The Veterinary Road Less Traveled
by Keren Rozensher
Keren Rozensher is a third-year student following the public-corporate track. A native of North, New Jersey, she received her bachelor’s degree in 2010 from the University of Delaware where she majored in animal science/prevet. After completing vet school, Keren plans to work on her masters of public health degree, then seek employment in a small-animal practice. She hopes to eventually work for a governmental agency. The 25-year-old is a founding member of Virginia Tech’s One Health Club. A dual citizen of the United States and Israel, she speaks Hebrew, French, and English (so far).
It was a beautiful summer day in June of last year. I was sitting in a Parisian cafe, the Eiffel Tower in plain view, taking in all the glories of this European city. I sat drinking my cafe au lait, excited yet nervous at the same time. I had been sent to interview veterinary students from France’s National School of Veterinary Services (NSVS). I could never have imagined that vet school would lead me to fulfill my passion of becoming a global citizen. But there I was, cafe au lait in hand, a third-year veterinary student on an international research trip.
Now flash back to fall 2010, senior year of college. My passion for animals and medicine had led me to that point and I was knee-deep in vet school applications. Up until then, I had worked hard to outshine the best students in the veterinary school applicant pool. We were all competing for those few coveted spots at one of the nation’s (then) 28 schools.
During my undergraduate career, I didn’t stop once to think about another option, a “Plan B” so to speak. My initial thought of becoming a veterinarian was to be a traditional small animal general practitioner. However, this idea quickly changed when I arrived at the Virginia-Maryland vet school and met Dr. Valerie Ragan. Dr. Ragan, my professor and the vet school’s director of the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine at the University of Maryland, introduced me to a myriad of “hidden” – or non-traditional – practice opportunities early in my veterinary studies.
She took the time to discuss my life’s “bucket list” and how I might incorporate my different passions into my DVM degree. One of the random ideas I had mentioned to her was my lifelong desire to work in France. Little did I know that Dr. Ragan could connect me to the ideal opportunity which would incorporate my academic pursuits with so many of those other passions on my list. After that moment, I found myself taking an unexpected turn off of the well-defined veterinary path I had once happily followed. This new path took me on an adventure through France.
It all began when I left from New York’s LaGuardia Airport, faced a two-hour delay, missed my connecting flight, and spent my first night in a Philadelphia hotel room instead of Europe! While that was an adventure all on its own, I was ready to begin the real adventure. The following afternoon, I boarded the plane and was finally on my way to begin my one-month research trip in France. My job overseas was to collect information about France’s School of Veterinary Services by interviewing both NSVS alumni and current students.
Located in Lyon, France, the school (NSVS) is the first accredited program in the world whose purpose is to train Veterinary Officials. Its purpose is the same as that of our unique Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine: to train veterinary students and veterinarians for non-clinical practice careers. Graduates of the French school go on to work in the veterinary public practice sectors of governmental agencies.
As the student liaison, I represented Dr. Ragan, our Public and Corporate center in Maryland, and United States veterinary programs as a whole. In order to fulfill my responsibilities, I arrived in France with several objectives for my visit. The short-term goals were to establish a solid foundation with the school to allow for future collaborations; to share information about the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine’s curriculum; and to obtain more in-depth information about the National School’s veterinary public practice curriculum.
Long-term goals included exploring veterinary public practice externship opportunities for future students; developing potential areas for continued collaboration between the two programs; and gathering data to potentially help expand veterinary public practice training in the U.S. By building bridges within the international veterinary community, we hoped to better both systems as well as create opportunities for continued growth.
In order to begin collecting data for my project, Dr. Ragan, NSVS administrators, and I created a survey to use with each interviewee. I was put in contact with 13 National School students (both past and present), who I set up interviews with. Since I arrived in France in June, after the end of the National School’s spring semester, there was a special aside to my trip: my interviewees were spread around the country.
During the summer months, the interviewees were either working or fulfilling their externships in various cities. As a result, I was required to travel to meet them at their respective locations. I did so with pleasure and with a smile across my face the entire time. Not only did I have the opportunity to meet and interview international veterinary students, but I was able to simultaneously visit many major cities in the beautiful country of France! To round out my trip, I ended up back in historical Lyon (famous for its cuisine) to report my findings to the advisory group.
My interviewees were phenomenal! Most of them were natives of France, but some were foreign-exchange students from Algeria; all of them spoke French. While I made sure to interview and speak with them in French, they were all very patient with me as I spoke relatively slow, broken French. They were very open, eager, and willing to share information with me in regards to such topics as their educational backgrounds, their career interests, and any other pertinent information that would assist in data collection. I, too, was very open with them. I allowed them the opportunity to ask me any questions they had (personal and professional). By communicating in this manner, we were able to not only network as professionals but to develop trust and friendships that continue even today.
Aside from the interviews, many of the veterinary students showed me around their respective cities and did the “touristy-stuff” with me! Some even explored new attractions with me that they had never before visited. My favorite part about my visit to France was staying with some of the students and learning about France and the French culture and language through the eyes of true countrymen.
I met some of their families and friends, tasted the best homemade cuisines, visited a local winery, and even caught onto some slang in the French language. Traveling and learning about different cultures has always been a passion of mine, but the best part about it has always been the people I meet and the experiences we share together.
Overall, my time in France was exactly the experience I needed to get me one step closer to understanding my career path once I graduate vet school. Since I have always been interested in working with small animals, I still plan on working as a small animal general practitioner for the first few years of my career.
However, since I discovered my true passion for public practice while in France, I know that I will venture off to some area of this intriguing sector of veterinary medicine in the future. I can see myself working for an international, federal, state or local governmental agency at some point in my life, and I look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead!
Now, back in class, every time I face a seemingly endless workload or a week of finals, I am able to tackle it with a new strength. I have new ideas and a clearer picture of what I want to do with my degree, which makes it all worthwhile. Even under a pile of books and notecards, I can still remember the smell and taste of that cafe au lait on that warm June morning…