Naomi Peterson '97
Colorado State University School of Veterinary Medicine
From the moment that I read James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small on a summer backpacking trip at age ten, I have always wanted to be a veterinarian. To me it seemed the perfect combination of science, human interaction, and animals. One of the reasons that I chose Mount Holyoke was to avail myself of its excellent sciences and high percentage rate of graduates entering professional fields. I majored in biology and worked hard to keep the grades that I knew I would need in order to make the cut for veterinary school.
Two professors were especially instrumental in preparing me for the pathway ahead. Stan Rachootin, who was my academic advisor, senior thesis director, and mentor taught me how to learn independently. From him I developed the skills that I still use today when faced with a difficult case. When information isn’t right in front of you, where do you go to get it? Lilian Hsu, from whom I took the most challenging class I’ve ever had, biochemistry, taught me how to learn complex systems. In her course, I learned how to really study, an invaluable skill.
My first application to Colorado State University’s veterinary school was rejected, a heartbreaking experience, but I moved to Fort Collins after graduation, confidant that eventually I would win them over. I worked at a small animal veterinary hospital as a technician and a receptionist. It was the most important thing that I could have done; not only did I get a great deal of hands-on experience, I also learned firsthand how to deal with difficult clients. As a veterinarian you see people at their best and worst—and the ability to calm a grieving or angry client is crucial. Many people make the mistake of thinking that my job is always about animals. But no animals take themselves to the veterinarian’s office. Your people skills have to be as well-honed as the surgical skills you develop.
The four years of veterinary school were an amazing experience. I loved the combination of intensive academic environment and good friendships. There is nothing like being up until two in the morning studying for anatomy finals to bring people together. I spent my veterinary time in school concentrating on small animal and equine medicine. My favorite experiences in veterinary school were during senior year clinical rotations. We spent several weeks at a time on different clinical services, getting intensive exposure while being supported by the faculty. My very favorite rotation was equine medicine, taking care of ill adult horses, and foals that were born prematurely or had developed illness at a very young age. For some rotations, we got to travel to different locations to learn how to manage veterinary problems in cows, sheep, and other large farm animals.
After graduation from veterinary school, I moved to California to take a job in a small animal-equine hospital. I worked at Grantline Veterinary Hospital in Elk Grove for three years. On any given day I would go from seeing sick or injured foals, sewing up horses that had been injured, and seeing both well and sick small animals. Some of my favorite patients were Emma, a Chihuahua with a broken leg; Stuart, a Thoroughbred racehorse; and Roni a boxer with renal failure.
The hardest part about working at Grantline was the extensive call schedule. I carried a pager 50% of the time, and it really wore me out. It was really hard to leave the practice because of the relationships that I had developed with the staff and all the clients and their pets. But it was time for a change.
In July of 2005 I moved to a small animal clinic in Sacramento. Now my days are divided between small animal appointments and surgeries. I see puppies and kittens and counsel their new owners on the best way to take care of them. I see dogs and cats when they become injured or ill. My favorite patient at the new practice so far is Morgan, a cocker spaniel who ruptured his cruciate ligament. Every day brings new and unexpected challenges and rewards.
There is no doubt in my mind that I chose the best profession for me. I love the interaction with the clients, and every chance that I get to help ease the suffering of animals. I don’t know what professional path I will be on long-term. Some day I would like to own a veterinary hospital of my own. The next few years I will continue to get more experience and determine where I want to settle down.
My best advice to anyone entering the health professions would be to find people to mentor you. There are so many people who are willing to help you by sharing their own pitfalls and successes. Spend time cultivating relationships with your peers, because the people that you go through professional school with will be with you for your entire career. Human relationships are always the most important.