For the love of animals

BGSU helps launch students into vet school

Pre-vet major Kayla Tubbs is working this summer in the lab of pre-vet adviser Ray Larsen to gain research experience.

By Bonnie Blankinship

Bowling Green State University does well nationally in placing graduates into veterinary schools, according to VetTechColleges.com, which names Bowling Green among the top 10 programs in the country for undergraduates planning a career in veterinary sciences.

This might not seem especially remarkable until you learn how difficult it is — a fact that should probably give us all a new respect for our vets.

“There’s much more to becoming a veterinarian than a love of animals,” said Dr. Ray Larsen, biological sciences. “You really have to have an interest in and be good at science and have strong math skills as well.”

“They set you up very well with the coursework and prepare you for the basic framework of vet school. It was a pretty easy step for me because they prepared me really well.”Applicants must also show great commitment to the profession, with hours of veterinary-related extracurricular experience, particularly with large animals.

Then there’s the fact that there are so few veterinary schools in the country, only 29 in the United States, five in Canada and a couple around the Caribbean.

“It’s much more selective than med school,” Larsen said, noting that Ohio alone has about eight medical schools but only one veterinary college. Larsen is the adviser to the Pre-Veterinary Program in the biology department and the Pre-Veterinary Medicine Club.

VetTechColleges.com noted the helpful advising BGSU offers, including with applications to veterinary school, and the fact that BGSU sends some students to the high-ranking Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

“It’s a very competitive environment,” Larsen said of being accepted into veterinary school. “You need to have a 3.7 or 3.8 GPA to be competitive plus something else really compelling to make you stand out.”

What’s BGSU’s secret? Larsen said it amounts to course planning, a lot of hard work, “a rigorous foundation in biological and physical sciences, and not taking the path of least resistance. We channel them into a curriculum that is most consistent with their career goals with courses that will serve them best as a professional.”

Veterinarian Dr. Kate Onasch at the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Ky.Pre-vet students go beyond the normal degree requirements in biology, taking, in addition to calculus, not one but two organic chemistry courses, two physics courses and usually at least one semester of biochemistry.

Kate Onasch, a 2009 graduate of the BGSU program who went to veterinary school at Ohio State, said, “They set you up very well with the coursework and prepare you for the basic framework of vet school. It was a pretty easy step for me because they prepared me really well.”

As for providing the compelling factors that distinguish students, the Pre-Vet Club plays a major role in helping students get the veterinary-related extracurricular experience so important in successfully applying to veterinary programs, from sharing information on internships to volunteer opportunities.

“The club provides leadership opportunities, and leadership potential is one of the things vet schools look for in addition to good grades and extracurricular activities,” Onasch said.

Participation in research projects is the second key factor. “We encourage our students to have research experience in labs that have some connection to their career goals,” Larsen said.

Kayla Tubbs, a senior from Monroe, Mich., can count both on her resume. The vice president of the club, she is working this summer in Larsen’s lab on a study of Enterobacter gergovaie, a type of bacterium similar to E. coli.

“We’re manipulating bacterial cells by working with their genes, changing the behavior of E. coli so it’s not harmful,” explained Tubbs, who is receiving support this summer from a Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship grant.

“Doing research opened a lot of doors,” said Onasch, who worked in Distinguished Research Professor Ronny Woodruff’s lab as an undergraduate, studying the fruit fly. She was listed as co-author on several publications and as a result, “I understood the research and publishing process.” That experience led to her being involved in research for three years at OSU.

“It wasn’t on fruit flies, but it was on horses,” she said humorously. After receiving her doctor of veterinary medicine degree, she has recently completed a one-year internship at the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Ky., and is starting work at a veterinary practice in Hazard, Ky., specializing mainly in large animals.

Just as important as the actual undergraduate research experience she gained at BGSU, she said, was the mentoring she received from Woodruff. “Having a good mentor meant a lot and he was just phenomenal. He was so helpful and wrote me lovely recommendations. My mentors helped me the most.

“The whole biology department was so focused on teaching and making sure you got everything,” she added. “They are great advocates for students, and if you’re willing to put the time into it, they double that in the time they put into you. I appreciate everything they did for me.”

Onasch added the program is flexible enough to allow students to schedule their classes to allow time for the all-important extracurricular activities.

“Most pre-vet students spend lots of time volunteering in clinics and shadowing vets,” Larsen noted. “They also must have some experience with large animals. It’s important for them to know what’s involved in being a vet.”

“The club really helps with that,” Tubbs said. It has a valuable, longstanding connection with the local Wood Willow Farm owned by Estelle Dobbins, who allows the students to work with her horses, goats and chickens.

“We do a lot of networking and share information about what’s available. One of the things that’s helped me the most is finding other students who are also interested in pre-vet,” Tubbs said.

She has volunteered in an animal clinic and done “ride-alongs” with a veterinarian in Michigan, one day helping send 85 cows through a chute to conduct pregnancy tests. She also volunteered at a riding stable for children with disabilities.

“They are great advocates for students, and if you’re willing to put the time into it, they double that in the time they put into you."Along with the networking and support it provides, the pre-vet club organizes field trips and speakers from organizations such as the dairy cow industry and large-animal veterinarians. In addition to the funding it receives from the University’s Student Activities Organization, its members work hard to raise extra funds to host even more events. “The club is a very vibrant organization,” Larsen said.

The energy and enthusiasm displayed by the students is indicative of their commitment to a demanding field of study and routine. Two successful pre-vet students are also athletes, who must also work in practices, games and road trips, Larsen noted admiringly.

MacKenzie McMillen, a sophomore cross country runner, is an academic All-MAC, and Robert Zenas, also a sophomore, pitches for the Falcon baseball team while maintaining a high GPA.

Pre-vet students can also take advantage of the mock interviews offered by the Career Center, Onasch pointed out. “That really helped. You go through the interview and then they critique it and work with you. The interviews for vet school are really intimidating; they can ask you anything. They make an initial decision based on your paperwork and then the interview decides it.”

Juggling all the aspects of school and her other activities is tiring, Tubbs acknowledged, but the fieldwork reaffirms her desire to work with animals.

“Once you’re out there, you forget all the stress,” she said. “Getting to vet school is the hardest part. You can’t give up. They look for perseverance. Even when you’re in, it gets harder. But I know I’ll never have a boring day as a vet. My hours might be crazy, with 4 a.m. calls, and holidays will be horrible, but I’ll love it.”

For those who may not want a traditional practice, the doctor of veterinary medicine degree offers other possibilities, Larsen said. Graduates may also work as inspectors for government agencies or in industries in which animal products are involved.

Onasch noted, “You’re trained in everything. If you don’t like large animals you can move to cats and dogs. Or you can go back and do a residency and become board-certified in surgery or ophthalmology. There are lots of possibilities.”