Getting into Vet School
During the senior undergraduate year–in addition to classes, work, and extracurriculars—students who intend to pursue graduate level studies need to start scoping out their educational institution choices, examining admissions criteria, and taking entrance exams. In my day, the Veterinary College Admission Test or VCAT was accepted by most veterinary schools, although a few were beginning to look at the GRE, or Graduate Record Examination. Now nearly every vet school requires the GRE with a few accepting the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test).
Likewise, most of the admissions criteria (i.e. classes required) for the vet schools were similar, although a few had some specific requirements that others didn’t. For example, I applied to all the vet schools in the Midwest, and only Wisconsin mandated a statistics course pre-vet. So I added that to my undergraduate coursework to keep my vet school options open. After being accepted to all three vet schools I applied to— Illinois, Wisconsin, and Purdue (in Indiana)— I ended up accepting the offer from Illinois because it was A LOT cheaper, being an in-state student, plus they offered me the Graduate Assistant-ship of my choice (research or communication) as the top applicant that year.
I had been involved in research for most of my undergraduate career so for a change I took the communication position which was based in the Student Affairs office. BTW a graduate assistant-ship means your tuition is paid and you get a small stipend in exchange for a certain numbers of hours of work per week. In this case, I owed them just 10 hours of work. After a semester or so I was transitioned into the CEPS office, which stands for Continuing Education-Public Service, also known as “Extension.” Here I put many of the skills learned in Ag Com classes to work writing press releases and horse health articles for owners. In addition, I helped host many conferences, symposiums, and meetings for veterinarians from the around the state, country, and even the world, as our department head was a world leader in swine medicine.
Thanks to spending a full four years as an undergraduate with a heavy course load each semester, I was allowed a “pass” on several of the first year classes such as nutrition and microbiology. First year was considered back then the time for learning “normal” structure and function so classes I was NOT allowed to skip included anatomy and physiology. The second year was devoted to the study of “ABnormal” with classes like pathophysiology and parasitology. Third year was our introduction to clinics, or, working with real live animals, with one of the all-time favorite classes being surgery. Then fourth year was spent on rotations. The entire class gathered one day towards the end of third year to participate in a lottery of sorts for rotations. The order of my fourth year rotations ended up being: Ophthalmology (still a great love), then Anesthesiology, followed by Radiology and the rest: Diagnostics, Small Animal Medicine, Small Animal Surgery, Ambulatory, Food Animals, and lots and lots of Equine rotations!
Fortunately, by third year and rotation-lottery time I had stuck someone else with the job of Class President, an office I campaigned for and was elected to both first and second years. Facilitating test day scheduling and avoiding calendar conflicts was one of the president’s duties, as was taking classmate grievances to the dean, making announcements to the group before class started, and in general serving as liaison between the student body and administration.
I also served as vice president of our student chapter of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (SCAAEP), organizing events such as hoof and dental workshops at the school, veterinary control at endurance and competitive trail rides, and the first-ever group of Illinois vet students to work the vet box at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day-Event. Having these experiences plus externships at equine veterinary clinics in Illinois and Wisconsin went a long way toward preparing me for practice, as classes and even rotations tended not to be very hands-on.
No story about attending veterinary school at Illinois during the 90s would be complete without a mention of the Halloween parties held in SOL (the Surgery and Obstetrics Laboratory), Vetscapades (a spring variety show featuring students and instructors), and the party at the Dean’s house each year. And, of course, the animals.
During the summer of my externship at Pin Oak Veterinary Clinic, our time was divided between orthopedic surgeries at the clinic, working the shedrow at the Quad City Downs (a standardbred racetrack), and visiting training and breeding barns on the way home. As we were driving back to the clinic one day, I heard a mewling sound coming from the back of the minivan. Perched on top of the vet box was a tiny black and white kitten. Once we got back to the clinic we called the last barn we had visited and of course they said they cat was ours now, “finders keepers, no givebacks.” I spent the rest of the summer taking care of the little guy—who we named “Frog” for one of the assistant trainers at that barn—feeding him and housing him but mostly de-fleaing him. August came and it was time for me to return to vet school, but something wasn’t quite right. I called the vet and his wife to see if Frog was still there and if it was okay if I took him to Champaign with me. They laughed and said they were betting how long it would take me to call for him! Frog-Kitty passed away in 2010 and there is a new cat now sharing our home, but there will never be a replacement for this quiet, gentle soul who got me through my work days.
Horse-wise, I remember sitting in the vet school cafeteria one day during fourth year and seeing my best friend fly into the parking lot and nearly run over a concrete bumper in a parking space in her haste to find me. I still have the note she brought me: “FREE 4yo gelding with bow.” To a vet student, FREE sounded pretty good, so I arranged to find out more about this horse (a Mr. Prospector-bred TB still at Arlington International Racecourse that bowed his tendon during a race a few weeks prior). It still sounded pretty good so I arranged to have him shipped down to Champaign from Chicago. “Distinct Leader” did not relish his new career as a dressage horse, but he could be a sweetheart, especially with small animals like baby bunnies. He went to greener pastures in the fall of 2011, and is once again galloping at full speed with his nose straight out in front of him.
Next time: How I Became a Vet—Part III: The Private Practice Years