Historian Turned Aggie Veterinarian Finds New Purpose In Cattle Industry

Story by Harley Nokes ‘24, VMBS Communications

Jessica Stephenson in front of a field of catle
Jessica Stephenson
Photos by Jason Nitsch ’14, Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences

Jessica Stephenson, a fourth-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) student, took an unconventional path to veterinary school. Her academic journey began like most veterinary students — with a passion for caring for animals — but took a detour when she chose to pursue a career in history.

Stephenson’s path gave her a more scenic route to the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences but proved that her veterinary career dream was one worth chasing.  

An Academic Journey Into History

For as long as she could remember, Stephenson had wanted to become a veterinarian, but she began questioning her career goals in high school.

“I went to a very small high school where science wasn’t really their priority, and because I got a little nervous that I might fail, I reached out to my mentor for advice,” Stephenson said. “He recommended that I try anything to see if it made me happy, so I took his advice to heart and went to college at Texas A&M University for English, with a concentration in creative writing. At the end of my junior year, I did a semester abroad in Italy and decided that history was actually pretty cool, so much so that I might want to be a historian.”

She found herself particularly drawn to environmental history, a field that allowed her to blend her love of animals with history.

“My senior year, I took a class with Dr. Thomas Dunlap, in American environmental history, and realized that I loved the topic,” Stephenson said. “It was super fun because the subject can be about animal history if you wanted it to be, so I found my way back to animals through history.”

Graduating from Texas A&M in 2012, Stephenson went on to pursue a master’s degree in environmental history at the University of Oklahoma, writing her thesis on the environmental and agricultural history of feral hogs in Texas. 

“I turned around and started a Ph.D. program at OU when I finished my master’s degree in 2014, and while my research on human-animal relationships in prison rodeos was fascinating, I didn’t love the work of being a historian in academia,” Stephenson explained. “I found myself very unhappy as I was trying to push through.”

Jessica Stephenson doing gig 'em

After a year of struggling with these feelings, Stephenson made the courageous decision to leave the Ph.D. program and return to College Station, where her sister was living. 

“When I moved back, I got a job with Texas A&M Libraries, working for a year and thinking about what I wanted to do with my life that would actually make me happy — I kept coming back to veterinary medicine,” Stephenson said. “At this point, I failed at being a historian and had that fear of failure going on in my head, but I figured what’s the worst that could happen now?”

Finding The Way Back To Veterinary Medicine

With a renewed sense of purpose, Stephenson began taking steps to pursue her childhood dream. She enrolled in prerequisite courses for veterinary medicine at Blinn College and transferred to Texas A&M after a semester for a bachelor’s degree in animal science, all while working full-time, overnight shifts in the library.

Eventually, Stephenson traded her library position for one that would allow her to gain more veterinary experience, starting with the opportunity to volunteer at the Winnie Carter Wildlife Center with Dr. Alice Blue-McLendon. In May 2018, she also became a technician assistant in the intensive care unit at the Texas A&M Small Animal Teaching Hospital, working her way up to technician. 

Despite being five credits shy of a bachelor’s in animal science, Stephenson received word in February 2020 that she was admitted into the VMBS’ DVM Class of 2024 on her first application cycle.

“I still don’t really know who was in charge of that decision, but I appreciate the opportunity,” Stephenson said. “I’ve just kept going ever since because no one’s told me to stop. As I’ve kept going, I’ve realized what I really like is food animal medicine because of the practicality and decision making involved.”

In the summer of 2022, Stephenson participated in the Veterinary Education, Research and Outreach (VERO) Food Animal & Rural Practice Summer Internship Program with Dr. Dan Posey, visiting Texas Panhandle Plains industries and practices that included Bezner Beef Feedlot in Texline, Central Plains Veterinary Clinic in Plainview, and Claude Veterinary Hospital in Claude.

“It was my first opportunity to experience production medicine hands-on, and I loved every minute,” Stephenson said. “As someone who came to production medicine later in life, I found the experience invaluable, and I appreciate all of the work that Dr. Posey has put into the program.”

Stephenson has continued to seek out experiences in production medicine during her last year of veterinary school, which has included a clinical rotation at an exclusively beef-cattle serving practice in Mandan, North Dakota. She said the experience has confirmed she’s finally on the right career path, with all roads leading to a career in the cattle industry after graduation, particularly at Circle C Veterinary Service in Dickinson, North Dakota. 

“The industry, as a whole, is admirably self-sufficient, but my primary goal after graduation is to find a way to be an asset to beef producers,” Stephenson explained. “I hope to be a resource that they can rely on to further the health, wellness and welfare of their stock and their livelihoods.

“This is my passion, so I am going for it,” Stephenson said, recalling her journey to get to this moment. “I say if you think you will be happy doing it, it’s definitely worth taking the chance.”


For more information about the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of VMBS Communications, Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu, 979-862-4216

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