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Pursuing your dreams regardless of life circumstances

Opinion
Article

One veterinary student shares her journey and struggles into veterinary medicine and explains the impact of not having a mentor that looked like her encouraged her to be that person for others

WavebreakMediaMicro/stock.adobe.com

WavebreakMediaMicro/stock.adobe.com

Growing up, I was extremely hard on myself because I couldn’t keep up with my siblings and other children at school due to being diagnosed with sickle cell disease as a newborn. Because I grew up with an older brother, I naturally became a tomboy. However, playing sports became difficult and I started to overexert myself in most instances. A sickle cell crisis consists of fatigue, severe episodes of pain in extremities, dizziness, and migraines; it would leave me in the bed for days. Even so, I always reminded myself that I am just as capable as other children and continued to strive for what I wanted. I only started to feel like my disease was hindering me after I made the decision to enlist in The United States Air Force.After a few months, I was sent home based on a higher risk of severe breakdown of skeletal muscle caused by strenuous activity and environments. For the first time in my life, there was an obstacle that I could not overcome. It started to feel like I failed because of something that was out of my control and it was hard to accept; my body, at times, may not have performed as I intended it to, but my mind did.

Coming from a disadvantaged background and feeling that I wasn’t physically capable of achieving my goalschanged my perspective on what my success could look like. Higher education was consistently drilled into my head as the primary means for success, so I was determined to obtain a degree. However, I wasn’t feeling successful since my dismissal from the Air Force because I was relying on the armed services to help pay for school so I could graduate with minimal debt. Not only did I feel unsuccessful physically, but it also felt like I was fighting an ongoing mental battle. Over time, I started to see thesilver lining: nothing was going to stop me from pursuing my dream career.I contemplated what I envisioned myself doing in life and it began to click when I reminded myself of what I wanted to be when I was a child, a veterinarian.

I began working in veterinary clinics while pursuing my undergraduate degree because I wanted to enter veterinary school as soon as possible. I yearned for any experience that I could obtain and worked two jobs while taking the maximum credits each semester. In hindsight, this wasn’t ideal for my mental or physical health considering my health issues. Veterinary medicine can be mentally taxing at times, but I intentionally wanted to keep myself busy. I struggled with severe depressive episodes, processing conflicting emotions, and what self-care looked like. Unfortunately, the weight on my shoulders continued to pile and my mental health further declined when I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. My need to distract myself did not necessarily help during a time when I needed to prioritize self-care more. I didn’t comprehend the severity of my mental health issues until I landed in an environment that brought me immense joy.

Yet again there was a silver lining. The need to consistently stay busy wasn’t worth it anymore; I knew what my limitations and boundaries were. I also learned how to perform under different types of stress, be fully independent, and to not overexert myself. These experiences not only changed the trajectory of my life, but it taught me how important it is to ground yourself during times of duress. Experiencing hardship year after year not only forced me to find environments that brought me joybut allowed me to practice mindfulness, find a therapist to release pent up feelings, and begin using exercise as an outlet. This helped me to work on my mental health all the time, not only when I needed it most.

I was employed by various veterinary clinics and found these experiences fulfilling. I noticed that during this dramatic transition in my life, these positions gave me not only joy, but also provided me with a sense of safety, continuity, and community. I realized that going to work at clinics was not just an escape from my personal life and a means to pay for college. The fulfillment that I received from helping animals and working alongside expert veterinarians led me to finally understand that I wanted this to become my future.

Although I was grateful to finally have decided on a career path, I felt that something was missing: a mentor who looked like me and that I could relate to. Oftentimes, I was the ‘only’ in my undergraduate education and it would have made a world’s difference for someone to help navigate that feeling and provide support, advice, and wisdom. It also seemed that every hospital I worked at lacked diversity and it greatly upset me; the lack of representation suggested that Black youth either did not have the guidance to want to enter science, technology, engineering, and math fields or didn’t have the support to feel that they could succeed.

I was more than grateful to have other mentors in my life, but I yearned for a connection from someone who understood what it felt like to not only be Black, but also be a woman in veterinary medicine. Black mentorship is so important because it not only provides a positive influence, but it also challenges Black youth to strive for success, especially if they haven’t seen what it looks like or how to obtain it. In my veterinary career, I strive to be the leader and mentor that I didn’t have; it would have saved me from a lot of mistakes, but more importantly, would have guided me in the right direction during my journey.

Staying committed to my academic goals further fueled the course of my veterinary career. I started as a kennel attendant and climbed the ladder slowly from receptionist, to assistant, to technician, to surgical technician, to veterinary medical student. My journey has certainly been hard and non-linear, but I made conscious and consistent efforts to make sure that I told everyone who would listen that my aspiration was to be a veterinarian. I not only want to pursue a career in veterinary medicine, but I feel the need to because it was the one decision that I made in life thus far that made me get back up even after I was knocked down. This career path has forced me to look at myself in the mirror and push myself beyond my limits. I have finally decided to trust myself and stand firm in my decisions. Growing up, my mother told me to never let the fact that I suffer from sickle cell disease hinder my endeavors and success; of course, the adversity I endured felt like defeat, but neverthelessI persevered and succeeded. 

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