Ashley Heard-Garir ’16 I was born in Lubbock, Texas, but have lived all over the United States: Colorado, Virginia, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Hawaii, to name a few places. I’ve also had wideranging jobs: algebra teacher, lab coordinator, shark tagger, scientific diver, fish counter, and environmental researcher. Throughout my many experiences, I’ve always been drawn to science and the ocean. When I went to Sea World with my family as a child, my older sister was too afraid to sit on Shamu—but I begged for the opportunity. Instead of carrying around a doll, I carried around a rubber snake. My favorite television channel was National Geographic. It was no surprise when I majored in marine science while earning my bachelor’s degree at the University of Hawaii. During summers, I conducted research for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. I loved this experience and intended to pursue a doctoral degree, but was unable to obtain funding for my proposed Ph.D. projects. Instead, I continued to conduct marine research part-time while also working at Kamehameha High School as a lab coordinator and teacher. This unique system of schools is mandated exclusively for native Hawaiian students. After a few years teaching and conducting part-time research, I realized that I longed to focus on veterinary science. I need to be involved in a variety of activities to feel fulfilled: education, conservation, and clinical research. My
family and I decided to move to the United States mainland so that I could pursue a veterinary degree. We moved to Dallas, Texas, to be nearer to my parents, who were a great help when my daughter was born a few months later. This was a very hectic time for me. Because my bachelor’s degree is in marine science, I needed a few course prerequisites before applying to veterinary schools. I took classes at a nearby university and gained handson experience by working as a technician at a veterinary hospital. Initially, I was hired to work in the kennel because I didn’t have clinical experience—my background centered on exotic husbandry and marine science. Fortunately, I was able to learn quickly and within one month was assisting with surgeries. While taking classes and working at the clinic, I also worked as a tutor to support my family. I applied to Texas A&M University because I knew the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) has a rigorous research program with opportunities for exotic education and training. I chose the alternative tracking option, which allowed me to focus on my specific interests and goals in exotic medicine. Tracking in exotic medicine, rather than large or small animal medicine, can be difficult. Students may miss out on hands-on experiences if they don’t plan ahead and actively seek opportunities. Through forethought and hard work, however, the alternative track has been very successful for me. My first step was some self-reflection: What am I weak in? What do I wish to get better in? I externed at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium to learn aquatic medicine, but I also gained experience in amphibians and reptiles. I then externed at the Miami Seaquarium for experience with manatees and sea turtles. To learn more about avian medicine, I externed at the only exotic animal clinic in Louisiana. I also gained experience with exotic small mammals like ferrets—the types of pets that veterinarians see in a clinic. The last piece of the puzzle was the Houston Zoo, where I’ve gained experience with big cats and exotic hoofstock. I’ve also enjoyed the extracurricular opportunities here at the CVM. I’ve been actively involved in exotic animal education through the Zoo Club. In addition to being a board member, I have served as president, and I’m proud of the legacy we’ll be leaving. We’ve reinvigorated aquatic education and created a guidebook for future Zoo Club leaders so that there’s now better continuity within the club. I also co-chaired the zoo room at Open House, where we showcased Texas A&M’s exotic medicine curriculum. After graduation, I’ll work at a small exotic animal practice in Carrollton, Texas. Clinicians in this practice push boundaries to improve the quality of veterinary medicine, and they’re excited to have me expand their exotic practice. It’s also a unique opportunity because they are adding a sea turtle sanctuary. What I love about exotic animal medicine is that every case is new and interesting. You have to think outside the box, and you don’t have a framework to work from. The work is always fun and challenging. You’ll never learn everything, and you learn something new every day. Winter 2017 •
Published on Feb 22, 2017
Published on Feb 22, 2017
A semi-annual publication for the faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical...