When I first began to pursue veterinary school seriously, my mom gifted me the beloved James Herriot books. As I flipped through the pages, I, like many others, began to fall in love with the veterinarian’s expeditions through rural England. Every day was different. Every day was magical. Veterinary medicine was exciting in those pages, and people that read those pages felt that excitement. The life of Dr. James Herriot DVM was a dream, and I began crafting the magnificent life of a veterinarian in my mind as I pursued the veterinary school acceptance. I probably cannot describe what a “dream veterinary career” looks like. I’m not sure anyone truly can. For me, sometimes it looks like rolling hills and visiting the sweetest cows. Other times, it’s saving the white rhino population. Other times I wonder if it’s being a veterinarian on TV and inspiring the younger population to pursue veterinary medicine because of how amazing my life looks on television. All of these scenarios flowed through my mind as a senior in undergrad, eager for the endless opportunities of the fantastical veterinary career.
What the James Herriot books don’t tell you is that veterinary school is actually not magical. There is a lot of dead animals. A lot of dead animals. You sit in class for 8 hours a day and study dead animals. Throughout the year, many of my medical student friends were confused why I didn’t enjoy practicing with dead animals. “What did you expect?” Well, not this. This was not exciting or challenging. It was kind of depressing. I could also see the excitement of veterinary medicine sort of drain from my classmates as well. The energy of the fall semester petered out with more people talking as if the days dragged on. We were the zombies of BSB counting down the days until the spring semester finished, and we no longer had to spend all of our time smelling formalin.
This past week was our first Turtle Team with Illinois Vet Med volunteers in Vermillion County. While I absolutely love turtle days (I’m not sure there is anything better to exist. Some people say having their first child is the best day of their life, but I think my best days will always be a walk through a field watching Boykin Spaniels leap through the grass), I felt a different sort of joy this past week. Monday started with many awkward hello’s and introductions, but by Tuesday, everyone’s heads were down searching for a patterned shell in the grass. Looking up from the iPad, I saw a spread of students eagerly searching the ground so that they could yell, “TURTLE!”. There is nothing quite like witnessing that excitement. A pending celebration of coming across a box turtle in the field. The sense of accomplishment of finally finding the subcarapacial sinus and completing a perfect blood draw. The feeling of participating in something that is larger than yourself. The magic of saving a box turtle. This past week made me feel like I was James Herriot. My English countryside was a grass field in Central Illinois. Veterinary medicine wasn’t only exciting to me, but it was exciting to everyone that was on Turtle Team. I always think about how lucky I am to be apart of this lab. Maybe my dream of veterinary medicine created in my teenage years was actually not as far fetched as I thought it was 5 months ago. I hope that everyone who pursues veterinary medicine spends their days like the Turtle Team does, for saving a box turtle is truly magical.