As part of ValuePenguin’s Future of Veterinary Care series, we will be interviewing students across the nation’s pre-veterinary and veterinary programs to learn more about their experiences and paths towards becoming certified veterinarians.
Jennifer Livesay is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine student (Class of 2014) at the Oklahoma State University College of Veterinary Medicine. We recently caught up with Jennifer to discuss her experience at Oklahoma State and why her transition to the veterinary field has been so life changing.
What influenced you to pursue a veterinary program?
I’ve known I was interested in Biology since I was very little, but unlike many of my peers, I didn’t decide I wanted to be a vet at that point. I intended to pursue a career in genetics laboratory research, so in college I secured a position as a research assistant in a fungal genetics lab. I worked in that laboratory for about a year before I finally realized that the slow repetitive process of research was not for me. I wanted to see a more immediate positive impact from my work. I sat down with my mother to discuss options, and it was actually her that suggested I consider becoming a veterinarian. As soon as she mentioned it, something inside of me jumped up and down in excitement. Within a month, I transferred schools and obtained a job in a veterinary hospital. I have never regretted that decision. In this field I have found a sense of satisfaction, fulfillment, and family.
Why should other students consider a focus in Veterinary Medicine?
Students should consider a career in veterinary medicine if they enjoy problem solving and detective work. In veterinary medicine, our patients cannot speak to us in words. The veterinarian must learn to conduct insightful interviews with the owners, to observe and read animal body language, and to use strong deductive reasoning and rational application of tests to figure out what is going on and the best course of action for the animal’s health.
What has been your experience with Veterinary medicine at your college?
My experience with veterinary education at Oklahoma State University has been excellent. I have had the privilege of learning from some excellent professors who are passionate about veterinary medicine and teaching. I’ve learned how to hypnotize a chicken, perform a proficient physical exam, spay and neuter animals, and a myriad of other skills. I have fantastic classmates who collaborate to help us all succeed and are actively supportive of each other. If one student is struggling, someone else chips in to help and/or offer support. Despite being a class of 90 students, we’re a fairly close-knit group. This camaraderie comes from joint struggles and accomplishments, joys and sorrows. This is not the case in every vet school or every class of veterinary students, and I consider myself very fortunate to have been a part of this extraordinary group of people.
Please share and describe your best experience working with animals.
I have worked as an assistant at a veterinary emergency hospital for several years, and my best experiences working with animals come from my time there. I can vividly recall many patients who came in critically ill but were successfully treated and sent home to grateful owners. Specific instances that spring to mind include a repeat-seizing Boston Terrier, a diabetic cat, a heat stroked Belgian Malinois, and a tiny Miniature Pinscher that had parvo. The Min Pin actually belonged to a friend of mine who has an autistic son. They had just picked out this precious little puppy to be “his dog” a few days before. My friend was terrified that she would have to tell her son that his puppy wasn’t going to make it. Several days of intensive hospital care later, however, we were able to send a happy healthy puppy home with her. I see periodic Facebook pictures of her pup, and it brings a smile to my face every time to know that I was part of a team that allowed this little dog to become a spoiled beloved family pet.
Have you participated in any volunteer or veterinary internships?
I have participated in three veterinary externships and had a positive experience in all three of them. Most of the supervising veterinarians enjoyed teaching. Several of them sat down with me and talked me through cases they were currently seeing or had recently seen. I was encouraged to research topics related to these cases, and when I came back with questions we would talk through those. I would highly recommend externship experiences to anyone looking to strengthen their skills.
Please share an interesting or little-known fact you’ve learned about animals.
Gerbils sleeping positions vary with the temperature. If the temperature is above 86° F they tend to sleep on their backs with their legs in the air. If the temperature is 77 °F they lie on their side. If the temperature is below 77 ° F they will sleep with their head tucked between their rear legs.
What are the latest developments or trends in veterinary medicine?
I have noticed several trends in veterinary medicine recently. “Alternative” therapies such as acupuncture and physical therapy are being increasingly utilized in veterinary medicine. There are several programs where veterinarians can receive advanced training and certification in veterinary acupuncture, and there are multiple veterinary physical rehabilitation certifications available as well. Veterinarians are increasingly using advanced imaging techniques (such as CT and MRI) in addition to x-rays and ultrasound to obtain advanced diagnostic information by non-invasive means. Laparoscopic surgery is also being increasingly utilized to perform surgical procedures in a minimally-invasive manner. Finally, veterinary ophthalmology has become an area exploding with advancements. Did you know that veterinary ophthalmologists can now perform cataract and lens replacement surgery on your dog?
What are your future aspirations and career plans?
I would of course like to graduate with my DVM, and following this I plan to complete a one-year internship for advanced training. My areas of interest include emergency medicine, ophthalmology, and community practice. After a few years of working at an established hospital, I would eventually like to purchase my own veterinary practice. I also believe that volunteering in the community is important. I know that I have many times received help from others, and I believe it is important to give back. I would like to use my specialized veterinary skill set to provide care for rescue animals in need and to assist organizations providing care for animals of low-income families.
Anything else you’d like to share?
There has been increasing concern over the past couple years about rising student debt and a possibly over-saturated market of graduating new veterinarians. Our national economic situation has also raised concerns about the long-term viability of many veterinary practices due to veterinary care being perceived by some as a “luxury” purchase. These issues certainly require careful consideration. Veterinary medicine is a passion field, and I definitely encourage anyone considering a career in this field to pursue it if this is where their heart lies. Once a student enters veterinary school, there is a wealth of medical information to learn. It requires a lot of hard work and time, but I would encourage you to make time amongst your studies to also learn about the business aspects of veterinary medicine. If veterinarians are not able to afford to keep their practices open, there will not be anyone to care for all the pets in need. And for all the pet owners reading this, please remember: veterinarians as a general rule do not become “rich.” We spend decades struggling to pay off high student loan debt while still making pet care affordable to you. One of the cruelest things a client can say to a veterinarian presenting them with a financial estimate for care is that we don’t care about your animal and are just in it for the money, but this is surprisingly common. If you appreciate your veterinarian and their care for your animal, please take a moment to thank them. It is the moments like this that make our job worthwhile.