I’m sure most of us have a huge respect for veterinarians. After all, they help us with our beloved ponies in times of need. In addition to the obvious, I think most horse owner know that being a vet can be a hard, thankless job. With that in mind, I loved today’s interview from my buddy Jennifer!
Who are you and what do you do? 🙂
My name is Jennifer Wickline and I am an equine veterinarian near Dallas, TX. I graduated from Texas A&M in 2011 and did a 1-year internship at Reata Equine Hospital in Weatherford. I now work with Dr. Kent Arnold at Equine Veterinary ServicesEquine Veterinary Services in Terrell, TX.
So, I know that when I was a kid I wanted to be a vet and was pretty sure it was going to happen… then it didn’t. I’ve heard lots of similar stories from others. What character traits do you think those that make it have?
Judging by the incredibly diverse group of classmates I went through vet school with, I think that being driven, I suppose to an extreme, is a common thread we all shared. Call it Type A personality, whatever you want, but you don’t get from 1st year through 4th year if you’re half-interested in becoming a vet. You absolutely, without a doubt, have to WANT it – because that’s the only thing that will make you study that extra hour, drink that 80th cup of coffee, stay in the anatomy lab half the night, make yourself sick looking through a microscope lens, and basically take up residence inside the walls of a school for four years. Obviously a keen interest in animals is a given. A little bit of a nerdy science brain might help, but don’t be discouraged if you got a “C” in CHEM101 in college… I did. 🙂
Speaking of persevering, what was the biggest obstacle or toughest time while getting your DVM?
Juggling personal life and school was probably my biggest struggle. I can be very one-track-minded and sort of forget that there are other things going on around me sometimes. I made a lot of great friends in school that I still miss seeing every day, but I had to make it a point to keep in touch with my non-vet-school friends as well. I was lucky enough to have at least one horse with me at all times through school, so they helped me ‘see the light’, sometimes literally daylight, every once in a while (that’s only a half-joke, lol!). I consider myself very blessed to have some of the greatest friends, especially the non-veterinary ones that put up with me while I was in school! They really stuck beside me and supported me and I am extremely thankful for all of them.
What’s the worst habit us horse owners have when dealing with vets, and how can we be better clients in your opinion?
Good question! I was going to try to avoid the soap box, but one of my biggest pet peeves is a spoiled horse.. and by that I do not mean the one that searches your pockets for treats. I mean the ones that have never once been made to do something they didn’t feel like doing. I’m not asking for your horse to offer his jugular vein for sedation or a blood draw, or stand perfectly still for vaccines, but he needs to realize when the battle is over and he’s lost. The ones that would rather hurt you or themselves than let you treat them are the ones that I would rather not risk my (or my tech’s) life on.. I did not go to school to be a cowboy, so teach your horse some ground manners. I say it from a place of concern for the client as well as myself, lol. A naughty horse is very dangerous. Other than that, having your horse(s) caught and tied or at least in a stall when the vet shows up is very helpful. Also be sure to give your vet an accurate history to the best of your ability, and PLEASE don’t give your horse bute within 24 hours of a lameness exam. Unless your horse is 3-legged crippled, the bute might fix him enough that it’s hard to appreciate the severity of, or even see, the lameness that you paid a farm call for me to look at.. Not cost effective for you, and pretty frustrating for your vet. I’m not sure why but this has happened to me a lot recently.
Best music playlist for surgery – go!
Eye of the Tiger – there is an inside joke here. I won’t go into it. It involves neutering cats, lol.
I love the RENT soundtrack..that’s welcome in the CD player any time J
Here’s the top 10 on my playlist right now:
1. Ragged as the Road – Reckless Kelly
2. Gringo Honeymoon – Robert Earl Keen
3. Every Girl – Turnpike Troubadours
4. Long Hot Summer Day – Turnpike Troubadours
5. Cups – Anna Kendrick
6. Black and Yellow – Wiz Khalifa
7. Blurred Lines – Robin Thicke
8. Somewhere Down in Texas – Jason Boland & The Stragglers
9. If I Could – Sunny Sweeney
10. (Put the Lime in the) Coconut – Harry Nilsson
… wow I just realized how crazy my taste in music is, lol.
Squeamish readers skip this next question!
What’s the nastiest thing you’ve encountered as a vet (come on, I had to ask)?
I’ve seen some pretty nasty things.. When I was an intern, I got called out to a traumatic chest wound caused by a horse getting caught between a gate and a post, which lacerated the lung, diaphragm, and liver (he did not make it, but somehow I managed to get him stable enough to transport to surgery). Infected wounds are pretty gross because not only do they look nasty but they smell awful. I had a patient semi-recently with a badly infected wound on his pastern and another on the bridge of his nose. He came in for a recheck, and I can handle anything that looks gross, but if it stinks like rotting flesh, I’m out.. and it did.. and I had to step away. That’s a smell that sticks around. I also had a foal that sloughed his hoof capsule from a strangulating wire injury. That was incredibly sad.
Biggest success story?
I don’t know that I have one instance that really sticks out, but bringing one back from a severe episode of colic is always REALLY gratifying- especially when you feel like the horse probably needs surgery, but it’s not an option for that patient, so you prepare the owner for the worst, but you keep going with the fluids, and the refluxing, and the painkillers and other drugs, and all of a sudden their gums pink up and they get that light back in their eye and those guts start moving again.. that’s a pretty great feeling. Saving a sick foal is also very rewarding. We do a fair amount of performance horse work and it’s always really fun to see our clients doing well/having fun in the show ring, too!
Have you had to practice on your own animals, and is that as impossible as I feel like it would be?
Actually it doesn’t bother me as much as maybe it should. There’s a certain amount of removal you feel from even your own horse after a while, especially if something just needs to be done. However, when it comes time to say goodbye to one of them, I don’t think I’ll be to do it. I still own my first show pony, Ruby is 24 years old, and she will die in my care. I know that and I wouldn’t have it any other way. She gave me, my sister, and a lot of other little kids so much, and when she tells me it’s time, I want to be able to do that for her. That, to me, is one of the beauties of veterinary medicine.
If you had to do it all over again, would you still pursue a career in Veterinary medicine?
Yes, at the end of the day I love what I do. I love meeting new clients, taking care of long-time clients and their horses, helping owners reach performance goals with their horses, and I even like the emergency aspect of it… once I get over the sleep-loss aspect, haha. I actually had to pause during this interview for a colic all-nighter. I’m happy to say that although it was painful through the night, it was one of the gratifying ones that responded to medical treatment and is doing fantastic now. 🙂
What advice would you have for someone who wants to become a large animal vet?
Start shadowing/working/teching early, like in high school. You have to figure out whether it’s for you, and it’s better to do it early than realize later in the game that the lifestyle isn’t for you. The days are long, there are many physical aspects, long nights, late nights, calls out in the rain with a down mare that’s been in labor for 2 hours, calls out in the cold for a wild longhorn bull AND cow with their horns stuck in a hay ring, and the pay is not nearly as good as small animal medicine, at least early in your career, and the hours are definitely more unpredictable. That being said, for reasons I described above, I love it, I’ve chosen it for my life, and I have no regrets. To those that want to be a large animal vet, I say best of luck, don’t look back, and don’t let others talk you out of it!
Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions! If you’re in the Dallas area and need a great vet, be sure to check out Jennifer and her colleagues at Equine Veterinary Services.