Gazette Vet: The Interview Question I Remember

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By John Andersen, DVM

I can’t remember how or why, but recently memories of my veterinary school interview popped into my head and made me contemplate what I felt about this career and serving in a community then, versus how I feel about those things now, 15 years later.

Getting into veterinary school is a challenge, because there are not a lot of schools. Currently, there are only 30 veterinary schools in the U.S. However, data shows that about 50 percent of applicants eventually get in if they keep working and reapplying, which is actually pretty comparable to our  medical school counterparts.

Nowadays, however, getting into veterinary school is only one of the challenges facing veterinary students. With rising student debt and relatively low starting salaries, there is a real cost-benefit crisis going on for current and future veterinary students, but that is the topic of another column!

After sending in my application and taking the GRE exam, I waited anxiously to see if I had landed an interview. The interview was phase II of the application process; not all applicants will make it to the interview round. It is the interview that will help the application committee make its final decision on who gets in the incoming class, usually only 90-100 students.

I received a letter telling me I had an interview at Virginia Tech. This was met with great relief, but also great anxiety! This would be the classic nerve-wracking interview. I didn’t hear back from any other schools, so it would be my only shot at a veterinary school—my whole life depended on it! (well, kinda).

When the week of the interview came, I tried my best to keep calm. I can remember driving down I-81 in my beat up Honda Civic, looking at the beautiful mountains and wondering if I’d be making this drive for the next four years or not. I stayed with a friend who was living in Blacksburg at the time and got a first hand tour of my potential new town.

The morning of the interview, I put on a suit that I had borrowed from a buddy since I didn’t own one. It mostly fit me.

When I entered the building, I was greeted by the nicest receptionist, who led me to where the other interviewees were waiting. It’s always amazing how the simple kindness of someone can really help to calm your nerves. I was doing okay, but I heard that one of the interviewees had to go home because she started vomiting from the stress!

Finally, I was called into the interview room. The moment of truth. Me at one end of a table, surrounded by six professors! I had thought about what questions they might ask me, but I just had no idea. Frankly, I was pretty clueless about the profession at that point in my life. I had always wanted to become a veterinarian, but I’m not sure exactly why I felt led in that direction. Sure, I had always loved animals, and I did like science, but was that enough? Would they ask me medical questions? Or grill me on the history of science?

When I sat down and introductions were made, they simply asked me questions about…me. Questions of who I was, my opinions on certain topics–things that I couldn’t fake or research–questions that would show the type of person I was.

The interview question that popped into my mind recently was when one of the professors asked me, “So let’s just say that you’re a veterinarian in a small town. What do you think the community would want, need, or expect from you?”

It’s funny, because I really didn’t have a lot of veterinary experience. I worked for a pretty short time at a local vet hospital while at college, and did some occasional volunteering here or there, but compared to many applicants, my real-world veterinary experience was low. But somehow my immature, 22-year old brain came up with a good answer to this question, that I hold as a dear truth today.

I told them that a community would need to know that I was honest and that I cared. I predicted that I probably wouldn’t always have all of the answers, but that at least they would know they could count on me to care enough to find it for them. And that they could trust me as a person. They would also want to know I would care about them, their families, and their pets, because I would be a person in their community and would want to know that other members in the community cared about me and my family.

When I think about that answer now, 15 years later, with most of those years entrenched in a small, local community, I can’t help but feel that it holds truer now that it did in my 22-year old imagination. And not just relating to being a veterinarian in a community, but relating to all of us, living together in community. Being open and honest, being able to trust each other, and most importantly, caring for each other. This is how I define my hometown, Crozet, and our larger community in Charlottesville and beyond. This is how I feel about the close relationships Michelle and I have made over the years.

Well, no surprise ending here. I got into veterinary school, and then a million small, but important decisions have somehow guided me here to Crozet, with Michelle and a son.

Living in this amazing community I continue to try and live up to my end of the deal and I continue to be grateful for this place that we call home. I’m not sure my 22-year-old mind could have imagined it would be this good.

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