My journey to becoming a veterinarian began as a 16 year old high school student visiting the University of Illinois Veterinary School. While there I met with the faculty member assigned to speak with prospective students. I had been accepted to University of Illinois, and wanted to learn more about the pre-veterinary program. Enthusiastic, but shy I was told by the man behind the desk, “We do not want women in veterinary medicine and we will do everything we can to keep you out of veterinary school.” As a young girl, I lacked the self-confidence to buck the system, so I gave up on veterinary medicine and took a teacher’s scholarship (“because that’s what you were supposed to do as a girl”) to Western Illinois.
I was not happy at Western and quit college. I did not return to college until I was 24 years old. This time I went to Michigan State University. The pre-veterinary advisor at Michigan State University told me that if I wanted to succeed at Michigan State University, I would need to take 16 credits per quarter, get all the experience I could and never get below a 3.5 in any class. If I took less than 16 credits per term when I applied to veterinary school the admissions process would lower and adjust my GPA by .5 (instead of having a 3.5 it would become a 3.0). The advisor was harsh but honest, and I believed every word.
When I applied in the spring of 1979, I was fully prepared. Then I found out that I was 1 of 1400 students applying for 110 openings….I had no hope that I would get in. And then my interview came. I thought, “They will never accept me”, so I wasn’t the least bit nervous at my interview. During my interview, one of the doctors started pushing the women’s liberation “stuff” at me. I told him, “If he was trying to see where my limit was, he was getting close and I was ready to start an argument.” After that moment, he became one of my best teachers!
Veterinary school was challenging and difficult. There was no belief in the human-animal bond. No belief that animals felt pain, had emotions or any of the myriad of beliefs my profession holds today. I managed to challenge some of my professors with my view of how to handle animals and in May of 1983, I finally graduated. After being told at 16 years old that I could never become a veterinarian, dropping out of college and re-enrolling at 24 years old….I had BECOME a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine! My heart soared with pride and my parents were cheering me on.
After veterinary school, I worked for a veterinarian who was a wonderful mentor and teacher. Shortly after beginning my career, I became a mother of two young children. My daughter and my son accompanied me on many emergency calls and were frequent visitors. In April of 1990, Dr. Robert Kast and I opened Willoughby Pet Clinic. We juggled our work schedule so that we could both parent our children. My children, Rachael and Jared, spent some of their days off from school watching me work and playing in my office.
It is my belief that I am doing exactly what God intended for me to do. My father and mother instilled in me the idea that I could do whatever I set my mind to. It was society that made me reluctant to try for a career in a man’s world. When I was going through school, many male veterinarians were convinced that female veterinary students would simply graduate, get married and have children….”never using their expensive education”. I can happily say that women veterinarians have proven them wrong. We have contributed to the profession in many arenas. My children were dragged out of bed in the middle of the night to attend emergency calls to prove them wrong. I worked many long hours pregnant, standing on my feet so I could show that women can succeed in any profession. Thankfully, younger women veterinarians do not have to prove themselves quite as strongly and some of the barriers I faced have been knocked down.
This is my story, my contribution to empowering women, and I hope that it will inspire others to do the same. If you would like to make a $30 Empowerment Investment on my behalf please visit our Fundraising Page. Proceeds from the 30 in 30 campaign will benefit the Women’s Center of Greater Lansing and Michigan Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS). Both of these organizations work with women to remove barriers and help them achieve their dreams just like I did.
Dr. Mari W. Nicol, DVM