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COLLEGE STATION, Jan. 27, 2004 - Future veterinarian Pat Ryan
looks at it this way: if she were a dog, she'd be 392 years
The 56-year-old Ryan is in her third year of studies at Texas
A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine, a highly
rigorous academic program for 20-somethings, much less a senior
adult. When she graduates next year, she'll be the oldest person
ever to receive a DVM degree at the school, Texas' only veterinary
While it's not uncommon for older adults to go back to college
to earn their bachelor's degree, it's extremely rare for
professional schools, such as law, medicine or dentistry, to have
someone begin his or her practice at age 57.
Ryan thinks it's great.
"I'm living a dream just being here and that's the truth," the
Houston resident laughs. "I wanted to be a veterinarian 25 years
ago, but a thing called 'life' had different plans for me."
Ryan has had a life of almost Forrest Gump-like scale.
At various times, she's been a highly paid fashion model who
walked runways from New York to Houston, a writer and editor for
Mademoiselle magazine, a flight attendant for Pan American Airways,
a former Junior Miss of Connecticut, a theatrical producer, a
public relations specialist for Neiman Marcus, an award-winning
charity organizer who raised $200,000 for the Houston SPCA (Society
for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), and her most important
role - a wife of 32 years and mother of two grown daughters.
In between all of that, she battled cervical cancer and was
hospitalized for weeks following surgery, which rid her of the
disease that struck in her mid-30s.
Like one of the felines she will probably be treating in a year,
Ryan has seemingly had nine lives - or at least lived nine
All students seeking admission to the College of Veterinary
Medicine are required to fill out a "personal statement" form,
which is more or less an essay on why they should be selected.
Ryan's began, "I've waited 25 years to write this essay. Like that
of the tortoise in Aesop's fable, the path leading to this moment
has been slow but steady, deliberate and determined. I bring a
half-century of life experience to the table, a background as
varied as a patchwork quilt and a resume described by a friend as a
'Renaissance woman gone mad."
Admissions counselors were hooked - she got in, but not before
taking three years worth of prerequisite courses, such as advanced
chemistry, physics and others. Ryan graduated in 1970 from
all-women's Smith College in Massachusetts, but her degree was in
theater, which is a tad different than doing emergency canine
She enrolled at Houston Baptist University and the University of
St. Thomas to get the required courses behind her, then three years
ago headed for Texas A&M's College of Veterinary Medicine,
which has an international reputation and the long hours of hard
study that go with it. While her architect husband Jeff, who has
degrees from Rice and Harvard and whose firm designed the Owls'
state-of-the-art baseball stadium Reckling Park, stayed home in
Houston, Ryan rented a house in College Station and settled in with
three dogs she adopted - sort of.
"The first year was very, very difficult for me," Ryan admits.
"Besides the course work, which is very demanding, I found out that
I just didn't have the stamina that these 22-year-olds have. I
found myself stressing a lot, but I was determined to get through
One big adjustment: computers.
"These kids grew up working and doing research on computers. I
didn't, and I had a lot of catching up to do," she recalls.
Fellow veterinary medical students, she admits, have been highly
supportive of her.
"At first, I had a few 'hey grandma' jokes thrown at me, but
overall, the students and faculty have been wonderful," Ryan says.
"I've come here to learn. I'm certainly not shy about asking
When she graduates next year, she hopes to work in a small
animal practice for a long time.
"I'm not about to go through all of this and practice just a few
years and retire," Ryan says. "I'm living a dream I've had for
decades. When I get that diploma, it's the start of my new career.
To be a veterinarian is the deepest desire of my heart, so early
retirement for me is just not an option."
Ryan, who proudly says that her silver-colored hair goes well
with her white lab coat, is proof that you can teach an old -
better make that middle-aged - dog new tricks. Anatomy class,
Angela G. Clendenin
Director, Communications & Public Relations
Ofc - (979) 862-2675
Cell - (979) 739-5718
Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas 77843
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