“You haven’t worked in a clinic! What did you do before now?” a classmate asked me. I mumbled my way through an answer that skimmed the surface. You see, it’s rare to find a veterinary student today with such a hole in their resume as mine. My lack of clinical background makes me quite anxious these days and a bit embarrassed. So, I’ve decided to write about it.
Let me introduce myself: I’ve been a science writer, a firefighter, a trail-builder, and a horse wrangler. Before all that, I was a physics student at a small liberal arts college without a clue as to where my life would take me. In just under four years, if all goes according to plan, I will be a veterinarian. And when I stop to think about it, I wouldn’t trade my past experiences for anything.
As a science writer for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development, I learned to translate complex research, weighed down by scientific-jargon, into fascinating stories that non-scientists could understand. You know how there are electronic devices that you can speak into in one language, and they translate to another language? That’s what I did at EPA—I translated science to English. Now, as a veterinary student, I realize how necessary it will be to use this skill to communicate the goals and methods of veterinary medicine to a non-veterinary audience. Without the appropriate “plain language,” how can our non-veterinary colleagues and clients understand and appreciate what we do?
As a volunteer firefighter with the New Castle County Emergency Services Corps, I learned to confront emergency situations with a sense of calm and control. As a person of authority, you can become a solid foundation amid the chaos of an emergency. Hey, I’ll probably be doing that as a veterinarian too—providing a calm foundation during animal patient emergencies. I understand all DVM students at NC State’s College of Veterinary Medicine receive disaster training and are certified as emergency responders to help people as well as animals. My firefighting experience should be a big plus.
For a year I camped in back country Nevada on an eight-person crew, performing trail maintenance and other projects with the Nevada Conservation Corps. Have you ever cooked, worked, and camped with the same eight people for a year? Let me tell you, you learn something about teamwork and crew dynamics. There are great days, and there are days you want to rip each other’s faces off. But in the end, a small team can achieve amazing results. You do you your part supporting your team, and your team will support you—be it in the Gold Butte desert or in a local veterinary practice.
Which leads me to the horse wrangler position: I spent the summer after college working at a vacation horse ranch in Tennessee. Think “City Slickers” but a little less hard-core. One night, one of the ranch’s goats got sick. I noticed it was laboring to breath, and a short time later, it could no longer stand. I learned that nothing could or would be done for him. While the rest of the ranch crew, management, and guests went inside for evening entertainment, I sat on the dusty barn floor cradling a dying goat. I put a blanket over him and stroked his over sized ears to calm the little guy as he struggled to leave this world. What a feeling of helplessness! I hope that I never again encounter such a scene. But if I do, at least in the future I’ll have the background and skills to do something about it!
So it’s true I haven’t worked in a clinic and I know I have a lot to learn. Someday soon, for example, I’ll have my first chance at drawing an animal’s blood. But ask me about what I do know and what I have learned. While my perspective is certainly a little different, I’m ready and excited about what the next four years will bring.
Sarah Blau, a 28-year-old originally from Chapel Hill, NC is a member of the Class of 2017 at NC State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Blau will be sharing some of what she learns and experiences as a first-year veterinary student with readers of the CVM News Central Blog. Watch for these postings on a monthly basis.