Veterinary School Interviews

My interview process for veterinary school was an interesting one. I was ecstatic to receive news I had made it to the interview process for a few schools, but never truly knew how to prepare. I took the approach that I would answer genuinely and honestly, and however that shook out would put me in a position that appreciated me for who and what I was. I *IMMEDIATELY* regretted that decision after my first interview.


I’ll spare the lengthy process of technicalities, but it was a Multiple Mini Interview where you read a prompt outside the room and spend a small amount of time freely responding to an evaluator that doesn’t interact with you. Often, the prompts have literally nothing to do with veterinary medicine, or seemingly anything else. Yeah, it was about as fun as it sounds. I remember during my first response, I somehow ended up sharing a story of how I was evacuated from a fire in Arizona that the origin was ultimately identified by the metal tags of the dogs that had been present at the fire site. …I’ll let that sit a moment… At a veterinary school interview, my first interaction was about pets burning to death. The reaction I’m sure some of you first had was similar to my evaluator – jaw dropped and quietly staring back at me. The evaluators are not allowed to interact with you, but after I realized what I was doing I had said “I… I think I’m just going to stop now.” And she responded “I think that would be best.” Ouch.


Obviously, that interview didn’t go well. What made matters worse was that it was with my home-state school, and was where I really wanted to go. I was pretty broken up about it afterward, but I had other interviews to focus on. Two weeks later I had one scheduled halfway across the country, but I couldn’t get past how badly I had blown that first interview.


Sitting in the waiting area two weeks later, I was surrounded by nervous applicants all making small talk to calm their own nerves. A humbling effort, as everyone is testing the waters to gauge how they measured up to the other candidates, and you find out that so many of your unique experiences are shared by 3/5 others in the room as well. The tension in the room was palpable, and panic was setting into the eyes of those around me.


“You seem awfully calm…” One of the faculty members said when he came out to check on everyone.


“Honestly, I had an interview two weeks ago that could not have gone any worse. I’ve seen how far down that rabbit hole goes, and I can only go up from here, which is oddly calming.” The faculty member laughed and tried to assure me it probably went better than I thought it did. If only he had known…


I was called into the interview room, and the panel was incredibly warm and inviting as soon as I walked in. It was instantly a much more positive environment, and helped put me a little more at ease. The interview was pretty standard, and I knew it had gone well based on that we had been deep into quality conversation for nearly 35 minutes when the interview was supposed to be capped at 15 minutes.  One question stood out to me though right before I had to exit:


“So I see that you attended Clemson University for undergraduate studies. How would you feel about becoming a (redacted) Tiger?”


I paused. I knew what the correct response was, but it would deny so much of who I am. After blowing that first interview, do I go with the smart answer, or with the one that puts my personality into the mix?


“Well, I would love to have the opportunity to attend (redacted) Veterinary School. But you know the adage about Tigers and changing their stripes…”


I looked at the panel, and saw nothing but smiles and and heard nothing but laughter. Looking back on that response, I think that it was a hugely pivotal piece of that interview that made me stand out as a candidate – entirely because I was willing to offer an insight into me as a person. What was even more memorable was how accepting the panel was of some personality, despite the answer being contradictory to their school spirit. It made me feel welcome and encouraged about attending the school for the next four years.


When I matriculated the following year, one of the panel members was an anatomy professor my first semester. I told him the story of that exchange, and he laughed and said that he had remembered that response and had made a note of “Loyalty” on his candidate form.


Once a Clemson Tiger, always a Clemson Tiger!


Go Tigers.


The Tail of My Best Friend


The summer of eighth grade my family was set to get a new puppy. My father’s dog was getting a little older, and we wanted to have another that would be able to hunt with his to “learn the ropes” and work with us a little better, as well as gain the social cues of proper family etiquette from his predecessors. Like any 13 year old, I was incredibly ecstatic to have a new puppy in the household even if he wasn’t going to be my own.


He came out of the car, and there was no mistaking him for a hound dog from day one. He had those incredibly long ears that dragged across the floor when he would walk, and would occasionally step on one with the swing of his stride, causing him to trip – literally – over himself, get right back up, and go about his ways. I held him in my arms and he was so calm and complacent, like wherever he was happened to be exactly where he needed to be. I instantly loved Augie with all my heart.


With no drivers license and living in a small community, there wasn’t a whole lot to miss out on by taking care of a puppy over that summer. I would watch movies, read, and play on the internet, but Augie was always with me wherever I went. I remember walking gingerly into our office from the living room as to not wake him and get on the computer, and half an hour later hearing him wake up and start wandering about the house. He eventually found me with those sagging hound eyes, sauntered under the desk and curled up with my feet. When I showered, he would follow me into the bathroom and wait just outside the tub for me to step out. For a dog that wasn’t supposed to be mine, we were absolutely inseparable. After a while, there was no use in claiming him to be my dad’s dog any longer, it was obvious who he had chosen to follow throughout life.


When he was old enough, Augie started coming out hunting with my dad and his dog, Olie, and myself. Olie was a great hunter – he was patient and methodical, held his points well, and retrieved to hand meaning that the bar was set pretty high for Augie. It was clear from day one that Augie was not going to be anything like Olie. He had so much energy and became side-tracked very easily that he truthfully got in the way more than he helped, often being too heavy-footed and flushing out Olie’s points. But he was a puppy, and the hope was that he would grow out of it. The next year I remember one day that two birds had gotten up and split in opposite directions, with my dad offering a plan to go after one and circle around for the other. I suggested that Augie and I take one, and he and Olie take another. Augie and I went off in search of where the bird had roughly landed in the tall rice straw, while my dad and Olie ventured off to find the other.


Augie may not have been anything like Olie, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a good hunter. When Augie and I split from my dad that day, I walked upwind hoping the bird would sail downwind for a better shot, and Augie moved quickly out in front of me. He quartered like a pointer is supposed to, but he just did it at a running/bounding gait. He caught the scent, and slowed down to a near crawl to sneak up on that bird, and pointed in the rice. I kicked it up and shot it, and to my surprise Augie was already in full throttle to retrieve that bird. Granted, it came back chomped to pieces (another of his bad early habits – thanks squeaky toys…) but he brought it back to me.


That was a huge moment in our relationship. It was a moment of autonomy to be allowed to go on a hunt alone, and also of the comradery I shared with my best friend. We had always played in the yard and house together and enjoyed our walks, but this was the start of something new. He and I were hunting partners now, and to a pointing dog hunting is a purpose; a business. He and I worked well together and formed a stronger bond over hunting that could not be taken away from us. He and I would rush out to the fields after classes in high school and just go explore together, hoping to find a pheasant but more than content to be outside enjoying the fresh air. I would later go off to college, and with Olie retired my dad had Augie to take out with him. While Augie would go pheasant hunting with just about anybody for the love of the sport, if I ever came home for the holidays and went hunting with them, Augie always listened to me primarily and would usually retrieve to me preferentially. He would eventually grow out of many of his bad habits, but he always worked at a faster pace than any of our other dogs and would creep up to a point from 50 yards away on occasion, but I still contend that he was the best pointer we’ve ever had. Though, I may be a bit biased…


College took me away from Augie. It wasn’t fair for him to come with me and spend his life in an apartment when he had other dogs and a big yard to play with at home. He was my best buddy, and leaving him for four years was not a happy four years – there are plenty of times that I wished I had him around. He calmed and centered me, and gave me a great positive outlet for when I needed one. I would spend the next few years after college bouncing around N. America for wildlife technician jobs that would keep him from being able to come with me. Some decisions have to be bigger than yourself, and as bad as I wanted to take him with me it would be selfish to do so when he had such a great quality of life with my parents and their dogs.


After spending some time doing my wildlife walkabout to find myself, my calling to veterinary medicine became apparent. I moved back home to start getting my shadowing hours to meet my requirements, working with multiple vets across my county to get as many hours as I could. I started appreciating so much more of animal health and wellbeing while at these clinics, but nothing changed at home. I would come back home and play with Augie just as I always did and treat them all the same.


One week, Augie had a slab fracture of tooth #208, which is the largest tooth on the upper left maxillary arcade. Essentially, it’s a common tooth to fracture for a dog that likes to gnaw on things like bones, but having 3 roots makes it a much more complicated procedure to extract. The vet that I was shadowing with in my home town took had Augie come in on a day that I was off, and took the tooth out. I took him home after recovering from the procedure, and kept an eye on him. He seemed sluggish the first day, and I thought it was likely still from the anesthesia. The second day, he was still pretty lethargic, and I thought Maybe he’s just in some pain, and the post-op NSAIDs will start kicking in to help him out. He’s a tough guy. Then I came home from the vet clinic on the third day after the clinic was closing, and looked outside to see Augie lying on the concrete and his abdomen looking more pronounced than normal. Alarm bells started ringing.


I called the veterinarian and explained what I was seeing. He told me that I could bring him in, but that it sounded like an emergency that his clinic wasn’t equipped to handle, and needed to bring him to the referral clinic in town. I carried Augie, all 125 lbs. of him, and put him in the cab of my truck and started driving. I called my parents, but couldn’t get ahold of them. I spoke with my mother first, who works just next to the referral clinic, and told her what was happening. In the room between the technician looking him over and pulling blood and the veterinarian coming in, my dad called me back and I remember explaining to him that Augie may not walk out of the building again. He left work and came as soon as he could.


The veterinarian had seen Augie as a puppy. He is a very kind and gentle man, quite aged now, but is the kind of veterinarian that you can pour all of your trust into that the outcome will be the best that it could ever be. He and I went into the back with Augie, and started an ultrasonographic examination at which point my dad joined up with us. The doctor described that he believed it was likely a hemangiosarcoma – a tumor that often originates in the heart but can metastasize to other places in the body, with the spleen being commonly involved. I had no idea what anything on the screen meant, but I knew the look on the veterinarian’s face when his hand paused over one of the areas. He explained that the spleen looked consistent with a ruptured mass that was causing Augie to bleed internally. We went back into a quiet room with Augie to talk about the options, at which point my mother joined us.


It was not a good prognosis. I can spew medical facts to you about mean survival times, clotting cascades that were impaired, surgical options and chemotherapy, but it summed up into a poor prognosis. Looking at my once defiantly stubborn hound dog lying on the floor unable to lift his head up told me that it was his time. My parents would not make the decision, they said they would back whatever my choice was, but that he was my dog and I would do best by him.


It was the hardest decision I have ever made in my life to let him go.


I still go back and forth about that to this day. Knowing what I know, and my skills I’ve acquired through school and practice – maybe I could have saved him. Maybe that veterinarian could have saved him. But what I saw that evening was a tenacious and noble friend that had his will stolen from him. I was there for his final seconds, and afterwards the technician handed me his collar as they took him to the back – looking down at his collar that only ever came off for a bath, it hit me that we was truly gone. I walked through the lobby holding his collar tightly in my hand, silently crying and refusing to talk with anyone, and into the parking lot next to my truck until I fell apart. I tried to breathe and couldn’t. An overwhelming, defeating combination of rage and sorrow overtook me and I punched the side of my truck as hard as I could – leaving a dent in the metal frame and a broken finger; both of which would stand as a reminder of that evening for years to come.


My best friend had been taken away from me.


I know that some of you may be thinking to yourself: It’s just a dog. If you find yourself thinking that, then I am sorry. I’m sorry that you’ve never had the experience of knowing why dog’s are called Man’s Best Friend. For not knowing how gratifying a game of “fetch” can be. For not being able to laugh at how ridiculous they look with their head out the window. For not feeling the excitement they have when you get home each day. For not watching their pleasure in wiping drool on you and slowly wagging their tail afterward. For not appreciating how happy an open grass field on a sunny can make you. For not knowing what it’s like to have an awful day and not want to talk about it to anyone, but just sit with your dog in silence for a while. I’m truly sorry.


Above the door in my apartment hangs Augie’s collar. Every day that I leave my apartment to go to my clinic, I get to look up and see the reminder of what he was – and still is – to me. A reminder of how helpless I felt during that ultrasonogram, with the fate of my best friend in the hands of someone I knew very little – but trusted unquestionably – and how my purpose was obvious from that moment on to help every owner and patient as though it was Augie and I in our last hour together. He’s my motivation to be a better veterinarian every day, and a reminder that each patient I interact with might be someone else’s Augie.


A Great Day

Today was one of those reinforcement days. A classmate of mine had a rough morning on our service, and when she went to pre-medicate the next patient, a very large Belgian Shepherd, he lunged and tried to bite her. She came back to the main desk to ask the technicians for help while holding back tears (we’ve all had these days), and I offered to go give a hand instead.

I worked slowly with him, and every move I made was a deliberate one. His ears were pinned the minute I unlatched the kennel and actively turned away from me, with wide eyes and quick glances back to me, hair raised. There were lots of factors that led him to lunge – and not because he was a mean-spirited dog but truly just in a horrible situation for his temperament. It took me a few minutes and a few confidence-gaining techniques, but I was able to get a slip lead on and move to a better environment for him. I worked with him for a few minutes back in a quieter space, and he eventually tucked his head into my chest and moved as close into me as he could – all the while shaking. We were able to very easily give him his injections and work with him the rest of the day to get his procedures done without any trouble.

I don’t mean this as a pat-on-the-back kind of story. It took me a – very – long while to really find what I love, even within veterinary school, and animal behavior is the most rewarding discipline to me. When I have free time and not studying, I often have an animal behavior book with me that I’m pouring over, trying to pick up tips on making my next interactions more favorable. Being able to empathize with a patient to make their visit as smooth and painless as possible and see them leave with a positive experience makes my whole day. With so many huge career decisions being made in the next few months, it’s hard to tell where I’ll be and what it is I’ll be doing – but I know that wherever/whatever it is I’ll always bring that level of empathy and compassion with me.

The Man In The Moon

When I was a kid, I always loved looking up at the stars. We lived in an area that had a mild amount of light pollution, but there were more than plenty to see. I would beg in the summertime to go outside and just look up with my family, and on occasion or if I had completed some chores, I was rewarded with all of us going out to the driveway in our end of the cul-de-sac home with lawn chairs and freshly made popcorn to spend time together outside. I’m pretty sure my sister hated every minute of it, but there was nothing more I wanted to do than to sit in my parents lap and just look up and watch the sky before bedtime.


I spent a great amount of time at my grandparent’s house when I was a young. My parents both worked, and my sister and I would ride the bus home after school each day to their house until my dad could come pick us up after work. My dad and grandparents (his in-laws) were always close, he would always sit down and catch up with them each night while they made a drink and enjoyed each others’ company. My sister and I usually were running around playing in the yard if it was nice outside, with my grandfather “timing” us how fast we could run around the house. If I ever have children, I’m absolutely using all of his clever tricks he used on us. We were always tired on our rides home from Ammy and Bop’s.


One evening, I remember it being colder in the back of the ‘92 Toyota Corolla on our ride home and my breath fogging up the glass as I looked out at the stars. My dad asked us if the moon was waxing or waning. I was probably 6 years old, and had absolutely no idea what either of these terms meant. After him explaining that at some times we can see more of the moon than at others as it “grows” or “shrinks”, I started thinking more about the moon in ways I hadn’t before. Why could we see more of it? And why doesn’t it move away when we move?


My dad started to explain why the moon doesn’t get left behind us when we drive, but after a few seconds I think he realized that the concepts of perception and distance were lost on a 6 year old. Instead, he went with some typical dadsplaining:


“The moon doesn’t go anywhere because it’s our friend that watches over us. When we move, the moon comes with us to make sure we’re ok.”


And I made a friend that night. The moon was no longer this foreign object misunderstood, but it was a closely connected friend that had been always there for me.


I still love to look out over the stars and into the sky at night. I’ll put on an old record I haven’t listened to in a while, sit in the chair on my deck and listen to the music through the screen door with a drink in hand, decompressing and letting my thoughts wander for a while. And though I’m thousands of miles away from my family and friends, it makes me feel a little more connected to my dad remembering the story he told me. Almost like he’s here with me, finding our path with the moon silently protecting us on our way.  

The Choices We Make

I can still hear my mother’s voice saying softly, “Make good decisions” echoing through my thoughts now and again. It’s one of her favorite lines, and it was the last thing I heard stepping out the door to go out with friends in the evenings growing up. Most of us brushed this type of advice aside as we went to go do incredibly stupid things with friends, but this saying always carried with me. Though never said in so many words, my mother was the champion of the idea that the decisions we make every day define us as a person, and always helped my sister and I to make the small decisions as children that would instill the value of making the right choices to back the more important ones as we get older. I believe that my good decisions have outweighed my poor, but that doesn’t mean I am infallible.


Sometimes, a bad decision can be the right decision.


For a while now, I’ve been mentally checked out of certain aspects of my life. That because where I am is not where I want to be, that there’s no point in making an effort to become involved in this world that I just sort of put my life on *Pause*. It’s hard to get hurt if you connect to very few people, places, and things. The good decision would be to avoid anything that might set roots down if you’re just going to be pulling them up in a year anyway, right?


Recently, I’ve started becoming more sociable, outgoing, and relaxed. It’s either the nice weather or the apathy of things that used to eat me up and keep me awake all night and either way I’ll take it. All in all, life has been incredibly more fun over the last few weeks. It made me reflect back on what I had been doing over the last months that had been different from what I was doing now, and realized that I wasn’t making good decisions I plainly was just not making any decisions at all. I had completely removed myself from making any sort of decision not involving school to ease my personal life of not having any negativity to the point it had become completely tedious.


So I made a bad decision. It was an awful, terrible idea from the start, and my best friend here even advised me against it, repeatedly, but I made it anyway. It wasn’t that there wasn’t a purpose of hope for it to work out, but every card was stacked against me and turned out exactly as you would expect. It was like standing outside a barn drenched in kerosene with a lit match, knowing what would happen if you set it ablaze but infinitely curious to see how it would happen. So many times I’ve put that match out and made the good decision, but this time I needed the flame to burn my comfort zone and bring me back to making decisions that may make me have to pull roots up.


The fallout still rings around me everyday and I know it will get worse over the next few weeks. I don’t regret it though. I’m reminded every day that I took a chance on a bad decision, but am proud of myself for even taking a chance. After all, the beautiful thing about chances are that while they may have a likelihood of burning up in flames, they also can become something much more profound and meaningful than you could have ever realized.

The Silver Lining of Heartbreak

Because not having someone to love is not as important as still having love available in your heart to share with others that may be needing all you can spare. While you wait for her, wherever she may be, don’t forget those around you and the burdens they shoulder as well. You have borne the weight of your own trials and tribulations for so long alone that you are strong enough now to lend a hand or a shoulder to those still finding their own path.


Find love in your choices, and hope that it finds you in return.


I can tell that I’ve been slipping, especially over the last few months. Slipping into a person that I no longer recognize, and a person that I never wanted to become. Veterinary school changes a person; some for the good, some for the bad.


For most who know me well, I’m usually sort of an enigma to pin down. I tend to keep people at arms length, generally to keep others in a zone that I’m generally harmless if you don’t really care for me to be around but not someone you immediately think of to spend time with. I don’t particularly care if others like me or not, but  investing myself in someone makes me nervous. Those that I call my friends (I don’t throw that term around loosely), I’m genuinely dedicated to being the kind of person you can call at 3 AM broken down on the side of a road and needing help and know that I’ll show up with a flashlight and tools as soon as I can. My friends mean a lot to me, and I’m very protective of them. I keep my problems to myself rather than look to others for advice or airing grievances – not because I wouldn’t love the opportunity for either, but that I don’t want to trouble anyone else with my own problems. The kicker to contrast my alter ego? I’m shy. Incredibly, incredibly shy. I have a hard time connecting with others because I play out conversations I would have with people I’d like to get to know, imagine the worst, and end up keeping quiet and reserved.


The problem is, that veterinary school has been so taxing that I’m realizing that I’ve lost a lot of the person I’ve always identified with. Like a river eroding away the earth beneath it, the stress has been ever-so-slowly carrying pieces of the true me downstream with it and leaving behind the qualities I despise. What once was my mask has become seemingly what is left of who I am.


Every so often, flashes of my true self come back when the stress alleviates and I get some clarity of what I have become – almost in a way like an epiphany. Today I spent the afternoon building a coffee table. I love woodworking, even though I’m terrible at it. When I was growing up my dad and grandfather were always so handy (okay, so mostly my grandfather…) with carpentry, and I remember many projects helping them. Today, kneeling in a friends garage measuring out the board lengths I needed and marking them off with a tape measure, using a square to make a level line, running a circular saw, and smelling the fresh cut cedar snapped me out of the fog I had been in for so long – that this was a part of me I had been missing. Getting a chance to work with my hands and see the finished product, using what I had learned from watching my family intently all brought back memories of my beloved cabin we had worked so hard on, a place that I haven’t been able to visit in over two years and is one of my favorite places in the world.


While to some this could have caused an even deeper slip – to realize how long it’s been since I’ve been up to the mountains, fished in a clear stream for native brook trout, seen my family… – but for me it was a reminder that not all of me is lost. It is encouraging that small things can pull me back into a world that I want to be a part of again, and that although veterinary school seems to erode away and alter me, it can never really take away who I am. And that gives me hope.

Pocket Watches

There is something calming about the sound of a pocket watch ticking on a nightstand. Something simple, but meaningful. This watch was crafted over 100 years ago, and though I know not who has owned it before me, it has outlived its original owner as it will tick away after I, too, am gone.

To some, the sound represents awareness of time passing that can never be gained again – a fleeting second counted against your finite predetermined total. I look at it more as an appreciation and reminder of the time you have left, and to enjoy the sounds and thrills and adventures while your watch is still ticking.