Where Are They Now? ft. Dr. Amanda Li
March 29, 2020
Dear FVC members & anyone else thinking of applying to vet school,
My name is Amanda, and I am an OVC 2017 graduate. My journey to veterinary school began when I was 5 years old; I knew I wanted to be a vet and there was simply no other alternative. Being a Vancouver native, I decided I wanted to do my undergraduate degree at a university that had a vet school conveniently located on the same campus. I came to Guelph bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in 2008, eager to start my undergrad in Biomed (although secretly, I was envious of the Animal Bio kids because their classes seemed so much more interesting). Vet school was all I could focus on and dream about. I was involved with the FVC throughout my entire undergrad career and was the co-president for the 2011-2012 term. I loved connecting with people with similar goals and interests – a personal highlight was running the Mock MMIs! As I was gearing up for my OVC application, I got to spend a summer in a small room in MACK (lucky me) with 30 other students taking an MCAT prep course (this is how I know I’m old). Once that was done and taken care of (see ya never), it was just another thing ticked off of my OVC application checklist.
I applied to the OVC in 2012, got an interview, and didn’t get in (cue the ugly crying). At that point, I picked myself up and decided that a little defeat was not going to stand in the way of my dream. So, I went back to school to do an extra semester to improve my application and boost my marks (cough *biochem* cough). I re-applied in 2013, and miraculously got in.
The next four years were a blur of meeting and befriending 119 similarly-minded and (way more) intelligent peers, being excited over Merch Day, sitting through endless lectures, stressing over weekly Monday morning exams, enjoying pizza lunches, and so many first-ever experiences – dehorning a calf, placing an intravenous catheter, surgery, lambing, and so much more. Between my 3rd and 4th year, I had the incredible opportunity to spend 8 weeks in Arizona as a part of my externship. I decided to stream Small Animal in my final year, and like most veterinarians you will talk to, that was the absolute best year of vet school, hands down. It truly tested my knowledge accrued over the last three years and put it into real life practice.
However, I want to be truthful and tell you that my vet school experience was not all sunshine and rainbows. During my OVC career, I failed a huge final exam, experienced anxiety about tests that I never had during undergrad, and lost a patient during one of my 4th year rotations. To be perfectly blunt, vet school wasn’t easy, and some days, I seriously doubted my career choice. That being said, I was incredibly lucky to have a close group of friends (both veterinary and non-veterinary) and loved ones that I could talk to. If you take anything away from reading this, remember to find your people and cherish them! I also gave myself plenty of me-time via horseback riding & yoga – a.k.a. things that physically removed me from the corner of College and Gordon.
Unlike many of my brilliant classmates, I chose not to pursue an internship after graduation; I was tired of being in school for what felt like forever, and was as ready as I would ever be to take on the real world. I applied to jobs with the primary goal of securing high quality mentorship. Today, I am an associate veterinarian in London, ON. We are a 4-doctor practice, and this is the same practice that I started out at since graduating. We see everything from puppy/kitten vaccines, to general surgery, to working with the local humane society and animal protection officers with their cases. I love forming relationships with clients and putting the puzzle pieces together to figure out the underlying diagnosis. I accept that it is not possible for me to know everything, and I have excellent mentorship and amazing colleagues to help me when I ask for it.
As I reflect in writing this short piece, I wanted to share a few things I learned along the way that vet school did/could not prepare me for:
Clients don’t care about your marks in school. I have never once had a client ask how I did on that Principles of Disease midterm, or what my final grade was in Mammalian Anatomy. Instead, I have had clients ask how we can work together to figure out why their animal isn’t feeling right, what I recommend as the best diagnostic options and course of treatment, and when we should stop our efforts and instead shift our focus to bettering their pet’s quality of life. Clients value exceptional communication and place their confidence in you, because YOU are a doctor who went through all those years of school. There is so much more to becoming a fantastic veterinarian than your marks alone.
There will always be someone who will find a way to make you question yourself and/or devalue your professional opinion because “my breeder told me…” or “according to Google…”. Someone will complain about you – whether it’s to your staff, your boss, the CVO, or directly to your face. Just remember, however much you want to, you cannot please everyone. Recognize the battles you aren’t going to win and move on to the ones you can.
There are days where you will lose. It might be your self-confidence, a client, or worst of all, your patient. As a veterinarian, you have a massive responsibility to so many parties. You will make mistakes, but the most important thing is to take away the lessons they impart.
Yes, we all love animals, and most days, my job is the best job in the world. But through my elation at finding out that I was accepted into the OVC, I wish I could have known that these next 4 years would be the experience that I never expected in so many ways. You grow into this version of yourself that sometimes you hate, but most of the time, you admire. Without sounding cheesy, vet school is a true rollercoaster of emotion.
So, if you are thinking about applying to vet school, I wish you all the luck (although you probably don’t need it). I hope you have friends, family, and/or colleagues who you can speak openly with, that you are able to take a step back every now and then to see the bigger picture, and know that the days may go by tortuously slow but the years go by lightning-fast. Lastly, don’t be afraid to consider what you might want to pursue if vet school doesn’t work out – you can do anything you set your mind to!