By Laura Copan
Class of 2017: At Donning of the Kente, a celebration of achievement for Black and African American graduates. Seven black women graduated as Doctors of Veterinary Medicine: LaCheryl Ball, Sabrina Brooks, Jasmine Bryant, Stéphanie Paultre, Amber Roudette, Brittany Sholes. Not pictured: Erica Dickerson.
Enrolling in Virginia Tech’s rigorous College of Veterinary Medicine is not for the faint of heart. “The curriculum was the greatest challenge,” says graduate Stéphanie Paultre. “But I could have done without certain comments that were said about us throughout our four years, like we only got a certain scholarship because we are black,” or only got accepted at all “because of affirmative action,” or even “being told ‘close enough’ when mistaken for another black student.” Getting past these and other challenges requires overcoming “personal thoughts of self doubt,” adds graduate Sabrina Brooks.
Although higher education can at times feel like a bubble, Brittany Sholes felt the pressure on a larger scale. “Personally, it was difficult for me to deal with all of these stressors when I was also trying to comprehend current events and social unrest occurring in the U.S. It was very emotionally exhausting.”
“I am most proud of persevering through it all,” Paultre says. Despite struggling with a rotation in her fourth year, she graduated on time, and with flying colors. “We all had our ups and downs these past four years, but we held on and helped each other get back up.”
Graduate Amber Roudette took Virginia Tech’s motto, Ut Prosim (that I may serve) to heart. She served as President of VOICE (Veterinary Students as One In Culture and Ethnicity). Through VOICE, she coordinated speakers, community service, and social events to “bring together people who may have not met otherwise.”
Despite the challenges of the program, these graduates encourage their peers not to be deterred when applying to the College of Veterinary Medicine. “We need more women and men of color to increase diversity in this field,” states Paultre. LaCheryl Ball advises first-years in the program to “never, ever, change who you are to fit what you think a veterinary student should be. Be who you are everyday. For me, that meant blasting J. Cole in the parking lot, but whatever it may be that makes Blacksburg feel a little more like home, go for it.”
The graduates are all off to do individual pursuits, proving that there is no one path for a veterinarian. Dr. Ball will be working in the community medicine department of the ASPCA to serve lower income communities in New York City. Dr. Sholes is about to begin a rotating internship with a referral hospital. Dr. Roudette just started working at a small animal/exotics clinic near Staunton, Virginia. Dr. Paultre and Dr. Brooks will be working as Associate Veterinarians in Maryland. In the future, Dr. Brooks hopes to become a boarded specialist in feline medicine.
More advice for those considering applying to the College of Veterinary Medicine from Drs. Paultre, Ball, Sholes, Brooks, and Roudette (click their name to see what they said):
· “Go to the school, meet people, network, and determine if the program would be a good fit for you. I would recommend speaking to any of the veterinary students that have the time.” –Dr. Sholes
· “Ask minority students about their experiences, and speak to non-minority students and ask how they feel about diversity and what their experiences are.” –Dr. Sholes
“Explore the town. Many people come to Blacksburg because of its small town charm. Get an idea of whether you are going to be happy in such a small town, especially if you grew up or prefer more urban settings because location does matter.” –Dr. Sholes
· The rigor of the program will challenge you to reach higher, work harder, and dig deeper than perhaps you ever have. But the most important things you should know are:
- You can do this, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
- It doesn't matter what your peers or professors think of you.
- Be sure of yourself and do your best.
- Don't let the culture of academic competitiveness change you.
- There are enough A's for everyone.
- Aim high and work hard, but don't expect perfection.
- Medicine is a lifelong journey, you have your entire career to learn and grow.
- Reach out to friends and family. Make a network of people who support and appreciate you. Don't let the veterinary school alienate you from the things that matter to you.“ –Dr. Ball
· “Make time for your mental health. It's very tempting to compete with your classmates, but it's exhausting. All-nighters are not sustainable. You probably won't get an A on every test. And you don't need to go out every weekend. Just because your classmates do it doesn't mean you have to. And that's ok. Make time for yourself. Make time to visit relatives. You don't have to feel trapped for four whole years. Figure out what school-life balance works for you and stick with it, despite any peer pressure to the contrary.” –Dr. Roudette
· “There is one thing that is always consistent in vet school, and that is the support system within the class. We are a tight-knit community and your class will become your second family. You will find your niche and you will find the support you need to get through this.” –Dr. Paultre
· “Don’t listen to the stereotypes because you are an individual who worked hard just like all the other students in the program. Also, do not believe you got accepted due to affirmative action like many may think; you were accepted for academic achievement, hard work, and personality just like all the other students.” –Dr. Brooks