Winning the Career Lottery

Posted: May 4, 2015
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When I tell people I am a veterinarian, I usually hear one of two questions, “Have you always wanted to be a veterinarian?” and “Do you have a lot of pets?” And much to their surprise my answer is “No” to both questions! 

I have not always wanted to be a veterinarian and I only have one cat (well, and a dog too but I married into that). In fact, when I was younger I wanted to be a physician. My dad is a retired physician and I admired him so much growing up that I knew I wanted to pursue medicine. I was on track to do just that in college while taking standard premed courses. But somehow during my junior and senior years my motivation slipped away and I just lost interest. To be honest, I was having more fun with my art and drama courses than I was with my science courses. I guess I thought I had more time to get back on track. But before I knew it the MCAT examination date had come and gone – and I needed to take the MCAT to apply for medical school. Back then the test was only offered a few times per year leaving me no hope of taking it in time to apply for medical school before I graduated. And for the first time in my young life I had no plan. I had no answer when someone asked me “What are you doing after you graduate?” On graduation day everyone rejoiced and looked optimistically into the future while I was barely able to crack a smile. I had not taken any steps to create a fall back plan when I realized medical school wasn’t going happening. It took some very sage words from my older sister to get me back on track – but on a slightly different path. She was the one who suggested I consider veterinary school, pointing out that I had many of the prerequisites. And I was the only one in the family that liked animals. Trying to convince my parents of this career path wasn’t easy. They are from a culture where veterinarians care for farm animals and domesticated pets were not common sights when they were growing up. So they did not necessarily see veterinary medicine as a respectable profession. But, since I was showing more interest and determination in my new career goal than I ever did in becoming a physician, they supported my decision.

I mentioned I had some of the prerequisites but not all to apply to vet school. So I took a slight detour and started a Masters program in developmental biology. I could get the courses I needed and get some basic research experience under my belt to bolster my application. It was then that I discovered my love of science all over again. It was just the renaissance I was looking for to recharge my academic battery and get focused. All of my hard work paid off the day I received my acceptance letter to the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine. The angst I had felt on graduation day two years earlier was only a distant emotion replaced with a feeling I can only describe as winning the lottery. It was my career lottery. My parents were genuinely happy for me, even if they still did not fully understand the significance of this achievement until many years later. When my dad saw what my course load was like the types of things I was learning, he realized that he could relate to most of it. He is still amazed at the things I do and the level of medicine we practice on companion animals. Since I started this profession, my parents’ support has never wavered. They accepted the sacrifice of not seeing me much for the four years I was completing an internship and residency. And they have helped me move four out of the eight times I have needed to uproot for school or work.

Thinking back on it, I don’t think I would have actually become a veterinarian if I had wanted this since I was little. A veterinary career was simply never on my radar. It was ultimately an eleventh hour decision.  But from the moment I held that career lottery ticket in my hand I knew it was the right decision for me.