how to get into vet school:

When I was applying to vet school, I’m pretty sure I googled the title phrase and various permutations thereof approximately six hundred times.  I discovered articles full of tips such as “Get good grades!” (thanks! didn’t know they mattered!), and “Be yourself!” (how specific!).  I yearned for direct, nuts-and-bolts, honest tips not only on how to make myself an awesome applicant but also on how to actually literally apply to vet school.  I hope these pointers help you. Good luck!

1. Make sure you actually want to be a veterinarian.

I know this sounds crazy and patronizing, but hear me out. I know you know that veterinary medicine is more than playing with puppies and kittens and frolicking with foals in the sunshine.  You already know that there is poop and blood and explosive anal glands. There are surgeries at ass-o’-clock in the morning after fourteen hours at the vet hospital. You know these things.

Let me tell you some other things that you might not know:

I am in my fourth year at a very awesome veterinary college. My classmates are accomplished, clever, driven individuals. This year, more than one classmate has pulled me aside and spoken (in a hushed tone) something like,

“If I’d known what it was really like, I wouldn’t have gone to vet school.”

That’s pretty powerful, eh? I consider myself quite fortunate to still love this world after this clinical year. Vet school is a potently formative adventure that will change you. It will bring out qualities (not all of them positive) that you never knew you possessed. Go talk to some vets. Ask them to candidly describe the worst parts of their education and profession as well as the best.

2. Assess your education.

Maybe you are in middle school and planning out your path as you volunteer at the local horseback riding summer camp. Perhaps you’re in college, getting your shit together.  Or possibly you’re an attorney or a salesperson, considering a career change.  Okay! All of those situations are excellent. Now take a look at the school you’ve already completed, and compare it with what you’ll need to get in to vet school.

However, the Internet is your buddy. Make a spreadsheet of all the vet schools you’d want to attend (which by itself is a thing to consider. Would you move across the country? Would you go to school in the UK or the Caribbean?), and fill in the particular education prerequisites for each school.  Each school’s website will (somewhere) provide this information. Many (not all) vet schools require an undergraduate degree, and they all have unique course requirements.

Some require microbiology, some require nutrition, some require public speaking, and some require physiology. Most require a baseline number of English, biology, chemistry, and physics credits. If you have any questions about whether a course qualifies, or if you can substitute one course for another, e-mail the particular vet school’s admissions office directly to ask. Save the e-mail response. Do not believe the pre-vet advisor at your college on these matters, no matter how wonderful or experienced she is.

For example:

My pre-vet advisor told me the comparative literature class I took during my first year of college would count towards the English prerequisite requirement. Did it? No! Why? Because it had a “CLT” instead of an “ENG” prefix on my transcript. Did I argue about this? Yes! Did I still have to take another English class during my senior year? Yes!
Also, my pre-vet advisor told my buddy (who was a year ahead of me in college) that her advanced introductory chemistry course would count for two semesters of chemistry in vet school’s eyes. This was not in fact the case, and said buddy had to take another chemistry course during her last semester. Surprise!

If you’re just starting or already in college, do your best to not take, you know, five rigorous science prerequisites all at the same time. Be kind to your future self in your course planning. 

If you’re going back to school to complete those prerequisites, don’t fret. I think you’ll be a better/more content student now that you’ve spent some time not as a student. School is actually awesome in some ways, and you’ll probably appreciate them.

On grades: I’m not going to tell you about how much they matter, because you already know they do. But don’t shortchange yourself – don’t game the system and take “easy” classes so you can have that 4.0. It’s not worth wasting the chance to challenge your brain.

3. Go check out the VMCAS website. Just do it. It will be less intimidating once you’re familiar with it. It’s like the common app but for vet schools.

4. On that note, many vet schools have supplemental applications. Also, some of them operate entirely independently of VMCAS. Guess what? That information goes on your spreadsheet as well!

5. GREs!

While you’re perusing the websites of the different vet colleges, take note of their GRE requirements. Note those down on your spreadsheet. During the year-ish before you apply to vet school, you’ll want to take the GREs.

Do not panic. 

As for studying, go get a book or two and practice. Practice test-taking skills (yes, taking a test well is a skill) and familiarize yourself with the process of methodically working through questions.

Learn as many vocabulary words as you can. Also, practice your basic math.

Seriously, do not panic. You can re-take the GREs if you’re really unhappy with your scores.

6. Acquire a diverse stable of experiences.

Okay, you’ve heard about the nebulous “experience” requirements for applicants.  My advice to you on this point is this: go out and do things with animals. Lots of things. Doesn’t have to be veterinary things (though it’s good if some of them are veterinary things).  Here are some suggestions:

Volunteer at a shelter (duh)
Volunteer at a local (large or small animal) vet practice
Work at a big multi-doctor ambulatory practice or specialty vet clinic
Volunteer at your local high-quality-high-volume-spay-neuter clinic
Work for a riding stable
Work for a dairy
Work as a groom for a fancy, show horse stable
Help your neighbor milk her goats, shave her alpacas, or collect her chicken eggs
Work with the lab animals at your (or a local) college or university
Work for an organic farm
Work for an aquarium
Work for a veterinary acupuncturist or chiropractor
Volunteer with a service dog organization
Work for a groomer

Think about building your network with each experience. How can these skills I’m gaining/people I’m meeting lead to a new adventure? Show up on time, work hard, and have good things to say about your colleagues. I’m pretty sure I networked my way into vet school:

I grew up riding horses, so when I was in college I pursued and landed a job as a groom with an Olympic jumper rider. That was an awesome experience. The next summer, I worked for the practice that did her veterinary work. That was also an awesome experience, and yielded some fantastic recommendations from very well respected and accomplished veterinarians. 

7. Recommendations: Choose wisely.

I’m sure you’ve heard the following general advice about recommendations – ask the person if they’d be willing to write an excellent letter recommending you for (whatever).

This is absolutely true.

For applying to vet school (probably for applying for anything), your best letters will be written by people who feel like they can’t say enough good things about you. You don’t want someone who vaguely knows you and thinks you’re okay to write you a letter.  Also, I think it’s better to have fewer letters that are fantastic than many that are mediocre.

8. Practice your interview skills!

Ooohhhh you guys so when I was interviewing at this one vet school, they kept us all in a small, low-ceilinged room for the afternoon and extracted us one by one for interviews. It was highly stressful, as you might imagine.

I was wearing a pantsuit that was mostly comfortable, so I didn’t suspect anything was amiss during my interview. Imagine my surprise when I visited the restroom afterwards, and discovered that my fly had been open the entire time.  Awesome.

I had remembered my friend Kim’s excellent advice as I was getting dressed that morning – namely, if your bra and your underwear match, it makes you feel like a million bucks. So the underwear that my interviewers saw for the better part of an hour was a lacy brown thong.  Hooray!

So, maybe don’t do that.

Just like test taking, interviewing is a skill. If you get some interviews, you definitely want to bring your A-game.  Penelope Trunk has some excellent interviewing advice on her blog. Practice! It will get a little easier with practice.  And don’t let it freak you out if it seems like an interviewer is deliberately trying to stress you – she probably is.

thoughts on laundry:

Hi there friends!

It's day 23 of the paleo challenge, it's sleeting, and a group of highly attractive rosy-cheeked spandex-clad ladies just strolled into the coffee shop where I'm sitting. Perhaps they just finished their run? Anyways, it's a perfect day to talk about laundry!

I've come to understand that laundry in vet school is vastly different from normal laundry. Firstly, I think most people separate their laundry into "darks" and "lights". Or perhaps "white" and "other". Or maybe "delicates" and "jeans".

I separate my laundry into three categories:

1. not that dirty (shirts, long underwear, sweaters)

2. reasonably soiled (muddy jeans, socks, scrubs covered in cat hair)

3.  really profoundly disgusting/possible biohazard (the coveralls I wore during the bear necropsy, or the ones so saturated with dried cow shit that they crackle when I pull them out of the plastic bag)

Sometimes, category #3 gets washed twice.  Gah.

The other oddity I have regarding my laundry is that I'm quite fanatical about checking my pockets. Unfortunately, garments like coveralls and some styles of scrubs can have 8-10 pockets (not exaggerating), so objects sneak into the washer more frequently than I'd like to admit:

Sort of funny if I accidentally wash in a pocket:
clean rubber gloves
syringe wrapper
notes on a folded piece of paper
surgical cap/mask/booties
roll of white tape

Never ever (hopefully) allowed to be washed in a pocket/list of constant vigilance:
scalpel blades (wrapped)
used catheter
blood tubes
fecal sample
urine sample
used gauze
lube packet

Happy laundering! And maybe bring some bleach wipes to the laundromat (I certainly do).

in other news:


(wtf does that mean, Alacrity?)

Okay, say you want to be a vet and you're going to vet school. After vet school, you can:

1. Go right into practice.

2. Do an internship for a year, then go into practice.

3. Do an internship for a year, then a residency for 2-3 years, then work as a boarded specialist (assuming you pass your specialty boards).

4, etc. Do something else entirely.

My eventual plan is complicated, but it will suffice for the moment to say that I want to become an oncologist. This means I need to do an internship followed by an oncology residency.

The way one gets a small animal internship (usually) is via this thing called "The Match". It is an organization that allows people to en masse apply to many different internships and residencies. It is similar to the VMCAS for vet school, or the common app for college.

However...this program actually "matches up" people and programs instead of allowing the institutions to directly extend their offers themselves. From what I hear, it is rather similar to what happens to medical students.  Once you've applied to your programs, you create a rank order list of where you would prefer to go. Then the programs create rank order lists of applicants. The program then makes the matches and releases them to the world on Match Day. Not everyone matches, so during "The Scramble", unmatched programs and applicants hurriedly find each other. Hopefully, in the end everyone is satisfied.  Hooray!

I matched at a large specialty private practice outside of a big city. I am very excited!

some problems are uniquely ambulatory:

clinician: "So I was like, fuck, I guess a captive bolt gun won't work on an 800 pound pig."

Paleo challenge day 6!

I'm still at it, though I feel more and more like a rabbit as the days go by.
I feel very clean and hydrated. This is good!

I've mostly been eating greenies, salads, eggs, fruit, sweet potato chips, and things made of coconut.

Here is my favorite sweet potato chip recipe. The chips are not so much "chips" as they are "squishy slices", but that might be able to be fixed with some alterations to cooking time and temperature. However, I like them as they are:

Oven (or a toaster oven)
Cutting board
Oil (I used olive)
Chili powder
Sweet potatoes


1. Wash the sweet potatoes.

2. Slice them transversely (so you get round slices) as thin as you can without cutting yourself. Try to make the slices of vaguely uniform thickness. Don't worry if this plan doesn't work out that well.

3. Oil a cookie sheet or something like it.

4. Arrange the sweet potato slices on the cookie sheet. Drizzle them lightly with oil.

5. Liberally sprinkle them with salt, pepper, chili powder and cumin.

6. Bake at 400 degrees for ten minutes or until easily pierced with a fork.

7. NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM (after they cool, of course).

Paleo challenge day 1!

In the spirit of the first day of my first Paleo challenge, I'm going to give you a step-by-step guide to making a greenie (green smoothie).

1. Find and assemble blender.

2. Add two large handfuls of mixed greens. You know the kind you can get in large clear plastic tubs for like $5? I use those. The container says that they are "triple washed and ready for enjoyment", so sometimes (okay, often) I don't wash them first. This is not smart, especially considering the knowledge I now have on topics like parasitology and food-borne disease. So I am being a responsible adult by telling you to WASH YOUR DAMN GREENS.

3. Add two cups of water.


5. Add two peeled bananas. I like semiripe bananas that are still kind of sort of green, but this is because I have an irrational dislike of overripe bananas. Ick.


7. Cut the sides off of an apple so just the core is left. Add the sides. Compost the core. I use Gala apples, but whatever will work.


9. Find a tiny coffee grinder (it's best if this is a dedicated tiny coffee grinder) and grind some hemp seeds/flax seeds/sesame seeds/all of the above until powdery.  Add this to the blender. You can probably get these seeds at your local co-op! The sesame seeds add excellent texture, and the hemp seeds have a tasty nutty flavor (but wow will they get stuck in your teeth).

10. BLEND!

11. Add a tablespoon-ish of coconut oil. Ohhhh do not skip this step it will make your greenie velvety and silky and perfect. I don't even like coconut flavor that much.  Mmmmmmmmmmm yes.

12. BLEND!  and enjoy.

The greenie will be bright green, smooth, thick and delicious.  Just go for it - don't be dainty. Do not wuss out. I know it looks vaguely like rumen contents, but it tastes amaaaaaaazing!  If you want it to be sweeter, use riper bananas. That is all.