The Road to Veterinary School: Hard-work, Determination, and Perseverance

Journalist: Katie Sklaver | Editor: Josie Brett | Photographer: Alan Pedroza

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Liz Price can best be described by her peers as driven. Price is a double major in Biology and Psychology, a double minor in Spanish and Chemistry, training supervisor for the Emergency Response Team (EC-ERT), secretary for the American Pre-Vet Medical Association, and an avid Crossfitter. She holds and projects a single-minded determination that is seen commonly amongst soldiers or Olympic athletes, not your typical college student. However, Price is just as gentle and kind as she is driven and determined. Price’s favorite part of EC-ERT is seeing those she trains succeed, and in addition to performing necropsies at Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), she also rescues animals like sea turtles and manatees. Her career goals are similarly selfless–she aspires to lead a career in marine veterinary services. Price is well on her way to accomplishing those goals as she was recently accepted to the esteemed Purdue Veterinary School after her graduation in the spring of 2018, which serves as the impetus for this very interview.

Why did you decide to double major?

Originally when I started at Eckerd, I, like everyone, was a Marine Science student. I knew I wanted to work with marine mammals, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I always thought I wanted to get into training, and psychology always interested me. Additionally, when I left high school, it was very important to me that I challenged myself, so I thought a double major was a good idea. Thus, I added on a Psychology major. Then, the second semester of my freshman year, I realized that veterinary medicine is what I wanted to do, and that the Marine Science major didn’t really cover the classes I needed for vet school, so I made the switch to Biology. You mentioned that you decided on marine medicine instead of animal training as your career path in your freshman year.

Why did you decide to make the switch?

At first, I was not sure about marine mammal medicine because when people mention you want to be a veterinarian, they mostly respond with “Good luck.” It’s really hard, and your chances of success are really slim. But I started volunteering with FWC’s pathology lab, and I did things like necropsies and rescues, and I really enjoyed that. So I made the switch. My course load was really hard, and I was not sure I had made the right decision but then my junior year, I did an internship in the Keys at Dolphins Plus. I applied for it the first time in my sophomore year, and I did not get it because they said I did not have enough clinical hours. So I got a job at a small animal hospital and then applied again. On the phone interview the second time, they asked me why I wanted the internship. I’ll be honest with you, at that point, I was frustrated. I was taking Organic Chemistry 2, along with all these other classes that I didn’t like nor care about. So I told them, “I want to prove to myself that this is what I want to do with my life, and that I can go through with it.” And I got it.

What specifically about the internship convinced you that you wanted to go through with marine medicine?

Every day. Just getting up close and personal with those animals and seeing that you can make a difference in their life. It’s really hard to explain, you just get these butterflies in your stomach, and I got them every single day. And I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life.

Marine mammal medicine is best known as cowboy medicine because it’s still a really new and developing field, but there’s so much that these animals can tell us about ourselves and the rest of the planet. In marine medicine, there’s this concept called “one health,” which is being aware of the connections between veterinary medicine, human medicine, and environmental science. It’s just all-encompassing, and I think that’s what made me fall in love with wanting to study marine mammals.

In what ways do you think Eckerd specifically was well suited to help you reach your goals?

Unfortunately, Eckerd doesn’t have a specific pre-vet track like a lot of bigger universities, but they are very flexible, which makes all the difference. Like this semester, I’m taking six classes and two labs to hit all my prerequisites for vet school. Last semester I was kind of panicking that I wasn’t going to get all my prerequisites, and my mentor said she would talk to the Biology department. They reviewed and said my Biochemistry class would count as one of my courses to graduate, which took off a huge load. They knew what I wanted to do and they knew my goals, so they worked with me to ensure I was able to take all the classes I needed, in addition to enabling me to sprinkle in some Marine Science classes like Marine Mammalogy, even though I was technically a Biology major.

Just to end on a lighthearted note, you mentioned before that you do necropsies at the FWC pathology lab. What is the coolest necropsy you ever did?

We necropsied about a 12-15 foot sperm whale that washed up on Treasure Island. They are really cool animals, and that was an amazing experience. I was not able to stay for the entire necropsy because I, sadly, sliced my hand on a scalpel and had to get stitches, but what I saw of it was really amazing.

The really cool, but very sad thing about necropsies is seeing the true human impact on these animals up close. You would open an animal up and see the air or the blood in their collapsed lung. You would see the broken ribs and the puncture wounds from the broken ribs. Sometimes it would even be something natural like Red Tide. Instead of just hearing about these things that affects these animals out in the wild, you see it in front of you.

Price’s personal, not-so-lighthearted experiences with marine mammals harmed by human boating accidents and pollution are timely reminders of the everyday roles we play in these animals lives, in regards to both their habitat destruction and their bodily damages. Remember to always abide by No Wake, Minimum Wake, and Slow Speed boating restrictions as these laws are put in place to protect manatees and other marine species from accidental harm. Additionally, finding ways to reduce your daily intake of plastics will help keep our oceans clean as much of the plastic produced finds its way into the oceans and stomachs of marine creatures at every level of the food chain. Liz Price is a phenomenal example of the power of determination and ambition, and paired with the personal professor-to-student interactions a small liberal arts school like Eckerd offers, it is clear that Liz Price has the tools she needs to continue on the road to creating a meaningful impact in the lives of injured marine animals.