Many veterinary students will tell you they wanted to be a veterinarian since they were small children. Kathryn Gaub (Class of 2017) did not even consider being a veterinarian until she finished an undergraduate degree in premed and was working in biology research.
“In my senior year [at Eastern Oregon University] I did a premed internship in South Africa which was great, but I realized that being a human doctor wasn’t for me,” she says. “So I decided to take some time off to decide what to do.” She spent two years in Alaska working on crab boats in the Bering Sea, doing field work in biology. That gave her time to investigate and discover that she really wanted to work in epidemiology and specialized disease research. “I figured my choices were either a Ph.D. in epidemiology, or I could go to vet school and have a broader use of my degree.” She applied for veterinary school and started the next year. “I began vet school thinking about being a wildlife vet for Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, but that changed my first year when I got interested in public health and the correlation between human disease and veterinary medicine,” she says.
As one of the smallest veterinary colleges in the country, OSU has to be flexible and innovative to provide as many opportunities for students as possible. One example: With growing awareness of One Health issues, more students have become interested in non-traditional veterinary careers. While other veterinary colleges can provide more courses or hospital experience in fields like exotic species or public health, OSU had to take a different approach. Starting with the Class of 2017, students can choose a ‘non-traditional’ option where they have more flexibility in building their own curriculum. Those students take the same core classes but have 17 electives instead of seven. That is a lot of electives to fill so Associate Dean of Student Affairs, Stacy Semevolos, will help the students come up with a plan, but they have to be proactive to get the training they want.
Kyra Knutson (Class of 2017) began volunteering at Turtle Ridge Wildlife Refuge when she was in high school, and developed an interest in wildlife medicine. She earned degrees in animal science and microbiology before enrolling in veterinary college. “OSU doesn’t have a wildlife program and the hospital doesn’t usually treat wildlife,” she says. “I chose the non-traditional track because it was the best way to get the most experience in wildlife medicine, and network with people in the field,” she says.
Knutson built her ‘custom’ curriculum with OSU electives, preceptorships and externships. “I did an externship at the Wildlife Center of Virginia for a month,” she says. “The animals are not client owned so they can get you more involved. They had us positioning and shooting rads, and we were able to perform limited surgeries with supervision. I learned a lot about the different disease processes specific to wildlife and the different ways to treat them. It was really fun.” She also did an avian and exotic animal externship at the University of Tennessee.
But Knutson didn’t just drop into those learning experiences, she had to go after them ahead of time. Her advice to non-traditional students: “You are going to have to do a lot of investigation and ground work on your own,” she says. “It’s on you to find externships and rotations. That’s what is so cool about the non-traditional track; you are able to tailor your own curriculum. Just be sure to do everything very early. A lot of the externships fill up more than a year in advance.”
Gaub also had to be resourceful in building her curriculum. “There aren’t a lot of public health electives so you have to find your own,” she says. “The Center for Disease Control offers a 6-week epidemiology elective for veterinary and medical students. It was the best training for what I want to do,” she says. Gaub also found externships by networking. She advises students to attend lunch presentations on campus that interest them, and talk to the speaker afterwards. “I was just talking to Dr. Schurr, the USDA APHIS vet who was speaking in Magruder today. She is overseeing all of the marine shipping of animals and I might do an extra week with her.”
Veterinary medicine offers a broad array of career paths in addition to working in an animal hospital. There are many ways to find the right fit. “Get involved in student clubs like SAVMA; you learn so much about all your different options, and you meet all these different people,” says Gaub. “Get as much experience in different avenues as you can. There is so much to do in veterinary medicine.”