“Oh, that’s cool. You must love animals.”
As a pre-veterinary student, this conversation occurs between peers and myself time and time again. It’s true, I love animals; my passion for wanting to be a veterinarian, however, does not come from only loving animals and I don’t expect to spend my days cuddling puppies and kittens. In fact, I want to be a large animal veterinarian and focus on equine (i.e. horse) sports medicine—treating horses that are unsound due to an injury. In my previous post, I shared my journey to LMU. Now, I want to talk about how I decided on veterinary medicine as a career and some of the things I’ve learned along the way.
I haven’t always known I wanted to be a veterinarian. I got interested in the field of veterinary medicine through the 4-H Horse Program in Virginia, which I was a part of for over eight years. One of the events I participated and competed in was hippology, which literally translates to “horse science”. Hippology is a knowledge test about almost everything related to horses-nutrition, grooming, anatomy, breeding, basic first aid, and even stable construction. I truly began to fall in love with the scientific aspect of horses when I was in high school and began competing seriously in hippology.
I also competed in horse judging and district, state, and regional horse shows through 4-H. Horse judging allowed me to gain a sense for the “normal” breed standard and recognize horses that had blemishes, were not moving correctly, or were lame, which I know will be important as an equine sports medicine vet. I gained a lot of life experience while showing in 4-H as well—sometimes I had shows where everything went perfectly and I didn’t place at all, and other times I felt like I hadn’t performed to my best, but I won the class. That’s how veterinary medicine is—sometimes you spend a lot of time with a patient, and you still can’t figure out exactly what is wrong, what the best course of treatment is, or why the normal treatment isn’t working in this case.
After starting my freshman year at LMU, I figured out that life as a pre-vet student isn’t easy, and it isn’t going to get easier once I got into vet school. Over the past three years, I’ve constantly struggled between juggling homework, lectures, labs, clubs, extracurriculars, and gaining veterinary experience. The pre-vet track involves a lot of science courses, like biology, organic chemistry, physics, and my personal favorite, biochemistry. In addition to the science classes, vet schools require composition, speech, and humanities classes to make sure that students are well-rounded people that will be able to relate to clients once out in practice. I was surprised to learn how much veterinarians rely on communication with individuals to figure out what is going on with a sick pet! Before shadowing several vets and taking some veterinary technology classes, I didn’t realize all of the different roles that being a veterinarian entails; not only are vets scientists, but they are also patient advocates and teachers for the community and their clients.
One of the most important observations that I have made is that comforting the owner and making sure they understand everything that is going on is critical to being able to efficiently treat their pet. Fortunately, I gained some valuable advice from one of the doctors that I worked with that I can take into my future career: sometimes, you just have to put down the pen and listen to the person. If people know that I am listening to and addressing their issues, then they will be more receptive to my suggestions than if I dismiss their ideas. Veterinarians have to fight on the behalf of their patients, which often means calming owners down so that they can make clear, rational decisions about a life-or-death situation.
Veterinarians spend much of their time teaching those around them in many different ways. Some vets, like my vet tech professors, formally teach classes in a university setting. Typically, though, vets are educating clients about a disease that their pet has contracted or the necessity for vaccines and preventative treatments. Vets must also walk clients through different procedures and treatments in order for the owner to take care of their pets when sick or after surgery. Back in the spring, my mom’s gelding nearly severed his tongue in his stall, requiring many stitches from the vet and continual care so that his mouth stayed clean while his tongue healed. I really appreciate the time my vet took to describe what stitching technique he was using, and why he chose to give certain antibiotics and preventative shots. This situation brought to mind this Maya Angelou quote-I may forget the exact way he stitched up our horse, but I won’t forget the way he comforted my mom and me and made sure to personally call the next day to see how our horse was doing.My journey has taught me that veterinary medicine goes beyond loving animals. A veterinarian is first and foremost a scientist, but also a counselor, a patient advocate, and a teacher. If you have any questions about being a pre-vet student or want to know more about LMU-CVM’s specific requirements, leave a comment, email me,or visit LMU-CVM’s admissions page.