Most people knew they wanted to be a veterinarian since they were five. Even as a young child, their heart was set and their mind followed in the form of countless hours of veterinary and animal experience, excellent grades throughout school, and a life revolving around getting accepted to veterinary school. They succeeded and then the real work began. My story is not so linear.
Of course I loved animals and this passion only grew stronger as I grew older living on a beautiful ranch nestled below the Northern California mountains. I rode my horse every weekend, went searching for kittens in the hay barn, and begged my mother to let our black lab/pit mix Mandy sleep on my bed every night ( although that wasn’t very difficult). I thought my path to becoming a veterinarian would be akin to what I described above, but turns out, life can throw you curveballs making you question everything about what your future will hold.
In addition to these challenges, there was the struggle of wanting to do everything and be everything, but simultaneously thinking you weren’t capable. I wanted to be a singer/songwriter and move to Nashville, wanted to train on my downhill skis every winter preparing for the Olympics, but I also wanted to become a veterinarian and help the animals I loved so much. As I grew up, certain life events occurred which shook my confidence and depression became a constant companion to me almost every night. Most the time, I felt like I wasn’t capable of accomplishing anything, let alone becoming a singer, Olympian, or a veterinarian.
I didn’t think I was smart enough to become a veterinarian, that I was outgoing enough to play music in front of people and that I was strong enough to become the skier I envisioned myself to be. But I was and am smart enough, outgoing enough, and strong enough, but it took a very long time and many years of self reflection to see and feel that I had it in me all along. The second I gained confidence was the second life started to click. With hard work, perseverance, passion and self-reflection, I truly believe anyone has the ability to become their best self and continue that trajectory throughout their life.
I graduated from college and thought that wildlife biology was the career for me, so I started working for the California Department Of Fish and Wildlife walking down rivers all over Siskiyou County counting salmon, taking samples, and chopping the carcasses in half with a machete ( in order to ensure they were not counted twice). Being outside every day was the best place to be, but I desired hands on contact with animals which led me to a job at the local veterinary clinic.
I worked as a veterinary technician for over a year and knew that it was time to apply to veterinary school. My undergraduate grades were not good, but I had the experience and passion. However, I was rejected from every school except for Ross University in the Caribbean. I had been spending the winter as a ski instructor while I was waiting to hear from the schools and in March of 2016, the offer to Ross was accepted and I readied myself for the move.
Attending veterinary school in the Caribbean was the most challenging adventure I ever experienced. It challenged me mentally, emotionally and physically. I missed home, the mountains, my family and friends, and my dog. The stress from knowing how much money I was going to spend on veterinary school weighed heavily on my mind and almost every day, I worried that pursuing this dream wasn’t going to be worth it. The depression I thought I learned to manage reared it’s ugly head again and to combat that, I started meditating every day, talking to the school psychologist twice a week, and threw myself into my studies and the gym.
I still couldn’t quite shake it and knew I needed to change something. I needed to be close to my support system to make it through four years of veterinary school. After doing some research, I discovered that Oregon State accepted transfer students. I wrote my personal statement, ask my references if they would help, and continued to focus on learning the material well enough to elicit a high GPA. It worked and to my amazement, my eight month stint on St. Kitts was over and I was on a plane back to the west coast.
I was confident I had made it through the hardest part of my journey through veterinary school, but it was far from over. I finally made it into my first choice school after my second try only to almost fail out my first quarter. Nothing scared me more than failing especially when $60,000 of student debt was already looming over my head. How would I pay it back if I failed out? What would I do with my life? Would I end up homeless and unemployable?
These thoughts ran through my mind every single day, consuming any happiness I had generated throughout my daily life. I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life. With the help of my family and my own tenacity, I was able to make it through that quarter…and then the next and the next and the next. The possibility of failing veterinary school began to feel less ominous.
Through my participation in the VBMA the last two years of school and the Veterinary Entrepreneurship Academy this summer, I learned how to eventually start my own business and more importantly, that is was possible to own a business regardless of my debt load. The main takeaway was that owning my own business would actually be the fastest way to conquer my future $250,000 plus student debt. This was the light at the end of the tunnel I needed and it gave me hope and inspiration. The ability to control my financial future and live the lifestyle I envisioned finally felt within my reach.
One of my dreams has been to help my mother turn our Northern California ranch into a multi-faceted business, one that fuses components of veterinary medicine, agriculture, and pet cuisine. My plan to pay off my student debt fast is to start a mobile veterinary clinic and service the area in Northern California where I am from. In addition, I want to grow and refine the grass fed beef business currently running on our ranch with the addition of producing seasonal crops.
The ultimate goal is to use this food to make fresh, local, veterinarian approved pet food to sell to my clients and online to other pet parents. I believe excellent nutrition is the key element to preventative medicine and I want to make healthy, clean, and nutritionally balanced food available to as many pets as possible.
During the first few years of veterinary school, I thought I made the wrong choice. It was frightening to feel that way, but by keeping an open mind, asking for help, and making sure I was surrounded by supportive people, I was able to realize that there was an abundance of opportunity available to me and the rest of us in this amazing field. It is an extremely challenging journey, but in the end, I truly believe all the hard work and money spent will be worth it.
(Raquel Schenone is one of two finalists for the “vet school loans” category for the 2018 Student Loan Planner scholarship. To vote your preference, make sure to share her story on social media with the share buttons below and leave substantive comments on what you think of her essay.)