in the past two years and why I would ever want a Master of Public Health if I’m already earning a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine. The short answer is, they pair well together and having both opens up potential career opportunities for the future. Every facet of veterinary medicine has a public health component. One Health, which views the health of humans, animals, and the environment as interconnected with one another, has been a part of the core of who I am since I was a child. It is no surprise to those that know me why I would pursue this dual degree program.
I believe veterinarians play a key role in animal, human, and global health and one of my long-term goals is to change the perspective on how veterinary clinicians view One Health in emergency veterinary medicine. In an emergency setting we must move quickly to assess a situation and provide lifesaving care without the benefit of client records. Far too many zoonotic diseases come through the ECCM doors unbeknownst to us, so it is imperative we take precautions to protect ourselves, our colleagues, and other hospital patients. This is One Health in emergency medicine in a nutshell and is something I am very passionate about.
Putting the Pieces Together
You might be wondering how I could possibly complete two professional degrees, hold leadership roles in several organizations, and work a full time summer fellowship all while raising three children and wrangling three dogs. The answer is simple. Support. I’m not doing this alone. When you go back to school with a family in tow it’s a group effort. I may be doing the heavy lifting of actual schoolwork, but my family is in vet school with me. From nighttime family study sessions to studying on the go at sports games to my very supportive husband who has filled in the gaps when I can’t be there, we find a way to make it work. And when I feel like I’m struggling, they are the first ones to jump in and encourage me to keep going. The past two years have been a lot of hard work and I couldn’t have done it without them. Now that I’m entering my third year, I know I can meet any challenge during clinics because of the immense support I have behind me at home.
This journey I’m on is far from over, but it’s been an amazing one so far. Long term, I am interested in clinical medicine centered around an emergency medicine specialty, either in an emergency-based practice and/or through disaster response. As a dual-degree candidate in both the DVM and MPH programs, I have the keys to make a difference in how emergency clinicians can assess and treat critically ill patients from an infectious disease standpoint. Eventually, I plan to transition my clinical proficiencies in emergency medicine and One Health into teaching and administration, as I firmly believe in continuing to improve veterinary medicine through teaching, professionalism, and strong clinical medicine.