I Heart my Science Career! An Interview with a Veterinarian

By Scientific Minds
17 August, 2016


In an effort to inspire students to pursue STEM careers and interests, "I Heart My Science Career" highlights a person with a career in the sciences. Today's Scientific Minds interview is with Dr. Kayla Cheek, Associate Veterinarian.

SM: What is your current job title and where do you work?

Dr. Cheek: I am an Associate Veterinarian at Robertson County Veterinary Services in Hearne, which is just outside of College Station, TX.

SM: Tell us a little bit about your childhood.

Dr. Cheek: I grew up in the small town of Orange, TX. I was on a competitive dance team and danced from the age of 3 until I graduated from high school. I also played on the varsity golf team and was a manager for the volleyball team. I enjoyed camping, going to movies and plays, reading, and hanging out with my friends. I spent many summers teaching swimming lessons at the local pool with the American Red Cross.

Kayla on the 8th grade summer BIOS trip to Mesa Verde

SM: What is your education background? What degrees or training did you receive?

Dr. Cheek: I received a high school diploma from Little Cypress Mauriceville High School and graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelors of Science with Honors in Animal Science at Sam Houston State University. I then got my Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University.

SM: What inspired you to choose your college major?

Dr. Cheek: I actually started my undergraduate degree in psychology without really knowing what I wanted to do with my life. After my first year of college, my dad suggested that I shadow a local veterinarian to see if that may be something that I was interested in. I always liked animals but for some reason never saw that as an opportunity for me. That summer I shadowed at a mixed animal practice (large and small animals) in Vinton, La and loved every minute of it. I observed work on horses, cats, dogs, goats, and all sorts of animals! The next semester I changed my degree plan to animal science and spent an extra year in my undergraduate degree so that I could go to vet school.

SM: What has been your career path since you completed your first degree?

Dr. Cheek: After earning my undergraduate degree, I immediately started vet school, which is a 4 year program. After graduating from vet school in the spring, I took the summer off and started as a veterinarian in the fall.

SM: Have you made any changes in your original career path? If so, why?

Dr. Cheek: I really didn't know what I wanted to do with my career when I started vet school. There are many options, including a specialization in small animal medicine (dogs/cats), large animal specialization (cows, farm animals or horses), veterinary research, zoo medicine or food production medicine. I really liked the idea of doing multiple species and decided during my fourth year (which is the clinical year where you get to practice being the doctor) that I wanted to do a mixed animal practice.

SM: What, if any, additional training have you completed in order to meet the qualifications for your current job?

Dr. Cheek: As a mixed animal practitioner, I had to get a couple of certifications to be able to practice medicine in the state of Texas, including my board exam, my licensing exam, and some certifications to be able to give health certificates to food animals so they can be transported across state lines. Veterinarians who choose to do more than just general practice might complete extra vigorous training and tests to be board-certified in a specific area such as equine orthopedic surgery or small animal dermatology.

SM: How did you find your current job? What job-hunting resources did you use?

Dr. Cheek: I actually found this job from a friend on Facebook! A girl who graduated a year before me in vet school was tagged in a post holding a litter of puppies, and I saw that the clinic she worked for was in the area where I wanted to work. I went online to their website and saw they were hiring. I contacted my friend, and she got me an interview at that clinic the following week.

SM: Describe a typical day at work.

Dr. Cheek: I get to work at 7:45. Appointments start at 8am. We do all of our scheduled surgeries in the morning so that the animals are awake enough to go home in the afternoon. Scheduled surgeries typically include spays, neuters, mass removals, dentals, etc. We accept walk-ins, so I may see some patients between surgeries. Lunch is from 12-1, but if someone comes in during that hour and I am at the clinic, I will usually see them instead of making them wait. We see more appointments from 1-5. They usually include cats, dogs, horses, cows, and some pigs and goats. If there is something that needs to be seen at a farm like a horse or cow that can't be brought in, I will take a technician with me to go on a farm call. A lot of times I do not go home right at 5pm. We stay until the last appointment is done and everything is cleaned and prepped for the next day. We also offer after-hours emergency services. I am on call every other week/ weekend until 10pm. If someone calls and has an emergency, I will meet them at the clinic and take care of it. Sometimes that includes just giving medications or taking x rays or even doing emergency surgery.

SM: What parts of your job to you enjoy the most?

Dr. Cheek: I enjoy seeing all the different types of animals the most. I love being able to problem solve and figure out what is wrong with an animal since it cannot tell me. I also love trying new things because what may work for one patient may not work for another. Every day is different.

SM: What parts of your job do you enjoy the least?

Dr. Cheek: I want to help animals, so I get frustrated when pet owners do not follow professional advice, especially when they’ve read something different on the internet.

SM: What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?

Dr. Cheek: When I was in vet school, I got to take care of a baby rhino. I got to feed him and give him his medication. That was super cool because I know that there are very few people in the world who will ever be able to touch a rhino, let alone care for one. He loved to head butt us when he wanted to play, which over the weeks became more and more forceful!

SM: What career advice do you think high schools and colleges should be giving students?

Dr. Cheek: Focusing on school and your grades is extremely important, but being involved in leadership roles and clubs will make or break your interviews for careers you desire. Employers want to see that you kept up with your studies, but they really want to know that you are a well-rounded person and were involved in leadership roles in clubs and extracurricular activities. These roles help to grow a person into someone who can become a good team player in a job atmosphere with great interpersonal skills and work ethics.

SM: What is the salary range for people in your career?

Dr. Cheek: It really depends on what type of practice you get into and where you are working. Small-animal-only veterinarians in big cities usually start out around $80,000/ year. Mixed animal practice in rural areas starts out around $65,000.

SM: What were some of the obstacles you had to overcome in receiving your degrees and pursuing your career path?

Dr. Cheek: My bachelors degree came very easy to me. I studied but also was able to go out and have fun and maintain my grades. Vet school was a different story. It was extremely difficult the first two years due to a heavy workload and a lot of memorizing. I am a visual/ tactical learner, so I learn things by doing them and seeing them, which was hard to do when it was all just classroom lecturing. Thankfully I had a lot of professors who were willing to give me extra help as well as great classmates for studying. Once I got into my third year and started to see diseases and connect all the dots I had learned the past two years, school became much easier for me.

SM: At the end of the day, what gives you a feeling of satisfaction concerning your job?

Dr. Cheek: Knowing that I have helped relieve pain and suffering. Whether by diagnosing a disease and treating it, healing broken bones, or even performing euthanasia, I know that I have done my best to make that animal’s life better, which in turn also helps the client’s life.

SM: Since beginning your career, what other science-related job opportunities have you learned about that you find interesting?

Dr. Cheek: I love to teach. I love the idea of teaching students about animals, or medicine, and even nature. I think teaching young kids about my field or the world around us and what makes it work and grow is extremely interesting and fulfilling. In the future, I would love to add that as a part of my vet career.

SM: What advice do you have for students considering a career in the sciences?

Dr. Cheek: Don't give up. I hear all the time, "I thought about being a vet, but when I saw the course load I decided to do something else." There is no bigger regret in life than not trying something you want to accomplish. You only have one life to live, and it is better to be doing what you love than settling for something just because you thought it would be too hard. Never settle for less than your capabilities. It is amazing what you can accomplish if you just work hard and push through the pain. Always look for help if you need it. There are a lot of people willing and ready to help you succeed – they are just waiting for you to ask.

SM: Do you have any additional comments?

Dr. Cheek: Don't be discouraged if you don't know what you want to do with your life yet. I didn't know that I wanted to be a vet until my second year of my undergraduate degree. Try a lot of different things. Volunteer and shadow in a lot of different fields and ask a lot of questions until you find something you feel passionate about. Don't think it is ever too late to do something you are passionate about.

Is there a science career you would like to learn more about? Leave us a comment, and we'll plan an interview! 

The "I Heart My Science Career" Blog Goals – To highlight someone working in a science-related field so that students may learn the following:

1. There are abundant and diverse career opportunities that are not typically presented to them as science careers.

2. People just like them, with similar backgrounds, are working in these jobs.

3. Careers often take exciting paths that couldn’t have been predicted when choosing a science major or graduating with a specific degree in science. The world of science is ever-changing, and so are jobs that involve science.

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