I did not always dream of becoming a veterinarian.
Amanda and Mocha
Photo courtesy Amanda McWreath
I did not always dream of becoming a veterinarian. Don’t get me wrong, I have always loved animals. I spent the majority of my childhood pretending to be Steve Irwin with every creature that I could get my hands on at our farm, but I thought being a vet meant working in a sterile room surrounded by white walls and shiny instruments, which just wasn’t for me (and still isn’t). Working with animals to me meant adventure, adversity, and the occasional snake bite, and by the time I started getting serious about school, that didn’t seem like a very realistic profession. My passion for animals was always a large part of my life, but for my career, I decided to pursue my desire to help people instead. I studied exercise physiology in college in hopes of one day becoming a pediatric physical therapist so I could improve the lives of children. I enjoyed my studies and internships and never had a doubt that physical therapy was a good fit for me as far as careers go – that is, until I learned more about veterinary medicine.
For me, it all started with a dog...
I feel like many veterinarians have a similar start to their “why I became a vet” story, but mine is a little different. For starters, the dog didn’t belong to me. Now, in my very biased opinion, I grew up with the most perfect dog. Her name was Abbey, which I proudly came up with all by myself at the age of 6 and refused to back down on when my brothers made other suggestions. She was that perfect combination of sweet, loyal, and sufficiently goofy that only a Golden retriever can be – the type of dog that all kids dream of having as their first best friend – she was my entire world. Abbey taught me to love animals, but she is the not the one that inspired my dream to become a vet.
The dog that got this whole journey started for me wasn’t hurt or in need of saving, and he didn’t belong to anyone that I knew. To be honest, I didn’t even know his name. I was just starting my second year of college studying exercise physiology and spending the rest of my time on the soccer field. I was waiting for the bus one day when I saw a dog in a red vest with the words that every dog lover like myself dreads: “DO NOT PET.” As I struggled to fight my inner desire to give that dog the belly rubs he so desperately deserved, I started a conversation with his handler and learned that she was a student in the service dog training program at our school. If there was a single defining moment in my quest to vethood, this was it. I instantly enrolled in the service dog training class in the school of animal science, and for the first time, I had my eyes opened to the field of veterinary medicine and the seemingly limitless opportunities that it has to offer.
This service dog training class taught me about animal behavior, human psychology, and the human-animal bond, and it gave me the opportunity to train a service dog to be placed with someone in need. I dedicated my next two years to training Mocha, an 8-week-old Chesapeake Bay retriever puppy, to change the life of whomever that someone may be. Little did I know, Mocha would change the lives of countless people in our time together, myself perhaps the most. Mocha went everywhere with me. We went to stores, restaurants, schools, and hospitals to challenge her in new environments. She became the unofficial mascot of the West Virginia University women’s soccer team (Let’s Go...Mountaineers!) and helped me teach people about the value of the human-animal bond. It was through this class and my time with Mocha that I realized I could pursue my two main passions in life within the same career. I could help people through helping animals, and for me, that would be a life well spent.
Fast forward a few years, a couple of degrees, and about 3,000 miles, and here I am at UC Davis reflecting on my first year of veterinary school and worrying that it is going too fast. I have learned about careers that I did not even know existed, held animals that even Steve Irwin would be jealous of, and experienced the power of the human-animal bond from both sides of the exam table. I am in awe of the diversity of opportunities available for me to pursue and have no idea how I am going to decide on just one, but I am grateful to be in a field that makes that decision so difficult. By no means am I saying that veterinary medicine is easy. In fact, this has been one of the most challenging years of my life, and I am assured that it only gets more difficult from here. It is no secret that studying veterinary medicine is hard, and veterinary medicine can be extremely hard on the people in the field. But for me, it’s exactly where I want to be: chasing dreams that I thought were too good to be true and coming up with new ones along the way. I chose this profession for what it allows me to do, and I cannot wait to see what it allows me to become.
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