Emma Svenson - Wisconsin-Madison
V:50 I:4 Experiences Honorable Mention
Sleek grey shapes cartwheeled through the water in an ocean arabesque. I crouched motionless by the pool until one little ball of fur drew near. Then I pounced. I grabbed for the back flipper of pup 39. With a snap, her teeth closed on my sweatshirt, narrowly missing skin. I hauled back, dragging her into a temporary pen. I sighed and contemplated the iron grip on my sleeve. “They didn’t talk about this in the manual,” I muttered as I pried open her jaw. Why, why, had I volunteered to help drain pus from the infected ear of a homicidal harbor seal?
I was spending my summer at the University of New England Biddeford’s Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center (MARC), authorized by the National Marines Fisheries Service to rehabilitate stranded marine mammals and sea turtles. At MARC, 39’s irascibility was legend. But despite her unlovable nature, this pup convinced me to become a veterinarian, though my interest in the field began long before I met her.
My passion for veterinary medicine first sparked as a child, awestruck at thoroughbreds sprinting down Keeneland racetrack. I was a classic horse-obsessed girl, happy in a barn, whether mucking stalls, riding, or watching veterinarians. But love of horses alone did not persuade me to be a vet.
Nor, for a while, was vet medicine first on my list of potential careers. After my sophomore year in high school, I volunteered to translate Spanish for a team of doctors and medical students in Guatemala. Driving over rough mountain roads to help deliver healthcare, I learned about social determinants of heath. In clinics made of sheet metal and prayers, I was drawn to human medicine; I wanted to be a doctor.
Still, doubt dogged me, for dreams do not die easily. In college, I steered a middle passage between vet and human medicine. I began working hard to earn three majors and two minors, hoping a well-rounded mind would be an asset to any type of medicine. I joined a pre-med club and rode on UW’s equestrian team, still straddling two professions.
On my quest to choose, I became an intern at MARC, responsible for the medical well being of our charges. My days were spent hosing down enclosures, tube feeding the youngest pups, running water quality tests, transitioning pups to eating fish, analyzing blood work, helping organize releases, and more. Each night I stank of fish and feces, yet my biggest problem was 39. Despite her small size, a suspected spinal cord injury, and an infection worming its way through her ears, 39 zoomed around pool and pen, terrorizing all. Some shied from her ferocity, but I admired her tenacity to live. I made her my special charge, entering a battle of wills she usually won.
After my return to Madison, sad news of 39 finally convinced me to be a vet: my fiery charge was dead, euthanized because her ear infection could not be controlled. I felt as if I had failed at my job to make her healthy. And I never wanted to feel that way again. I am not naïve, and know I can’t heal all animals. But in that moment, I decided that I want to have the clinical skills to try to help even those gruff as 39. I decided to become a veterinarian. Someday, I hope to work with wildlife – especially marine animals.
This year, I am a first year veterinary student at UW- Madison. The hours are long, the work is tough, and it’s sometimes hard to remember why I’m torturing myself with twelve classes and endless hours of studying. When the workload gets to be too much, I think back on my experience at MARC. I remember the pup that refused to give up on life, right to the very end. And I remember why I’m becoming a veterinarian.