Greg is originally from San Diego and went to UC Davis for his undergraduate education. He graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Evolution and Ecology in 2005, and decided to take break from school for four years before starting veterinary school in 2009. He is pursuing zoological medicine.
VAC: Did you ever doubt yourself/or plans to go to vet school? Either through difficult classes or the competitive nature of people around you?
GB: Certainly, the first five people I told I wanted to go to vet school thought I was making a joke. I decided to go to vet school fairly late (I had already graduated with my bachelor's before ever considering it), and always thought it would be too hard. But once I started applying myself and really focusing, I gained confidence in my ability to succeed in the classroom. My experience was a little different in the sense that I had graduated and had to take a few more classes and start from scratch to gain veterinary experience, and there were definitely times when I questioned if I had made the right call. It doesn't hurt to stop every once in awhile and reassess what the hell you're doing in life, but every time I did that I found some new exciting experience in veterinary medicine. As for competition with other students, I never really experienced it in undergrad, but I did get a sense of it when I saw how many people were applying to vet school. My personal philosophy was never to worry about what other people were doing, and be satisfied with my own effort and direction. If I had taken to heart what the naysayers kept telling me, I wouldn't be here.
VAC: What was your first entry-level job in veterinary medicine and how did you get it?
GB: Since I was 23 years old when I first thought about going to vet school, I wanted to just observe/shadow some veterinarians and see if it was the right career for me. So I called a few nearby vets and asked them if I could hang out a couple of times a week. They were overwhelmingly welcoming and I got a chance to observe the personal interaction they had with their clients, which I think was a very important experience for me. Once I was serious about applying to school, I needed some real time in the clinic to show my chops, so I got a job as a kennel boy at a specialty small animal hospital. Definitely a bit humbling to be doing laundry and dishes with a bachelor's degree in science, but I worked my tail off and gained the respect of the technicians and the doctors I worked with. That was an invaluable experience for me, and by showing interest and being persistent, I was able to gain a number of technical skills over a relatively short period.
VAC:What is one thing you wish you know about zoo medicine when you first started out that you wished you know now?
GB: I think a lot of students enter into vet school really excited about zoo med and then find out that there are a limited number of jobs, the pay is relatively low, and each position that does open up gets a deluge of hypercompetitive applicants. I sort of knew that going in, from having spoken with a lot of people about the realities of the career beforehand, so I wasn't too surprised along the way. I also had worked in zoos and with wild animals in the field before, so I had an appreciation and passion for what it's really like to be situations like that. Maybe some people think that zoo med is all about playing with tiger cubs, I don't know.
VAC: How did you make your veterinary school application stand out?
GB: My application stood out just because of where I had come from, and how I arrived at the decision to pursue veterinary medicine. My experience with wild animals zoos and in the field were definitely atypical, as well as my undergraduate education in ecology and evolution. One of the things that I think really helped my application was how diverse my experience was. I had worked in small animal practices, equine hospitals, exotic animal and avian places, and with livestock at the county fair, all within a couple of years of starting with no veterinary experience whatsoever! If you're open to trying new things, and persistent enough to create opportunities for yourself, you can get a broad view of veterinary medicine.
VAC: What kind of experience is good for a pre-veterinary student pursuing zoological medicine in veterinary school?
GB: Again, diversity is key. Get as much different experience as you can. There are two things that I would suggest. The first is that you work in a zoo or on a field project. Lots of places accept volunteers and it's a good way see what it's really like to work with wild animals. The second is to get a lot of experience with the domestic species. Don't limit yourself to just small or just large animals. Zoo vets have to work on hundreds of different species, and you should start to get comfortable with the different groups. You'll learn the basics of husbandry and medicine with domestic species, and then apply them to the nondomestic species.
VAC: How can I find a internship with zoo animals?
GB: Talk to people! Be professional and courteous, and ask them if you can shadow or assist them with their work. They may refer you to someone who is looking for help. Also, a lot of zoos have volunteer programs, try one out. You may start by assisting the zookeepers, but it's a great way to learn how zoos work and hopefully meet with and talk to the vets. I've found that zoo vets are very welcoming and encouraging as a whole and usually enjoy talking to students. Just be respectful, they are busy people!
VAC: What words of wisdom do you find most valuable?
GB: Don't freak out! It's a long challenging road to become a zoo vet, don't let yourself get too discouraged when things don't go according to plan. You should enjoy the journey, and if you constantly feel stressed out and unhappy, then it's a bad career choice for you! The most important thing is to be satisfied with what you are doing in life, temporary periods of stress or un-fun-ness are okay if they get you to where you want to be, but keep that end goal in sight.