Veterinary Adventures by Marlena Lopez

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Tell us a bit about yourself

I am a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) student in Australia with a Bachelor’s of Zoology degree from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. I moved from Southern California to Australia to study veterinary medicine because I have a passion for wildlife conservation and I love learning about the unique animals of this land.

Why did you decide to become a vet?

I grew up caring for many different types of pets and can’t think of a more satisfying career than to be saving animals lives daily. Veterinary medicine combines my love for animals with my passion for science. By shadowing physicians, I discovered that one of the aspects of the profession that entices me most is the wide range of activities and responsibilities that a veterinarian performs. Within a day a veterinarian can work on a wide range of cases varying from cancer, to general illness, to injury, to births. Every day serves new mysteries and challenges.

What’s the most exciting thing in your vet studies/practice so far?

I volunteer with an organization called Pets in the Park (PITP), a non-profit organisation which runs free monthly pop-up pet health clinics to assist people struggling with homelessness care for their much loved pets. One day, a cat came into the clinic lethargic, depressed, easily agitated and with an unkempt coat. Her owner told us that she hadn’t been acting like herself lately. Upon closer examination, it was discovered that every inch of her body was infested with fleas and she was given flea and tick treatment.

She came back for a check-up a month later and she was full of life and energy.  Something as simple as giving this cat a routine flea and tick pill made a huge difference in the personality and well-being of this cat; this served as a reminder to me about the importance of preventative medicine.marlena lopez veterinary adventures interview

What do you do in your free time? If you have any 🙂

I enjoy volunteering, travelling, horseback riding, and reading. I am currently reading Yes Please by Amy Poehler, which is an inspirational autobiography, and it has helped motivate me during university breaks.

How would you describe the situation with the veterinary profession in Australia?

The universities in Australia have both a 6-year and a 4-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program. If you have not completed an undergraduate degree, then you can apply to start it here and they offer an accelerated program where you can complete your DVM and undergrad degree in 6 years (rather than 8 like in the Unites States). If you are already working on your undergrad, then you can apply just to the 4-year post graduate program.

According to the Australian Veterinary Association, most of Australia’s vets work in private practices usually with just one or two full-time veterinarians. Specialization is an increasing trend, with some practices limiting their work to certain types of animals such as horses or small animals. The average salary for a recent veterinary graduate is $45,000 per year. Veterinary science is one of the most expensive courses of study in Australia, while veterinarians earn comparably low salaries.

For more information, you can visit the Australian Veterinary Association’s website: http://www.ava.com.au/public-1

What are your plans/ goals for the future?

While I am passionate about conservation and wildlife, I am also interested in equine medicine and small animal welfare. I believe that my generation will play a pivotal role in rectifying some of the damage that climate change has had on the planet and I want to contribute to that cause.
Most veterinary students change their field of interest at least once throughout vet school, thus I am keeping my mind open to whatever prospects may come. The world is full of opportunities and I want to try as many as I possibly can.

Tell us something more about your website, your blog and any other project you are working on at the moment

After starting vet school, I created Veterinary Adventures, a social media page on Instagram and Facebook dedicated to sharing my experiences as a veterinary student. I already had a website www.veterinaryadventures.com but found that social media offered a way to reach a broader community of animal lovers around the world. Through my page, Veterinary Adventures, I share the knowledge I’ve acquired in vet school with my online community to promote healthcare education, responsible pet ownership and improve animal welfare and conservation efforts.

Describe your research project shortly

After graduation, I worked as a research intern for Duke University and the Organization for Tropical Studies at La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica. My time in the tropics was spent researching the social organization of the Proboscis Bat (Rhynchonycteris naso), as well as determining if the bats exhibit individual signatures in their echolocation calls, and performing playback experiments using these calls. This work was published by Royal Society last year and can be found on my website.

Research has led to me to think critically, analytically and creatively. I have learned how to develop relationships, as well as skills in management, leadership and communication.

Do you have any advice for our readers?

Many people love animals, but do not realize that they need to have a passion for science as well to become a veterinarian. The road to becoming a vet is not easy and you need to have a genuine passion for both science and animals to get through. In my opinion, the best thing you can do in high school to prepare for college, and later vet school, would be to 1) take some science classes in high school (especially biology) and see if you like the material and 2) shadow veterinarians to see if you like the daily duties of the job.

There are several volunteer opportunities you can seek that will give you animal handling experience. Such opportunities include working at a horse stables, shadowing a veterinarian, and volunteering at animal shelters, zoos, and wildlife sanctuaries. Veterinarians are part of a very supportive community, every vet that I have reached out to shadow has been very helpful, and shelters are always in dire need of volunteers.

See the video Facing the Difficulties of the Veterinary Profession by Marlena Lopez.