What it Takes to be a Veterinarian: More Than Just Puppies and Kittens
Let’s face it, not many people think of Hamilton as the place to pursue a career in medicine. At least that’s how it was when I attended between 2010-2014. You’re told in high school that in order to get into medical school, you should pursue a strong science degree (or two!) at a reputable pre-med institution. But I truly believe my time at Hamilton College prepared me for veterinary school and medical practice far more than some of my colleagues from non-liberal arts backgrounds. I did major in biology, but I also spent most of my other coursework in the English department and my extracurriculars on the dance team and working in the Writing Center.
When applying and interviewing for veterinary schools, I found that the majority of medical schools aren’t looking for that 4.0 GPA in pre-med anymore. They’ve shifted their focus to admitting a well-rounded individual with experiences and drive beyond medicine that will make them a more innovative, empathetic, and communicative doctor.
So, you’re at Hamilton and on the right path. But what exactly is veterinary medicine? I went into veterinary medicine because well, I love animals! But it is far more than that. I didn’t decide firmly on my path to veterinary school until halfway through my Hamilton degree. I studied abroad in Tanzania and Kenya doing wildlife management research (what I thought I may do), but came out sure I wanted to pursue my DVM. Veterinary school prepares you to work with dogs, cats, horses, goats (my favorite!), snakes, bears … anything you can imagine! The degree allows you to work in a clinic, become a lab animal specialist, assist the government in creating animal welfare policy, be a surgeon, ensure the safety of the food we consume, track disease outbreaks, live abroad working on wildlife, and much more. For me, the decision was about the flexibility the degree provided and the impact I could make.
This amazing profession has endless opportunities, but it is also a lot of hard work. Veterinary school is harder to get into than human medical school and, frankly, the application process can be exhausting. Vet school was the most challenging four years of my life. At the end of it all, you can expect to work long hours — doing potentially dangerous work — carry a lot of debt, and not get paid as much as human physicians. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but I would caution those interested in the job, to do your homework. Get experience wherever you can to make sure veterinary medicine is the right fit. Talk to veterinarians about their experience, and look carefully at the financial commitment vet school will be.
I spent my college summers shadowing vets (some even for just one day) and took a gap year after Hamilton to work on a farm and learn livestock care while I finished prerequisites and applied. I attended Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine where I graduated in 2019 with my DVM, and jointly pursued a Master’s in Public Health which I am finishing now.
I currently work in northwest Pennsylvania at a mixed animal, 24-hour emergency practice. In a typical day, I see a kitten for its first preventative care and vaccines, triage a dog that just got hit by a car, perform emergency surgery on a goat, talk with the state health department about a patient with a potential zoonotic disease, establish treatment protocols for a cat in kidney failure, perform euthanasia on the family member someone has cherished for 15 years, and write a health certificate for the horse that is being purchased and has to move across state lines. It is rewarding work that challenges and excites me each day. I also get to be part of a rare group of people who all went into a profession simply to help others and make the world a better place.
I love my job, and I would love to share it with anyone interested in learning more! Please reach out if you have questions or are interested in shadowing.
Stay safe and healthy,
Andraya Cole, DVM