Justine Ma earned a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology at UC Davis. After undergrad she decided to take two years off to gain more clinical experience and find her niche. Eventually she found her passion in public health and is now a third year veterinary student at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Click to read her story.
VAC: Did you ever doubt yourself/or your plans to go to vet school either due to difficult classes or the competitive nature of people around you?
JM: I think everyone has doubts about getting into veterinary school because it is so competitive but I tried to think positively and stay on track with my goals. I knew that it was going to be a difficult journey and would take a lot of hard work and dedication but I also knew I wanted to become a veterinarian and I was willing to do whatever I could to become one, no matter how long it took. Going to UC Davis was a bit intimidating at times because so many people were also striving for the same goal, fostering a lot of competition. This is unfortunate because in vet school, collaborating with your peers helps foster relationships that will help you through vet school and later in your career. My advice is to stay focused, work hard, get good grades and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t reach your goals.
VAC: Describe your animal + veterinary experience before your application to veterinary school?
JM: I actually got most of my veterinary experience after graduating from undergraduate work at UC Davis. This was a personal decision I made. I knew I only had one chance to set my GPA so I focused mainly on getting good grades and a good GPA while at UC Davis. After graduation I decided to take 2 years to get the experience I wanted, study for the GREs and apply for vet school. The animal experience I did get during my undergrad years included working with the veterinary medicine extension and doing education outreach and volunteering at the Raptor Center. After school, I worked at a small animal clinic for a few months and spent the rest of my time off working at a wildlife rehabilitation facility as the triage manager. On my days off, I volunteered at the CA Department of Public Health, working under the former state public health veterinarian and learning about the public health aspect of veterinary medicine.
VAC: What advice would you give to a young pre-vet student with similar aspirations in public health veterinary medicine?
JM: The field of veterinary public health is a vast field with many opportunities so if you have the opportunity, definitely check them out! I am still learning about the field and the different opportunities it has to offer. Even if you don’t think you are going into public health, at least be open to the thought and learn more about the field. In any field of veterinary medicine, there is some aspect of public health incorporated into it so you never know what opportunities may arise in the future. Also, if you have the opportunity, study abroad or look at opportunities to go abroad. I had the studied abroad in Kenya for 3 months during my junior year and that is where my first desire to go into public health came from. Getting experience abroad helps broaden your view of the world and see things that you may not see here in the US, which can be potentially life changing.
VAC: Why do you want to be a veterinarian?
jM: Like many people entering the veterinary profession, I have always loved animals and initially wanted to become a veterinarian to help animals. But as I grew up and experienced more of the different niches in veterinary medicine, I realized the great impact veterinarians can have on the world. While in school, we are given tools, skills and knowledge that can help tackle issues related to both animals, humans and the environment. With this realization, I can now confidently say that the reason I want to become a veterinarian is to make a difference and have an impact on the world. Particularly, I would love to be able to travel and have an impact in developing countries, whether it is with disease outbreaks or development.
VAC: What is one thing you wish you knew about veterinary school when you first started out that you know now?
JM: I didn’t realize how important classes like immunology and microbiology were until I got to veterinary school. When I applied to vet school, they weren’t prerequisites for Davis so I didn’t take those classes. Looking back at it now, I wish I did because I felt I would have gotten more out of the classes in veterinary school. They are important topics that are covered in a variety of our classes.
VAC: Who is one person who changed your professional life for the better?
JM: My parents have been the backbone and support system getting into veterinary school and supporting me while I am in school. Without their support, encouragement, dedication and belief in me, I don’t know where I would be!
VAC: What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?
JM: I don’t know if I consider it a mistake but perhaps a regret. Looking back at my undergraduate years at UC Davis I thought I didn’t have time to do anything extra. I was so focused on my studies that I really didn’t take advantage of the different opportunities the school had to offer. I regret all the missed opportunities that I could have had. I was really bad at balancing my life while in undergrad and still have a hard time balancing my life now in vet school though I am definitely working on it. So I encourage you to enjoy the time that you have now. Yes, I understand that school is important and you want to do well in your classes but take time also to go out there and take advantage of the many opportunities Davis has to offer, whether it is vet school related or not. Once you get into vet school, you REALLY won’t have time!