By Karim Jawad, DVM candidate
For me, it all began in third grade when my teacher gave us an assignment and asked us what we wanted to be when we “grow up”. My answer was “Veterinarian”, and my reason was that “I liked animals”. Anybody who has ever considered being a veterinarian has done so for that reason. It is extremely rare for one to go into the field and not have at least some interest in other living things besides humans. Veterinary medicine is a field that comes with a lot of risk and not enough reward. Veterinary students have to work harder than the average medical student in the sense that they have to study several different species of animals, be experts on them, and on average make far less money. Furthermore, they are more emotionally burdened by the prospect of having to euthanize their patients. It doesn’t help that veterinary students spend just as much money to put themselves through school, and the possibility of failing out is always there, even if you manage to get into one of the 28 accredited schools in the United States (compared to the 171 accredited American MD and DO schools combined).
However my situation was slightly different. Although I wanted to be a veterinarian growing up, I didn’t pursuit it right out of high school. Around eleventh grade my father convinced me that it was better to pursue pharmacy school, because it was only two years of prerequisite courses and four years of pharmacy school. Another benefit was that he was a self-employed pharmacist, so naturally he wanted to pass on his business. To me it just sounded like the more convenient option. Pharmacy as a field is not something people generally go into because they love it. Nobody grows up saying they want to count pills in a small room for the rest of their life and really mean it. It’s a great way to make money, and for me money and job security were important at the time. But as I worked my way through undergrad, I realized that it was not fun and that I really had no passion to get into pharmacy school. On top of that it was more difficult to get in than when my father was in school, since they added the PCAT, two more years of prerequisites, and they wanted people to have tons of extracurricular activities done. Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t an “A” student nor was I the most active in the community. It got to the point where I couldn’t get into pharmacy school because my PCAT scores and grades weren’t good enough. I interviewed at a few places and was placed on a waiting lists that never became acceptances. At that point, I realized that I had done the wrong thing from the beginning and should have gone down the path I intended to go on in the first place. That’s when I decided to pursue veterinary school again.
Luckily for me, my science classes were done and there were veterinary schools in the Caribbean that I could apply to. American and Canadian medical students know all about these schools, but for veterinary students it is a God send considering how few veterinary schools there are in the states. I ended up getting accepted to Ross University in St. Kitts, which proved to be a struggle for me in more ways than one. When I moved there for my first semester, it was the first time I lived outside of Michigan since my family came from Sierra Leone in the early 90s. I had never lived by myself or been out of my comfort zone so abruptly. It was especially difficult with the added stress of trying to pass exams while living in an underdeveloped island nation that was prone to blackouts, tropical storms, and an abundance of spiders, centipedes, and fire ants to keep you on your toes. But of all the obstacles that I encountered, the most difficult were the times when my religious values were put to the test. Whether it was going to parties that served alcohol, people smoking marijuana, or pursuing women, it was not easy being a naive single Muslim guy on an island living alone with many non-Muslim friends (most of them women). This isn’t to say that I was the most righteous human being, but there were certain things that I was raised to avoid, and I tried my best to avoid them.
Although I am currently finishing up veterinary school, the journey has never gotten any easier. For me the most difficult aspect of school wasn’t pressure from my parents or the community to do something else. On the contrary, my family was very supportive of me leaving home and pursuing my veterinary degree, because they knew how much I wanted it and they saw it as a great career. The most difficult aspects of the last 4 years was being away from family and friends, having to take care of myself, fighting off temptation, and seeing how much changed back home while I was gone, and not being able to be a part of it.
I would love to think that all this was worth it and I will be a better human being for it. At the very least, my experiences have made me wiser, stronger, and improved my character. I hope one day I can work in Michigan in order to share my story and inspire a younger generation of high school and college students in the Middle Eastern community, so that they may pursue their dreams and not succumb to external or internal pressures. Because if you don’t take a risk and do what you like, then you’re never gonna succeed in life.