When people learn that I am in veterinary school their faces light up and they say, “Wow! Good for you!”
I live in a college town with an excellent vet school, so they assume this is where I go when they ask the next question: “Here at in town?”
This is the part I dread. I couldn’t figure out why at first, but I think it’s because of what happens next. I say with a broad unwavering smile, “No, actually I go to school in the Caribbean.” I pause, hoping they have heard of it. 99.9% of the time they haven’t. And the other percent has heard of it, and sometimes they’ve heard bad things.
Now you are probably wondering how I know the judging is happening. A lot of people ask me about school, and some of the braver ones then say, “Why didn’t you just go here?” I literally live in this beautiful town with a beautiful school and I have a house and a husband and a dog and I chose to go to a school 3985 miles away. It takes me 36 hours of travel to get there.
How do I describe this without being snarky? I can’t. I tried to get into veterinary school here in town. I didn’t get in.
Now if I just say that, which is the honest truth, then there is a question in your mind (admit it, you are human): “Well, if you aren’t good enough to get into school there then why are you in school? You must be one of those knock off vets, right?”
I cannot tell you how wrong you are. But it’s a simple judgment that a lot of people make.
Even the veterinarians I had worked with side by side for years made the same judgments. I have a very diverse background. I worked here and there and tried with all my might to be a good applicant. Eventually I got a job as a technician at a wonderful practice that took a chance on me as one among many college graduates trying to “get experience.” Those years are some of the best of my life where I learned what being a vet was all about (or so I thought… I’m still learning), made some amazing friendships, and had the opportunity to meet some incredible mentors.
I remember throughout all the years of attempted and failed applications to school they would always stand by me and say, “Next year, I know it.” As I was getting close to giving up completely I had one last bit of fight in me and I applied one more time. Even I was tentative to click on those Caribbean schools and spend that extra 300 dollars to increase my chances of getting into ANY school.
Looking back on that moment I even thought that the Caribbean schools were a little easier to get into. I sold the schools, and therefore myself, short. As the days ticked down I got one rejection letter after another until I received that email from my school.
I remember this moment very clearly. I had been obsessively refreshing my email for the past month knowing that I was about to receive word from my “last resort”. It’s kinda like fat pants. You buy the pants you know there is a slim chance of fitting into (pun intended) then you also buy those pants that are a few sizes too big but you know that you HAVE to fit into. It would be like if those fat pants didn’t fit either. That is the kind of disappointment I was facing at this point.
Anyway I finally got the email from admissions. DEAR MRS. ROOLEY…. (how every single rejection letter starts) I was too afraid to open it. I was sitting on my couch that day, binge watching Netflix, nervously fidgeting around and I just started sweating when I saw the email. Will these fat pants fit? I wonder. I send up a word. PLEASE oh PLEASE oh DEAR PLEASE. Click.
Dear Mrs. Rooley (oh dear)
We are excited to inform you that you have been selected for an interview…
I didn’t even read any more. I started to cry. No, not cry. Sob! I called my mom, still sobbing and through the gurgles. I did it! This pure elated joy came so quickly, but to my dismay also left just as fast. As soon as I got off the phone with my mom I thought. But, I wanted the skinny pants to fit… and this is where it started.
At the time I was just a newbie to the realization of getting into a difficult program, I didn’t realize the pure amazingness of this. Instead of reveling in the magic and the hard work I started to fret. I cared way too much about what people thought, even though they didn’t have that experience. And this just built and built over time.
The first vet I told was my absolute favorite and mentor. The response? “ Oh…” death pause “Wow. Good for you.”
Not the reaction I was hoping for. Maybe I would try someone else.
Doctor #2. “Oh, I knew I guy from a Caribbean school. He didn’t pass boards.” Oh dear… oh dear. Then I just decided to not say anything.
Far from the elated joy and embrace I imagined from these important people in my life, I felt very crushed and defeated before I even embarked on one of the hardest journeys of my life. I felt so judged, unaccomplished, second hand, and worst of all stupid. There is nothing that any medical student human or animal hates more than being made to feel stupid. So I had this weird disgruntled emotion about Caribbean schools before I even went.
And boy was I wrong. Everyone was.
One thing besides how to study that I have definitely learned in school is that I am wrong. A lot. Another thing is that this is okay, and to embrace this and revel in the fact that you are indeed learning and don’t know everything. My journey to this country is a whole other story, but to put it shortly; during my first term I was filled with so much support, courage, strength and surrounded by individuals of the same caliber I couldn’t be more proud of my school and colleagues.
Having this time to spend with Caribbean and its school I have pros and cons, just as any school.
The program is rigorous.
I know this because brilliant people surround me and we are all challenged by it everyday.
Many of us made it. Some of us didn’t.
This journey is definitely not for the faint hearted. I came to love my people and my school not only because of who they were at a core, but because of all the extra life experiences you get while attending university in a foreign country. It is all about the experience and how you as an individual make that work for you.
The veterinary community is vast yet small, and I have really come to enjoy that aspect of making connections, meeting others, and learning so much from other people in the profession. There is magic in the way that you meet someone in this profession, whether they are a veterinarian in practice for 20 years, new graduate, or a student, and there is always something to connect with. Each person is different, yet we are not that different at all.
So now when I am asked, why didn’t you go to school in the States? I answer, with a giant grin, “Why not?” I have learned so much about myself, I am incredibly humbled by my life on the island and I know that this experience is going to help me become the doctor I want to be. A kind, generous, compassionate, hard working individual that is ecstatic to have pants at all regardless of their size.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lo Rooley is a veterinary student beginning her second year of school at St. George’s University.