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Fall 1998 Vol.22 No.4
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Dr. Ted Valli(picture)

  Winding Road Led Me to Veterinary Career

by Dr. Ted Valli

There's a certain type of person—maybe you know one, or maybe you are one—who dreams at a very early age of becoming a veterinarian and who holds on to that dream and makes it come true.

Whenever the College exhibits at public events, from state fairs to the IKC show, we inevitably encounter parents with their teenager in tow who say "Sally has wanted to be a veterinarian since she was 5 years old" or "Johnny decided in kindergarten to be a vet."

I was not one of those people.

Though we may have come to this field by different paths, at some point we all observed in veterinarians a spark, a love for what they do. We share that love. It is in part what we are celebrating in our 50th anniversary gala.

There's another group of veterinarians whose career path is influenced by having a veterinarian in the family. See the list on page 5 that documents a number of those instances in Illinois annals.

I was not one of those people, either, as you will see.

My own career path was shaped, in fact, by a combination of personal injury, family circumstances, and a preference for challenges.

I grew up with animals. My father managed a ranch with 2,000 sheep and a lot of border collies. Later we lived on a dairy farm. Those experiences—including being drawn by curiosity to extract the fetuses from ewes that had died in a blizzard and wishing I could have prevented or helped a painful and unsuccessful calving that ended with the cow being put down—shaped my interests.

I was a high school dropout, but completed the university entrance requirements through correspondence courses. In 1953 I graduated at the top of a one-year "finishing school" for young farmers.

Then my personal introduction to medicine: I nearly died from a gunshot wound. If I hadn't presented an "interesting case," an orthopedic surgeon from Calgary probably wouldn't have bothered driving 120 miles at night on bad roads to operate on me. That and 30 units of blood saved my life.

This injury also made me reconsider the physical demands of following in my father's footsteps and making a life on the farm. Instead, I decided to study agriculture further at a university that had recently revamped its curriculum with a heavy grounding in science—so well grounded, in fact, that two-thirds of the class failed the first year. Surviving that experiment firmly ignited in me a lifelong love of science and also made me realize that I could succeed in any university program.

As a student I worked as a Weed and Rat Inspector for the government. It didn't take long before I realized that those who had been Weed and Rat Inspectors for some time did not appear to enjoy their work. I looked elsewhere for a challenge and found that veterinarians had fascinating challenges and appeared to like what they did. My family discouraged me from that career path because the only school was 2,000 miles away in Ontario. But difficulty in gaining admission only made me want it more firmly—that was another part of the challenge.

I can honestly say there was not a single course in veterinary school that I didn't enjoy. After graduation I went right back to my hometown and started my own practice; I built a new clinic and hired within four years two more veterinarians.

Then I had another cause to reflect on careers: a cow I was trying to move turned out to be stronger than I was. While I was flat on my back recovering and again faced with physical limitations on my career, I decided to get a graduate degree. At this point in my professional life, mentors and friends played a large role in which school and which discipline I chose. Since for a clinician the pathologists always have the last word, I chose that field. I studied both clinical and anatomic pathology and loved every job I undertook in graduate school.

Though my family didn't influence me to choose veterinary medicine, I served as a role model for my children. My daughter completed a DVM and a master's in toxicology and now works in industry after a period in practice. My elder son is a nuclear engineer (he applied but didn't get in to veterinary school!), and my younger son is a PhD candidate conducting research on the immunodeficiency virus.

During the recruitment program here in February I met a young M.D. who had recently quit a residency in radiology to apply to veterinary school. Why? Because the people she observed working in human hospitals did not appear to like their work, whereas the people she saw working in veterinary medicine loved what they did.

Though we may have come to this field by different paths, at some point we all observed in veterinarians a spark, a love for what they do. We share that love. It is in part what we are celebrating in our 50th anniversary gala, and what we mean by the "heart, vision, voice" of 50 years at Illinois.

I hope I will see each of you at the April 10 Open House, symposium, and banquet, and that you will spread this spirit and spark of love for our chosen career with upcoming generations of veterinarians.

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