I want to know why, in a profession where 75 + % of the entering class is composed of women, all the veterinarian memoirs out there are written by men. Vet school memoirs are even more scarce. I find this simply unacceptable. All those doe eyed little girls out there want to know how it really happens, right? I’ve seen the class pictures plastered inside the dean’s office going back a bajillion years, and I guarantee it isn’t what it once was, back in the good old days. For a lot of reasons.
How do all those old guys write memoirs 50 years after the fact, anyway? I can barely remember how it was for me, and that wasn’t very long ago at all. I think the best approach would be to write it down immediately, before I forget and find myself, 75 and wrinkly, making up stories to fill in all the holes from my long ago past. “Chapter 12- the day I delivered giraffe twins in Old Ruddy McDermott’s calving stall! That’s just how it happened. Or did I just read that in a James Herriot novel? Dammit!”
I’ll tell you how it all went down for me, starting 11 years ago. Actually, I need to back it up and go even further back. 1993.
Back then, I wanted to be a doctor. I loved science, I liked problem solving, and my father declared that English (my second choice for a major) was “utterly useless.” So my choices were, engineer, doctor, or…well, those were the only choices I had thought about.
In 1993, I was a senior in high school. I applied to some top tier schools, some state schools, and one random small liberal arts college. In what is to be a recurring theme in my life, I kind of applied to that last one on a whim- my high school counselor, the affable, brogue-tongued Mr. Malarkey, was an alumni of Nameless Small Catholic University and always talked it up. It was close to last on my list of choices, but what the heck, everyone needs to apply to at least one random school. When the acceptance letters began arriving, I started to sort them out in order of preference and realism- Harvey Mudd, great, 30 grand a year, never mind…UC San Diego, check, UC Santa Cruz- why did I apply there again?… Nameless Small Catholic University, accepted, and…whoa- scholarship? For full tuition?
My father, ever the pragmatist, was not much one for organized religion himself, having suffered plenty as a child under the harsh rule(r) of Sister Mary of Beatific Beatings. That being said, as soon as he saw that letter he couldn’t talk that place up fast enough. Oh it looks great, small private school, think of the opportunity! So SCU it was.
I was a little leery about attending a Catholic university- although I was brought up Roman Catholic in Boston, I stopped going to church almost as soon as my family set foot on the West Coast in the 80s. It was just the first of many ways I would disappoint the East Coast extended family- no church, said “like” too much, didn’t wear socks, wore pants to a funeral. Maybe going to a Catholic university would convince them somewhat that I wasn’t entirely a lost cause. I had a lot of less-than-pleasant memories about my experiences in church, and to be honest I was none too thrilled about going back to an environment saturated with a philosophy I had long since shrugged off. But, the scholarship made it the most affordable option, even more so than state school I had assumed I would be attending.
At SCU I was surrounded by the pampered sorts of liberal arts college attendees who had connections and money, and didn’t really fret too much about the future since it was a given that they would be taken care of no matter what. I had no such delusions, however, so I spent that entire four years studying, doing community service, and running around accumulating things to pad my resume with so I would stand a chance at grad school.
Going to a Catholic university wasn’t as bad as I had dreaded. They had a church on campus and held masses, but they weren’t mandatory. Many of the professors were members of the clergy, but quite a few were not. I took ‘Religions of the World’ with a rabbi. Overall it was a pretty positive experience, with so many of the Jesuits there inspiring people to go forth and do good services, which we did. Then there was Brother Snickers.
Brother Snickers was the head of the biology department, a rotund little Dutchman with a nasally voice and piercing blue eyes. On the first day of Biology 101- aka ‘Weeding 101’ he stood at the front of the room and told us half of us would drop the class. He also told us that although many of us harbored dreams of medical school, we should just get over it because most of us weren’t smart enough for that. And stupid me, despite every evidence to the contrary that I was not “most of us”, I started telling myself I probably wasn’t smart enough either. Boy, that was dumb.
Of course, he was also the pre-med advisor. That didn’t help.
Brother Snickers’ asshattery was tolerated, even when it became glaringly obvious he had a not-so-subtle misogynistic streak. He was a fraternity advisor and often showed up at parties to hang with the boys. Those boys, especially if they were of the loud-drunk-stereotypical Catholic schoolboy type, got glowing recommendations and wound up at Georgetown med school, Loyola, you name it. I found out years later several of the MVP guys were incorrigible cheats and in actuality just as dumb as I had privately thought they were. But they had a mentor holding their hand, and that made all the difference.
As I was neither a member of his preferred fraternity nor a member of the greater fraternity of XY, Brother Snickers was no help to me. I had other wonderful mentors, fortunately- but they were PhDs and thought medical school was a waste of a good brain. “Get a PhD!” they extolled, one and all. “Being a doctor is soooo boring. Biomathematics is the new biomedical engineering!” And I toyed with the idea, accumulating enough engineering classes and high level math to get a minor should I want it, but it wasn’t where my heart was. I liked fractal equations and looking at mollusks, but I just didn’t have the right temperament for academia.
By senior year, I had amassed a great GPA (o chem notwithstanding), a year as a teaching assistant for freshman biology under Brother Snickers’ ambivalent eye, hundreds of hours of community service, an internship at the LA County Coroner, and no intention of applying to medical school. I had just then started to entertain the thought of a career in veterinary medicine instead. My mother reminded me of a conversation we had when I was 12:
Me: Hey mom, I think I want to be a doctor.
Mom: A human doctor? I would have thought you would want to be a veterinarian. You LOVE animals!
Me: Yes, but I could never bear to euthanize a dog. I actually think it would be too hard to lose a dog or cat, but I think I would be OK losing a human patient.
Mom: ….That’s an interesting angle to take. Don’t ever say that out loud, OK?
For my potential human patients’ sake, I think deciding not to apply to medical school was the right decision.
So- back to senior year. No one had any idea what to think about veterinary school. Brother Snickers could care less; his only expertise was in getting men into medical school. Unfettered by his dream-squashing tendencies, the women in my class went on to other health professions: optometry school, dental school, osteopath school, and me representing the animals. Since no one knew enough to tell me getting into veterinary school was exponentially more competitive than getting into medical school, I was too blissfully ignorant to allow my self doubt to rear up and talk myself out of applying. My marine biology professor and my mathematics professor, mentors both, wrote me great letters of recommendation to have on hand. I had missed the fall deadline for applying, so I decided to take a year off to apply, clear my head, and make sure it was what I really wanted to do. Oh, and I figured, I should probably actually try and work in a vet clinic at some point.
That was 1997. BS in Biology, a vague idea in the back of my mind as to where to apply, and I needed to find a job.
By the by, in 2002 Brother Snickers was placed on administrative leave after being arrested for possession of male child pornography. No joke. He didn’t have issues with me, he just had issues. Oh, was that a bittersweet realization.
Next chapter: My brief and terrifying foray into the realm of erectile dysfunction research. It’s a doozy.