Vet School and Day Care

As the first semester of veterinary school comes to an end, leading to a much-needed break from the seemingly endless onslaught of tests and deadlines, I’ve taken a few breaks to reflect back on the semester and evaluate things.

Which study methods worked for me? Which ones certainly did not? What did I learn from this semester that I can carry into the spring and use going forward so that maintaining a balance between school and life isn’t so difficult in the future?

Certainly, maintaining that balance has become a huge aspect of preventing burnout among my classmates. Everyone seems to have found something outside of school that allows them to decompress and focus their minds. For everyone, it seems to be something different.

It’s obvious that in order to succeed in this program, it is important to take time away from the program, as backwards as that may sound.

Some of my classmates spend time with their pets (other than using them for palpation and physical exam practice) while others focus on exercise or hobbies. It may even be an activity such as sitting in a quiet place alone for 20 minutes. Anything to relax and reset your mind, so you can continue on and push forward.

For me, the escape I need to stay motivated has come in the form of my 2-year-old daughter, Camila.

Normally my wife is the one who picks her up from daycare in the afternoons, but when I’ve had a long day or I can feel the stress building, I let my wife know that I will be picking her up on that day, which saves her the trip on her way home from work.

When Camila sees me walk into her classroom, the reaction is always the same. She will instantly drop whatever toy she is playing with or game she is part of and yell with excitement, “Daddy!”

This reaction is exactly what I look forward to, and it is the quickest way for me to forget whatever is stressing me out or what exam I could have done better on. At that moment, just seeing her light up with excitement is the only thing that matters.

We collect her things and get in the truck while I start asking her about her day and what she did. Most of the time her response is some new song she learned or telling me about a book she read. It really doesn’t matter what she says, as long as I get to listen.

From there we go to a park, stop for ice cream, or sometimes just drive around for a few minutes before heading home for the evening.

Once we get home, it is back to business as usual, which usually consists of studying for me and dinner and a bath for her. She doesn’t know it, but the time it takes us to get home from daycare is the time I use to recharge and remind myself what’s really important.

I may have many motivations for deciding to come back to school to pursue a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree, but one of my greatest motivations doesn’t even know how to tie her shoes yet.

Halfway There

I’m almost halfway done with my second year of veterinary school and it’s still absolutely flying by!

This semester, we officially started learning about one of horse-lovers’ favorite (and most frustrating) examination to perform—that for equine lameness.

We had dabbled in lameness exams last semester as an introduction, but when I saw all of the equine lameness exam lectures and labs on the course syllabus and realized that we’d be getting into the details and the how-tos of the exam this semester, I was ecstatic, even though I know they can get tricky and take a long time to truly master.

Equine lameness exams are almost like an art form. As a (hopeful) future equine veterinarian, this is a skill I know I will need to be great at. So, every week that there’s a lameness lecture or lab is my new favorite week, as they become more and more advanced.

With some of our previous lecture subjects, there have been some about which I remember thinking, “oh boy, not this again;” however, my continued excitement for lameness exams confirms that I’m on the correct career path, since I’ve always wanted a job that I would be excited to go to everyday.

Even though at the beginning of the semester some of the practice cases shown in class were frustrating to get, seeing my skill, and my confidence, in these exams growing has been so rewarding.

And the best part? I get to take a whole class next semester over equine lameness and rehabilitation.

I truly can’t wait.

Where has the Semester Gone?

We are just about to finish our 11th week of veterinary school, which means we only have four weeks left until finals! It feels like just last week that we were at orientation.

Veterinary school has been an endless cycle of going to class every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and then going home and studying.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed with the amount of information that is thrown at us each day, but it’s important to keep your eye on the “prize”—all of that information has been helping me improve and learn the skills I need to become a doctor.

Hands-on learning through “live-animal labs” have been my favorite thing in veterinary school so far because we get to apply everything we have learned in the classroom. During live-animal labs we practice skills such as learning how to listen to the heart and lungs and how to look at the eyes, ears, and mouths of dogs, cats, horses, and cows. In the spring, we will learn how to give physical exams to each of these species!

These hands-on days really help me remember why I am sitting in a classroom for eight hours every day.

Another thing that has been really helpful is semester is having a second-year mentor. Being able to reach out to someone who was in my position last year and ask them questions has been really amazing.

The mentors are there to be a person to whom you can turn and who can help answer questions you might not want to ask anyone else.

I think that it is important for all of us to take a step back at times and remind ourselves why we are here and what the end goal is—becoming a veterinarian, and we are four weeks away from being one semester closer to that goal!

Connections for life

In the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, we are committed to the success of each individual who enters our program.

We have many programs implemented to ensure that our first-year veterinary students, especially, feel welcomed and engaged starting even before they arrive on campus.

I have the unique opportunity as the vice president of the Class of 2022 to oversee the Mentor/Mentee, or M&M, Program. This is a program in which second-year veterinary students volunteer to serve as mentors for first-year students.

The program is very informal and is meant to give participating first years a chance to meet another student who had made it through the first year of veterinary school and can give meaningful advice.

Often a mentor is simply a friendly face in the sea of unknown that students often find themselves in that first semester.

The program involves typically a cookout, a few “good luck” gifts throughout the semester, and an encouraging message every now and then.

This past week, we had a M&M Pizza Party in which all of the mentors and mentees were given pizza and a set aside lunch hour to just chat.

After helping serve the pizza, I walked outside and was blown away by the incredible community I could see happening around me. Students were supporting one another, giving advice, asking questions, and just enjoying one another’s company.

Veterinary school is a unique environment because everyone around you is not just a classmate but a future colleague.

The connections we make in veterinary school don’t end when we cross that stage or move out of College Station; they will follow us throughout our careers. We are together in this place to learn from one another and to build a solid foundation on which to continue building this incredible profession.

Building Foundations

One of the first things you receive as a first-year veterinary student is a “bone-box” for anatomy. This bone-box contains pieces of a dog skeleton that you will learn in its entirety over the course of the semester.

On the first day of class, I remember receiving my bone box and being instructed to inspect each bone for cracks, abnormalities, or blemishes.

I felt the tendrils of panic creep in as I looked at the checklist of bones—radius, ulna, femur, tibia, fibula, to name a few—and again at my box of bones, soon realizing that I had no idea what a canine (dog) radius looked like, let alone what any of the bony prominences should look like. Before I spiraled too far, a classmate who had prior experience with anatomy helped me identify and inspect my bones.

I am now in my 10th week of my first semester of veterinary school, and we have already learned most of the bones in our bone-box, as well as each bony prominence and its muscular attachments. In addition, we have learned of each bone’s relative position in the canine body and its relationships to all the surrounding musculature, nerves, and vessels.

Black dog with students sitting in grass
Practicing palpations on my classmate’s dog, Snoozy.

The learning curve to get from day one to week 10 was quite steep, and I am continuously adapting my study strategies.

Over the past 10 weeks, I have consistently found one of the most valuable strategies to involve some form of group-studying. My classmates and I are all coming to veterinary school with different strengths and weaknesses; together, we can fill in each other’s gaps in knowledge, test each other, and discuss connections across our curriculum.

One of our upcoming anatomy assessments will be in the form of a live dog (or cat, if you’re feeling brave) palpation, during which we will be assessed on our ability to find and locate certain bony prominences, musculature, blood vessels, and organs.

Being able to apply everything we have learned so far in anatomy will be utilized in building our personal knowledge of a normal physical exam. Even though each of us will eventually be conducting our physical exams independently, we are able to support each other through group-study in learning the process.

Although we are only 10 weeks into our formal veterinary education, we have already laid a foundation for a lifetime of collaboration and learning from each other.

If you really want it, you’ll make it FIT

In veterinary school, it can seem like studying and learning can consume your entire life to the point where you do not have time for anything else. It is a really intimidating feat to try to eat, sleep, shower, clean, and stay fit, all while being at school all day and studying at night.


Luckily, there are a lot of different ways I try to incorporate fitness into my life. There are many places I utilize—like the Student Recreation Center on main campus, the Wellness Room in the veterinary school, the intramural fields, and even my gym at my apartment complex.


It is all about just making time to do it.

I love to change up my workout routine, so I definitely take advantage of free workout events such as the free week for classes at the Rec Center or the veterinary school-sponsored yoga.

This semester I actually found a class that I found really interesting—hip hop. After trying it, I ended up paying for the class for the whole semester, which really motivates me to go for that hour twice a week. I love the class so much that I even convinced one of my classmates to join me!

The class really challenges me because the style is so different than what I got classically trained in, Bharatanatyam (a major form of Indian classical dance). Oddly enough, the class also is helping me with my body awareness, which made me improve on my CPR for my clinical skills class!


Hip hop hooray!

Veterinary Volunteering Abroad in Thailand and Vietnam

Meeting Kasetsart University’s Biggest Patient – an Asian Elephant
Making a Global Impact

Over the summer, I was honored to represent United States veterinary schools at the ASEAN Veterinary Volunteer Project in Thailand and Vietnam. This project, which was facilitated by Kasetsart University, the largest university in Thailand, brought together around 50 veterinary students from more than 14 countries to accomplish veterinary volunteer work in underserved communities and build relationships among veterinary students around the world.

Welcome ceremony at Kasetsart University

After landing in Bangkok, Thailand, we settled into our dorms and headed to Kasetsart University’s campus. At the welcome ceremony, students from each country presented on a challenge facing their veterinary community. These ranged from African Swine Fever in Vietnam, veterinary waste in Cambodia, and a lack of rural veterinarians in France.

I chose to present about the student debt-to-income ratio facing many students because it is quite unique to the United States; most of the other students at the volunteer project attend school for six years and the cost is less.

An elephant skeleton at Kasetsart University

After touring Kasetsart University’s veterinary hospital, we were assigned our independent research projects; my group was to assess athelmintic resistance of Haemonchus (resistance to antiparasitic drugs, in this case, to treat a parasite commonly referred to as the barber’s pole worm) in rural goat herds in Thailand and study rabies awareness in Vietnam.

After getting to know the other students in the volunteer program, we split into smaller groups and were shipped off to separate rural communities in need.

The Buddhist temple where we conducted our volunteering in Thailand
Getting a Buddhist Experience
For the next week we would be staying in Buddhist temples, which were the centers of these villages. We converted these Buddhist temples into makeshift hospitals and dormitories. We slept on the wooden floors covered with mosquito netting and set up metal tables for animal physical exams. Bathrooms consisted of holes in the floor and showers were simply a faucet and a large bucket. Although we had no air conditioning in the middle of the hot and rainy season, I was ecstatic to be surrounded by new friends and improving the healthcare of animals.
Team “selfie” after working hard to plant trees in the local Thailand village

As a group, we did much more than simple veterinary work. Not only were we helping the communities with animal health care, but we also strived to improve the environment as well. We planted trees along a river that will one day provide both fruit and homes for future wildlife.

During part of our stay, we also surveyed the communities, going door-to-door and offering free rabies vaccinations for dogs and cats. In addition, we educated children at the local school about the dangers of rabies and the importance of vaccinating their pets. All in all, we vaccinated more than 500 animals in just a few days.

Group picture with the local villagers and their goat herd

In addition to small animal medicine, we worked with local villagers to improve food animal health. During this time, we went from farm to farm vaccinating goats and cattle for foot-and-mouth disease, a virus that causes blisters on the hooves and mouths of these animals, which causes serious concerns for livestock. In addition to vaccination, we analyzed their fecal samples for parasites, dewormed them with parasiticides, and took blood samples for brucellosis testing.

This was important because for many of the members in these communities, their herds are their main sources of income and food.

The last two days in our rural villages consisted of performing physical exams on cats and dogs, as well as spaying and neutering them. Many of these animals were either strays or community dogs that roamed the streets, while some belonged to households.

Under the supervision of multiple veterinarians, I performed my first spay and neuter. I was so thankful for the education I received at Texas A&M because I had a head-start on suturing—many of my peers were performing their first sutures, and I was lucky to have built up confidence with this skill on models in the past.

Transporting a patient to the recovery room after a neuter

After performing the spays and neuters, we monitored our patients throughout their recovery. All together, we spayed and neutered more than 150 animals free-of-charge for the local communities.

Not only will these procedures help prevent stray overpopulation, but they help protect the pets from future illnesses. Some of the animals we encountered had pyometra (a bacterial infection of the uterus), which, left untreated—highly likely due to the lack of veterinary care in the area—is usually fatal. Even more, by spaying and neutering the animals, we decreased their change of developing certain types of cancer and many other illnesses.

Finally, it was time to analyze the goat fecal samples for Haemonchus, a dangerous intestinal parasite. To do this, we used the McMaster fecal egg-count method, in which we were able to determine the amount of parasite eggs per gram of feces by looking at samples under a microscope. We processed more than 200 samples and collected data that will help with research and determining if Haemonchus parasites in the area have developed resistance to Albendazole. After analyzing all of the fecal samples, we determined that there was a 92 percent prevalence rate among the goats in the villages.

Educating Thai Farmers—and Myself
We also collected data on the farmers’ awareness of caprine (goat) parasites. We developed a questionnaire with basic questions about how their animals may become infected and what measures they used for prevention. After analyzing the responses, we determined that many farmers were not aware of the proper use and dosages of their dewormer medications. Unfortunately, this may lead to increased resistance of nematode parasites to dewormers, which may explain why some goats were heavily infected.

One thing I loved about this program was the variety of experiences we received. As someone who grew up in a suburban area, I had very little experience with farm animals. Through this program, I was able to learn how to handle livestock such as goats and cattle and practice my clinical skills with these animals. Before this program, I had never drawn blood from a goat before, but now I can say that I’ve practiced that skill more than 200 times.

Even more, we weren’t limited to domestic species—at the end of our stay in Thailand, we got to tour Kasetsart University’s exotic ward and raptor center. The Kasetsart University Raptor Center is integral to the conservation of birds of prey in Thailand. In the past, people used to hunt owls because they were seen as “bad omens” but because of the raptor center’s education and conservation efforts, farmers are now installing owl nest boxes in order to attract them and use them for rodent control.


Learning raptor handling and medicine at Kasetsart Raptor Center

After touring the facility, the veterinarians at the center graciously walked us through bird of prey handling and medical techniques. As someone who wishes to specialize in exotic medicine in the future, I was thrilled to practice administering injections, drawing blood, and placing splints on raptors in need of care.

After learning about bird of prey medicine, we then split into small groups to install owl nest boxes around the campus. One thing I was intrigued to learn is that without a suitable nesting area, many owls will fail to pair up and reproduce. By increasing the number of nest boxes in an area, we hope to boost owl numbers back to what they once were.

A sampling of traditional Thai food during our last night in Thailand
Immersing Myself in the Culture
One of my favorite things about the volunteer program was that it encouraged us to immerse ourselves in the Thai culture. As an adventurous eater, I enthusiastically tried every delicacy I was offered, whether it be fried crickets, fertilized chicken eggs, or stew with the entire fish thrown in. Many of the dishes were very spicy, which I loved, but it definitely wasn’t easy for everyone, especially some of the western students.

Instead of sweet breakfasts that are staples in the U.S., we would typically eat spicy pork and rice for breakfast. Although it was different, I felt like I was in heaven eating authentic Thai food for every meal. I also was excited to try fruits that I had never imagined existed; many of them looked foreign to me but all tasted amazing.

Luckily, we were able to take a few breaks from our medical work to learn about Thai culture. While working with the other Thai students, I would ask them about their Buddhist holidays and they would tell me stories about growing up in Thailand. We were able to travel to museums that displayed artifacts from hundreds of years ago and visit sacred temples with golden statues of Buddha taller than a two-story house.

Nong Lam University in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Moving on to Vietnam
Soon, our time was over in Thailand and we were off on our journey to Vietnam. We landed in Ho Chi Minh City and arrived at Nong Lam University, where we were welcomed by veterinary students from the school. After a short welcome ceremony and a morning full of lectures, we headed out to volunteer and plant trees with high school students in the local community.

After spending a few days in Ho Chi Minh City, we once again split off into our smaller groups and left for the rural communities. Once we arrived in these villages, we readied our supplies and set off on our mopeds, zooming from one local farm to the next.

Planting trees in the local Vietnamese Community

In these rural Vietnamese villages, many families raise their own livestock, including chickens, goats, pigs, and cattle. Although many of these practices were different from what I’ve seen in the U.S., I was excited to learn about lifestyles and practices in a culture different from my own.

At each new household, we were often greeted with warm smiles and hot tea. The Vietnamese veterinary students usually translated our conversations with the villagers, but sometimes young children would walk up to me and shyly squeak out a “hello!” before running back behind their parents.

My team in front of a herd of cattle that we just vaccinated

Similar to our volunteer work in Thailand, we vaccinated cattle for foot-and-mouth disease, gave them deworming medicine, and took blood samples for brucellosis testing. The skill of the Vietnamese veterinary students were impressive; at times I felt like I was at a Texas rodeo watching them rope and catch the cattle.

Once we were finished with our large animal work, we switched gears to start working with small animals. Over the next few days, we vaccinated dogs and cats throughout the village and spread helpful information about the importance of rabies prevention.

My small research group conducting rabies research in Vietnam

My group’s next research project was more epidemiology (medicine dealing with diseases) focused and assessed the rural village’s knowledge and awareness of rabies. Unfortunately in Vietnam, rabid dogs are the leading cause of rabies infections in humans. Although progress is being made to combat the disease prevalence, there is still work to be done to educate the public about the dangers of rabies and increase vaccinations among dogs in the area.

After developing a questionnaire, we went from house-to-house asking villagers what they knew about rabies, how they thought it was transmitted, whether their pets were vaccinated, and what they would do if they were bitten by a suspicious animal.

While most had proper knowledge of rabies and responded that they vaccinate their dogs, there were still a few others that believed in outdated and unscientific practices, such as rubbing rhino skin into the bite wound. Others admitted that in the past, children had died from rabies bites because they either did not know the severity of consequences or were afraid to tell their parents. From this we determined that more education is needed to further combat rabies in the area.

Crawling through the tunnels of Cu Chi which were used during the Vietnam War
Experiencing History
We were lucky enough to learn some history when we were not volunteering. On one rest day, we took a trip to Cu Chi tunnels, which were a network of tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. I was astonished to learn that people lived in these tunnel systems for years—especially since many of tunnels were too shallow to stand in and some were almost too small for me to fit through. We also paid our respects at the Ben Duoc Temple, which commemorates the lives lost during the Vietnam War
Walking up to the Ben Duoc Temple

Finally, we had a chance to visit Ho Chi Minh City before we left. My favorite part was the night market, where they would close off multiple streets and vendors would set up cart displays of traditional food and souvenirs.

When our three weeks together was up, it was time to say goodbye. We attended a farewell ceremony, at which we ate traditional Vietnamese dishes and our groups received recognition for their work. After hours of singing, dancing, and a little bit of happy-crying, we wished our new friends safe travels back home.

As I took my taxi back to the Ho Chi Minh airport, I couldn’t help but smile thinking of all the fond memories I made with my veterinary student friends from around the world.

International Veterinary Experience

This summer I had the opportunity to go on a World Vets trip to the Dominican Republic.

World Vets is an international veterinary aid organization that brings veterinary services to underserved areas while providing educational opportunities for veterinary and technician students.

During our weeklong trip, our team of six veterinarians, four students, four technicians, and two assistants worked to spay and neuter dogs and cats in and around the cities of Cabarete and Sosua.

Though I have worked in clinics and seen many of these procedures before, this was unlike anything I had ever done. We worked in a “field clinic” in the back of an abandoned building; there was little power and only the medical supplies we brought.

Additionally, all of the animals we spayed and neutered were street dogs and cats with no access to medical care. Most were malnourished, covered in parasites, and anemic from tick-borne diseases.

Many had other health concerns that we addressed, and some even had conditions we don’t see in the U.S., like screwworm and transmissible venereal tumors.

Despite all of that, we were able to treat and sterilize more than 300 dogs and cats in three days.

My role as a student was to work rotations in induction, anesthesia, and surgery. Not only was I placing catheters, intubating, and administering drugs, I also had the opportunity to perform spays and neuters with the supervision of the veterinarians.

All in all, it was amazing to see how veterinary medicine can be adapted to any situation.

Though the trip provided invaluable experience for me, I like to think it had an even greater impact on the communities of Cabarete and Sosua.

Summer in the Panhandle

Ashlee “on the job” during her summer externship through the Veterinary Education Research Outreach (VERO) at West Texas A&M University.

This summer I had the opportunity to do an externship close to home and apply the knowledge from my first year of veterinary school.

I joined in on the Veterinary Education Research Outreach (VERO) externship program at West Texas A&M University that is offered for second- and third-year veterinary students. During this time I worked closely with Dr. Dan Posey, clinical professor of veterinary science and the academic coordinator of the VERO program, who provided more opportunities than I could experience in one summer.

Though I am from the area, this was a new experience for me because it was more focused on the veterinary side of the industries available there. 

Ashlee is teaching a 4-H student how to do a physical exam on a dog.

Every new experience I have makes me more excited for my future as a veterinarian, and this one was no exception.
Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in school, but these opportunities outside of class put everything into perspective.

Even with only one year under my belt, I was able to talk through diagnostics, surgery approaches, and treatment plans without feeling like I was listening to a foreign language. I had the privilege of teaching 4-H veterinary science students how to perform a physical exam on a dog, horse, and cow.

Now, beginning my second year, I have already applied the things I learned this summer, and I know I can expand on the areas I didn’t fully understand.

Ashlee is doing physical exam on a cow.

Every day was different, just like it will be in a mixed animal practice, and if I enjoy each day and challenge as much as I did this summer, I don’t think I will work a day in my life.

Staying Involved with Aggie Traditions

As an undergraduate, I fell in love with all of the amazing traditions at Texas A&M. Once I began veterinary school, I worried that I may not have as much time to participate in such events, but I’ve found the opposite to be true! There are still plenty of opportunities to experience what makes this school so great.

One of my favorite traditions, Silver Taps, is a somber memorial in which A&M students gather to remember the students who have passed away in the previous month. Families are invited to join students in Academic Plaza for a 21-gun salute and the playing of “Silver Taps” (a special rendition of “Taps”) to commemorate our fallen Aggies.

Even though I find myself very busy with studying most days, it’s easy to take a short break to attend Silver Taps and show mourning families that they, and the memory of their loved ones, will be with the Aggie family forever.

Another tradition that I love is, of course, Aggie football! While I can’t attend as many games as I used to, it’s good to remind myself that I can relax and have fun sometimes.

Hanging out with fellow students in Kyle Field and cheering on the team turns out to be a great study break! Gamedays are full of all sorts of exciting things to see, as well, like watching the Corps of Cadets march-in, hanging out at the Parsons Mounted Cavalry tailgate, and seeing the “Nationally Famous Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band!”

All in all, it is so important to maintain a healthy balance in veterinary school, and I’ve found my way of doing so by keeping up with all things Aggieland. It’s just my way of remembering why A&M is so special, which gives me even more motivation to do well in school!