Your brain aches from exhaustion and you’re guzzling down that eighth cup of coffee like it’s water. Bleary eyed, you push away those thoughts that are creeping in the recesses of your already occupied mind; yes, that is four cumulative exams that you have at the end of this week. You have piles of notes to go over, lectures to attend, and practice tests to take. How are you going to make it through? You’ve had a total of 6 hours of sleep in the past 72 hours and you’re sure you’ve hit your breaking point.
Then a soft, meek whinny escapes from the animal before you and all at once you snap to. Sleep? Who needs sleep? That is something for mere mortals and you, you are a super-human! You are a mother lifting a car from atop her trapped child. You are Thor, defending the innocent!
Seeing that premature foal taking its shallow breaths reminds you why you’re here, doing what you’re doing. You are a veterinary student and saving these animals is the reason you live.
Kelsie-Kei Rogers attended the College of Wooster and majored in Biology, graduating in May of 2012. She is now enrolled in Colorado State University’s Professional Veterinary Medicine Program and is dead-set on making a difference in the lives of animals everywhere. She took some time to talk with me about what it’s like being in veterinary school, how she became interested in the profession, and why just “loving animals” is not enough to get you through the program.
Can you tell me a bit about Colorado State University’s Professional Veterinary Medicine Program?
I am a second year in the program. It’s a four year program—two years of classroom studies (biomedical veterinary sciences) and two years of clinical work and rotations in the world-class CSU veterinary teaching hospital. We graduate as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) and may then choose to complete internships or residencies in various specialities.
What was your application to this program like?
Not too bad. The hardest part for me was deciding what schools to apply to (I’m a little indecisive… and by a little, I mean a lot!). There are only 28 schools in the country, so I didn’t have too many options. Different schools are known for their different specialities. Having no idea where I wanted to go with vet medicine, I had no idea where I wanted to go to vet school!
Other than that, it was very similar to the college application process. Besides completing the prerequisite courses, you need to take the GRE, get some clinical veterinary experience, have great letters of recommendation, and a darn good reason why you want to go to vet school.
Grades are important, yes, but I personally feel like your essay and letters of recommendation go a whole lot further than grades and GPA. Admissions committees want to know WHO you are and why you deserve to be there. Vet school is no easy feat and they want to make sure that they’re selecting people who are going to succeed.
So, why did you want to become a vet?
Unlike many vet students, I didn’t know from the time I was little that I wanted to be a veterinarian. I’ve always loved animals and have been passionate about animal welfare and rescue. I actually wanted to be a “poacher-stopper” when I was five…
But I honestly didn’t think I could handle the not-so-pretty aspects of veterinary medicine, like surgery (gross!) and euthanasia (way too sad).
My change of heart came the summer of 2011. I was in Puerto Rico doing research for my senior thesis and I got very involved in the stray dog problem down there. I had actually taken in two dogs off the streets with plans of bringing them back to the States with me. Unfortunately, there was a huge distemper outbreak a few weeks before I was set to fly home and they had to be euthanized. Those were the first animals I’d ever had to put down. It was on my 21st birthday and I was heartbroken.
I knew there had to be more that I could do. These animals were being thrown out onto the streets when people got bored of them or when they became old, pregnant, and no longer “cute.”
I felt powerless. I could only raise so much money. I could only get so many animals adopted out to homes in the States. I could only feed so many dogs on the streets and only for so long. I could organize spay and neuter clinics, but only offer as much service as I could get from volunteers, techs, and veterinarians.
It was at that point that I realized I wanted to do more. I wanted to be more for these animals. I wanted to be in a position where I could help reduce the stray populations and educate people. I wanted to be able to provide care and treatment for these animals. I wanted to be a vet, and I was going to make that happen.
What are your favorite parts about veterinary school?
We have, hands-down, the most incredible faculty. I have never worked with professors who are so passionate and enthusiastic about the material they teach. They are world-renowned neurologists, researchers, and clinicians—and yet are so humble about what they do. Each and every one of them feels like a mentor, treating you not as a student, but as a future veterinarian and peer. They are there to guide you and help you grow and they cheer you on every step of the way.
These individuals are invested in what they do and are doing what they love. It makes a world of difference to learn from these kinds of people.
I’m also working with and learning about animals that I have never touched before and it’s amazing! The opportunities that we have as students are incredible. And there are no limits. Want to learn how to clicker train your cats? Of course you do. Castrate an alpaca? Heck yes! Perform a physical exam on a cow? Why not? Ultrasound your own dog? Oh, the life of a vet school dog. Bottle-feed newborn lambs?! Come on… baby animals + bottle feeding = TOO CUTE.
What are the biggest challenges about being in veterinary school?
Balance. If you don’t make it a priority to make time for your life, you will literally have no life outside of vet school. There is constantly so much work, so much to learn, so many tests to study for, so many opportunities to take advantage of. If you don’t take a step back and remember to make time for yourself and your life, you will be consumed by vet school.
It’s great to study and learn (and trust me there is plenty of that) but it’s important to remember that life exists outside of school. I want to be able to go for a walk and not feel guilty that my nose is not in the books. I want to take my pup to the park and enjoy the fall weather before we are buried in snow. I want to make time for my friends and family and let them know how important they are to me!
What are you doing outside your studies to prepare you to be a veterinarian?
I’ve been truly fortunate to get involved with two of the things I love most in veterinary medicine: wildlife conservation and volunteer work in underserved areas.
This summer I traveled to South Africa for a wildlife conservation and immobilization course. I attended lectures by renowned wildlife veterinarians and got to work hands-on with rhino conservation and anti-poacher movements.
I also traveled to Costa Rica and Nicaragua with an organization called VIDA, where I was able to provide free veterinary care to rural and underserved populations. We provided spay and neuter services as well as general health checks and parasite treatment to dogs, cats, horses, cows, and pigs.
Back in the States, I’ve gotten involved more locally with spay and neuter clinics in underserved areas of Colorado. We provide general health care, parasite treatment, and vaccinations as well. It is so rewarding to know you are making a difference… even if it’s just in the life of one animal.
What advice do you have for students who want to become vets?
Figure out who you are, what you’re passionate about, and what makes you tick. It won’t cut it just to “love animals.” Millions of people “love animals,” and that doesn’t mean they’re cut out to be vets.
When the going gets tough, when you’re up at three in the morning monitoring a premature foal in the hospital, taking 26 credits, haven’t slept in days, and have four cumulative exams in one week, dealing with crazy, screaming clients, trying so hard and going through so much to save an animal and then losing it, WHAT is going to drive you? What is going to make you smile when you’re on the verge of a breakdown and what is going to remind you why you’re here? Why are you in vet school?
I warn you, this is not a profession for the faint of heart! But if it is what you’re truly meant to do, boy is it worth it!
Homework time: Think you want to become a vet when you grow up? Take into account everything that Kelsie-Kei describes and decide whether it is something you can handle. Try to figure out what type of veterinarian you’re interested in becoming. Since most schools have a special focus, and because it’s important to express in your application essay why you want to go to that school, it’s really important to know what you want and why you want it.