May is the month for graduations and reunions. This week marked 30 years since a very lucky 100 or so of us became alumnae of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. Reuniting with my fellow classmates, it was amazing to find out what people have been doing with that great old veterinary degree of theirs.
Veterinary medicine is not a straight and never a stagnant path. Many of my colleagues have had more than 1 veterinary career, whether it be going back to do a residency in a desired field, working for the government or an institution, or volunteering in a 3rd-world country.
I, for one, practice small animal and exotic medicine but have also been writing for Petful for many years. As a journalism major in college, I never thought a career in veterinary medicine would circle me back to my earlier aspirations. Veterinary medicine has opened more than just an animal hospital door for many of us.
A Diverse Group of Veterinary Practitioners
Many people think the majority of veterinarians see cats and dogs, the classic small animal veterinarian. That is not the case. Many of my classmates have mixed it up quite a bit!
Reptiles and Raptors
Colleagues who wanted to see more birds, reptiles, small mammals and wildlife did a lot of continuing education on their own after vet school. It’s labor- and learning-intensive to build a practice dedicated to helping these fragile, complicated and wild creatures — but it’s very rewarding work.
Some vets specialize and only treat fish. In fact, one of my classmates is an expert in fish medicine. He says you need a sense of humor when telling people you’re a fish doctor. Famous in school for impersonations of horses with flies up their nose, I’m glad his sense of humor stayed with him to treat priceless tropical fish and other swimmies.
It was great to see the cow guys from my class are still tending to those bovine beauties. While I did an internship at the Philadelphia Zoo 30 years ago, the cow men were headed north to Saskatchewan in the middle of winter to find enough cows to work on. Still saving cows in Western Pennsylvania, they love working in freezing conditions, knee-deep in manure.
Penn has always had a very strong equine program. Horses from neighboring states are shipped to Penn for life-saving medical and surgical treatment.
We also have a world-famous neonatal intensive care foal unit. Sure enough, classmates who loved foal sitting in vet school are still up day and night during foaling season, delivering those amazing, wobbly critters as they are welcomed into the world. These dedicated equine vets serve horses of all amazing breeds and sizes.
All Creatures Great and Small
The country doc is becoming a rare bird, but some vets see large and small animals in a mixed-practice situation. A vital asset, particularly in rural communities, these dedicated vets echo the life depicted in the famous James Herriot novels and treat all things bright and beautiful.
Even my human physician friends are surprised at how specialized veterinary medicine has become.
Whether it be small or large medicine, veterinarians can continue on to an internship and residency after receiving their veterinary degree. Classmates have becomes all kinds of specialists, such as:
Colleagues working for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service serve a critical role in food animal health and welfare and human health. Government jobs also include working in public health, the environment, homeland security, and research and public policy.
Some of my classmates already had doctorates in related fields before coming to vet school. Others were enrolled in Penn’s combined VMD/PhD program. These amazing scientists combine their advanced knowledge in a specialized scientific field with a veterinary degree, making them highly valuable assets in many emerging fields.
Penn has always been known for its strong research program. I remember being in awe of these calm, meticulous, methodical brainiacs in my class. They have been tirelessly working in biomedical research to better our lives, and I am even more in awe of them today.
Learn more about the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in this video:
Veterinarians are uniquely qualified to teach at a veterinary school, in pre-vet programs and in graduate programs in the sciences and animal-related fields. I met classmates who have held important faculty positions at Yale and Columbia as well as the best veterinary schools in the country. Proud of our reputation as the oldest veterinary school in the United States, my classmates are carrying on the academic tradition.
All in all, I had a great time catching up with old friends and colleagues, trading stories about crazy vet school days and where life has taken us in the last 30 years. I don’t think many professional groups can say they are as totally satisfied as we are. Nobody complained of ever being bored in this fabulous profession or feeling unchallenged by it.
There were a few painful laughs about still paying off our own student debt when the college bills of our own kids hit the mailbox. But did anyone say it wasn’t worth it? Not a one.
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