My name is Danielle, and since this is my first post with Merck Manual Vet Student Stories, I figured I should give a little background on myself and my journey to veterinary school.
Like many of my peers, I grew up with and loving, animals. My family has had everything from dogs, a cantankerous cat, fish, rabbits, guinea pigs, and later, several types of birds, and a horse. But unlike many of my classmates who have known they wanted to be veterinarians since they were like 5, my path to this career took a little longer realize.
I can safely say that several amazing veterinarians got the wheels turning that ‘maybe this was the career for me.’
The first was Dr. Wallace Wendt. My mother actually worked as a vet assistant in his clinic, but he (and his wife) also had a huge role with the Cleveland Metropark Zoo. After I read the James Herriot series in third grade, I needed to complete a project, so I decided to interview a vet. My mom helped me connect with Dr. Wendt. He told me stories about the animals he took care of at the zoo, how they used to bring the big cats back to their farm when they had litters until they were big enough to go back to the zoo on exhibit; how he had dedicated the land he owned to protecting wild birds and how he built runway ponds so they could land easily. When asked about the most interesting thing he’d ever done, he told me about how he performed an autopsy on an elephant. It wasn’t until I read his obituary years later that I found out that he took care of the first monkeys that made it back from space. He was an extraordinary veterinarian, but so incredibly humble.
In middle school, our family’s Australian Shepherd was diagnosed with lymphoma at just 3 years old–I was the one who first noticed the mass on her abdomen. By the time we caught it, it was advanced, and rapidly progressing. We made the decision to euthanize less than a year later. Our vet through the whole ordeal handled the situation with such grace, understanding, and compassion.
I have also been an equestrian since I was about 8. The barn I grew up riding at focuses not just on developing skills in the saddle, but also on proper horse care and management, including veterinary care. I was encouraged to come to the barn any time a veterinarian was out for routine care or a particular issue. It was at this barn that I started to learn about common horse ailments, lameness, wound management, how to administer medications and vaccinations.
It wasn’t until I was in high school that I consciously made the decision that being a veterinarian was what I wanted to pursue. As much as I loved the small animal vet that helped my family through our dog’s cancer, and as much as Dr. Wendt’s stories of the exotic animals he cared for were interesting, I knew that my passion for helping animals would be in the equine field. When I started looking at undergraduate programs, I had 2 main criteria: a strong science program to aid students looking to get into a veterinary program, and an intercollegiate equestrian team.
Through a family member, I found Otterbein University – a small, liberal arts college tucked just outside of Columbus, in Westerville, Ohio. Otterbein is well-known for its equine department and boasts several equine-geared majors and minors, including Equine Pre-Veterinary Sciences. I chose this major, along with a Biochemistry and Molecular Biology double major.
Otterbein provided me with so many tools; there were multiple veterinarians on staff as professors and caretakers of the horses in the 52-stall facility the university owns. These vets served as mentors and inspiration for the field I would be entering. There were classes specific to equine veterinary medicine, like equine bandaging, anatomy, and physiology, as well as courses geared towards the broader veterinary field. I had opportunities like becoming a teaching assistant for the freshmen level courses as an upperclassman, living in the apartment attached to the equine facility and being intricately hands-on in the day-to-day and emergency care of the horses housed there, and completing an equine field research project for my thesis project (which I have since gone on to present at a symposium and am currently working with my advisors for publication). Over one of my spring breaks, I decided to get certified in equine sports massage therapy, a tool I hope to use in the future.
While at Otterbein, I also worked at a local small animal clinic in their kennels and shadowed a mixed animal vet close to home during the summer. This mixed animal veterinarian (who I can call ‘my vet’ now; my whole family has switched to her practice for our animals’ healthcare), taught me so much – I saw smart business practices, how to reach out and involve the community; her compassion for her clients; her practical approach to providing the best care for each animal tailored to what their owner could afford, without judgement; and an incredible work-life balance. She was, and is, inspiring to me.
All of these experiences had only proven to me that I was on the correct path. I loved every learning opportunity, every chance to exercise the knowledge I had, any time I could practice the practical skills I had garnered. I could write an entire post about how the people and experiences at Otterbein helped me get into veterinary school alone, but I’ll save that for another day.
When it came time for vet school interviews, the courses I took while at Otterbein helped me tremendously–I was able to field animal rights and welfare questions well due to a course called Equine Contemporary and Emerging Issues, where we discuss many animal rights and welfare topics plaguing the equine industry.
I applied to 4 veterinary schools, interviewed at 2, was wait-listed at both, but ultimately accepted at both. Secretly, I had been hoping I would only get into 1 because having the make the decision between the 2 schools was a grueling, difficult decision. Ultimately, I chose to attend Purdue and have been very happy with my choice.
Throughout the whole process of interviewing and entering vet school, I remained steadfast in my desire to pursue equine-only. You will hear a lot of, ‘you’ll change your mind–I thought I wanted to be ____ and ended up doing ____.’ I kept waiting for some epiphany where I’d change to wanting to practice on fish or some other total 180. I’m here to say–yes, some people will change their minds and end up doing something they never imagined. But, some people know what they want. 2 years in and my resolve to become an equine vet has not wavered. I love dogs and cats, but horses are where my passion lies.
While the first 2 years have been largely covering the basics on all species, I try to find as many equine opportunities as possible. Halfway through the program, my roommate and I joke that we are ‘1/2 doctors.’
While I’m a part of as many clubs as my time allows, I’ve taken a leadership role in the Student Chapter of the American Association of Equine Practitioners at Purdue. I was a camp counselor for the summer veterinary camp that Purdue has, and was dubbed ‘Team Horse,’ guiding my campers through an equine case. I work in the barn where my horse is boarded (oh yea; my horse came with me to vet school–more on that later), and also worked as an overnight assistant in the large animal hospital. This summer, I am externing at an equine specialty clinic in Florida, and continuing to edit my undergraduate research for publication, while starting another equine research project at Purdue.
It may have taken me a little longer to figure out the path I needed to be on, but once I did, it has been full steam ahead.