Today we (Tutor the People) are interviewing Courtleigh Watson, a DVM associate veterinarian. Courtleigh studied veterinary medicine in Alabama, and she is going to tell us more about her background, the steps she took to become a veterinarian, and her current career.
TTP: Hi, Courtleigh. Thank you for speaking with us today. Not many people can say they were able to acquire their dream job. Did you always want to be a veterinarian? Please tell us more about your background and what drew you to this discipline—did you know during undergrad that you would continue to pursue veterinary medicine? This was a big decision to make at that time.
CW: I grew up riding horses, and I was born loving them. My parents and I always knew I would be a vet. Along with riding horses I was in 4H Youth Development, where I learned leadership and life skills. Here I had the opportunity to be around various other livestock as well. My parents are extremely supportive and encouraging and they did everything to aid in my career. My undergraduate degree is in pre-veterinary medicine and animal sciences from Clemson University. I’ve been fortunate enough to always know what I’ve wanted to do.
TTP: Did you do any shadowing or volunteering to better understand the field?
CW: Extracurriculars are always a good idea when applying to a medical school, especially if they are relevant to your career path. Every parents’ goal is to raise a successful, well-rounded human. So I was always immersed in a wide variety of cultures, activities, and places. However, it is always an excellent idea for anyone interested in the medical field to introduced themselves to blood. You would be surprised at how many people can’t stand the sight of blood!
TTP: The sight of blood is not easy to handle. What were the steps necessary to present yourself as a well-rounded DVM candidate when you were formulating your applications?
CW: Veterinary schools require you to have spent a certain number of hours in a veterinary hospital. It’s difficult to get a paid position as a college student with no experience. So usually you just end up shadowing some of the doctors. I know it sounds like a drag, especially when you want to spend your summers having fun. But I was able to scrub into some really cool surgeries doing this! It also helps you narrow done what you might want to do in the veterinary field.
TTP: Yes, that exposure is crucial to gain the exposure to the field and help identify how and where you would like to place yourself within it. What was the hardest part of applying to veterinary schools? Were you working at the time, juggling many things?
CW: I think the hardest part for me was writing a personal statement. Writing about yourself is hard to do. A personal statement is how you sell yourself. It’s really super hard to do it without sounding arrogant, but also setting yourself apart. Admissions administrators read a million of those things. My best advice is to put something in there that makes them laugh when they read it. I always had part time jobs during undergrad. Whether it was work study, riding horses or working at a local hot dog stand. It was just so I could have some spending money. I usually spent my summers working full time. I worked for the USDA and US Fish and Wildlife.
TTP: Writing about yourself is hard! It’s so much easier to write an essay on a historical figure or event. What made you choose Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine? Was there one aspect in particular that made it stand out as the right fit?
CW: Well first and foremost Tuskegee chose me. It’s difficult to explain but when I went for my interview it just felt right. I just knew that I was going to go there, I had to go there and I’m glad I did. Tuskegee was an irreplaceable experience. I also met some of my very best friends and colleagues there.
TTP: Interesting. Sounds like a great place, and what a lucky find! What were the most challenging and rewarding parts of your training?
CW: The most rewarding part of being in vet school is that you are finally becoming a veterinarian! However, it is not an easy road. Medical school is a full time job. You are in class from 8-4 everyday. After class you have to study. That’s the key to doing well. Study a little everyday and A LOT when you have a big exam. The course load is heavy. Then when you get to the clinical work the rotations are very time consuming. Plan on just living at school and only going home to sleep (unless you’re on an overnight emergency rotation, lol). And studying for boards! While still full time in school and trying to have a life! It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible. I did it.
TTP: Yes, I imagine you had to learn to create a fine balance between studies and life. Did you have any particularly heart wrenching moments with animals?
CW: Hmmm a heart wrenching moment. Well, I have some patients that dwell in my heart more than others. In school they taught us something about professional sympathy. I say forget that. It’s ok it’s ok to cry with the client (I’ve been known to do this, I’m an emotional person). It’s ok to think about them, its ok to talk about them. Every doctor has their own “graveyard” and keeping it to yourself is hard and emotionally draining. I think the hardest part about my job is humane euthanasia. Taking a life is not easy and if it ever becomes easy then I need to find a different job!
TTP: That is very insightful. Thank you for sharing. I can only imagine how difficult it is to put down a best friend. Did you choose a subspecialty within veterinarian medicine, such as horses, birds, etc? Do you prefer to treat a special type of animal?
CW: Currently I am advertising myself as a mixed animal veterinarian. Primarily horses, dogs and cats. After graduation I did complete an equine-only internship at Peterson and Smith, a specialty referral hospital. Although I love treating and working with horses, it’s still important for me to be well-rounded. I have been to numerous horse farms where the owners ask me to look at the dog or barn cat. I went to school to learn about more than one species so I want to continue treating more than one.
TTP: That is a great outlook. You have the expertise, so you should cast a wide net. So what was your scholarly experience like? How did you manage your schedule as a full time veterinarian student? Was the buildup to the board examinations stressful?
CW: I think time management is something you should master waaaay before vet school. Study hard and frequently. Go to class everyday. Just remember it’s ok to treat yourself too. And yes. The North American Licensing Exam (NAVLE) was the hardest exam I’ve ever taken in my life. I’m glad its over and I don’t have to do it again. I actually cried so hard when I found out I passed, haha.
TTP: Well, congratulations. The moment of score release must have been such a relief! So can you tell us about your current career? What does an average day for you look like?
CW: I think a common misconception is that vets get to play with puppies and kittens all day. Since I primarily work with horses, I work outside in all the extremes and my patients weigh 1200 lbs. My job is very labor intensive and can be dangerous. But that’s why I love it. Everyday feels like an experience rather than a job. But I do enjoy a day in the clinic when I get out of the cold and a new puppy comes in. This just doesn’t happen everyday!
TTP: Fieldwork with horses must introduce trying environments. Once I was in a pasture and a horse tried to kill me. That’s a whole different story, though. Do you plan to continue to practice medicine full time? Do you have any plans to to conduct research or further specialize within the field?
CW: I plan to practice full time. I only just recently graduated. It’s a little too early to be thinking about retiring. Research is always in the back of my mind but right now I am really enjoying practicing. I like being with the clients and patients.
TTP: It must be so rewarding to put your skills into practice. What would you advise future veterinarians? Looking back, is there anything you wish you would have done differently?
CW: I try to live my life regret free. I think everything we do is a part of our growth and you know as well as I do that no two people grow the same.
TTP: Very wise words. Mistakes and achievements equally contribute to the growth and learning process. Who was your most memorable patient?
CW: I don’t know if I have a most memorable patient but I can tell you one that’s sticking out in my head right now. It was a pretty cool case too. This was during my internship, I was on my overnight rotation. We had a very nice horse come in who had gotten bitten on his nose by some kind of pit viper (rattlesnake). Life really is amazing. It’s amazing that a 6lb snake can do so much damage to a 1000 lb horse. Long story short, the horse survived after a week in the hospital, two vials of antivenom (that stuff is not cheap!) and having a tracheotomy. His face and neck swelled so much that it restricted his airflow.
TTP: That must have scared the horse so much! I’m glad to hear he made it. Snakes are scary for most animals (including humans). What changes in veterinary medicine do you hope will occur in the next 100 years?
CW: I don’t have one particular thing I am looking forward to changing that I can think of at the moment. I just think it’s exciting to be in field that has advancements. There’s always something to learn. Learning keeps you young! So maybe I’ll still be around when I’m 100.
TTP: Well, with advancements in medicine and technology, I think we’re all hoping that. Who knows- maybe your consciousness will be performing horse surgery via a robot. Here I go, another conversation to be had. Anyway, thank you for speaking with us today, Courtleigh!