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Cassidy Eckstein – Bio/Chem Freshman, Valparaiso University

Cassidy Eckstein

Cassidy Eckstein is a future veterinarian who currently studies both Biology and Chemistry at Valparaiso University, while also on the university soccer team.

Like many of our student trainees, Cassidy came to us with no veterinary clinic experience, on  referral from one of our previous students, Maddie Bryan.

Cassidy got the unique benefit of learning under not just me and Angel, Jade and Brit, but also Abby Hart who is a second year veterinary student, Hope Christy who is a college senior recently accepted into veterinary school, and Eshan Selvan who has been training with us on and off for over seven years.

On her first day volunteering with us in December 2020, this is what she wrote: “I’ve wanted to be a veterinarian since I was a little girl but I don’t have any experience, so I’m super grateful to get to learn from Dr. Magnusson and his team. I’m positive this will be a great learning environment for me to see if being a Veterinarian is what I really want to pursue.”

Only two short months later, after her freshman winter break, this is Cassidy’s first Leo’s Pet Care update:


After being able to volunteer at Leo’s for the past two months alongside Dr. M and his team, I was able to learn way more than I would’ve thought I could in years. I not only learned fundamental things like types of vaccines, drugs, and anatomy of animals, but I also learned a lot about what being a Veterinarian truly means. It validated my decision to want to go to graduate school for Veterinary studies. Yes, I learned the technical skills of how to hold a syringe, hold animals, and use the computer system, but it’s the emotional and mental skills that seem much more impactful to me. Dr. M taught me the mental toughness of being a leader and suggesting hard decisions for what was best for the animal and not just the human. Jade taught me how to handle emotions and not get upset when things went in a different, unexpected direction or to not be too obsessed with the adorable little puppies that came in.

I threw myself into this opportunity without any experience or any knowledge on the subject but looking at it now I am so happy I did. I had to learn on my feet and retain a lot of information within a short period of time. Working under pressure was the best opportunity for me to understand how a real clinic operated. By running curbside because of COVID-19 I was able to see the behind the scenes of a clinic and I’m excited for the future to potentially work with clients in person. Dr. M did a great job of including me in conversations with clients and letting me learn the social aspect of the job. It is very important to have social skills as a Veterinarian in order to communicate efficiently and effectively with your team and clients.

The tight knit team at Leo’s made learning comfortable and easy to fit into. I was especially a fan of working alongside other vet students as we were all learning together and able to teach each other things. By watching Abby, I was able to see how Vet School compared to actually working in a clinic and by listening to Hope I was able to see how managing a collegiate sport and studying pre-vet could be accomplished. Jade’s work ethic of juggling school and a job motivated me to work harder and be efficient with my time. These three ladies along with Angel, Brit, and Dr. M have been great role models for me these past two months and I can imagine they will continue to be for the future.


Dr. Magnusson responds:

One thing I’ve learned about our pre-veterinary students in the many years we’ve been training students, is that if they have been part of a committed athletic endeavor, that often translates well to the training we have to offer. Whether it was high level climbing, track, or swimming, all of our student athletes have turned out to be excellent veterinary candidates. Cassidy Eckstein is no exception, and when I heard she was on the Valparaiso University soccer team, that clued me in to several things I could expect.

First, that Cassidy would be coachable. It’s nearly impossible to go through years of coaching in any college level team and not be excellent at translating instruction into action. College athletes in particular are not just coachable as in “so you don’t screw up”, coachable as in “so we can get you to the highest possible levels of human achievement”.

Second, that she would be committed. College level athletics is no joke. With practices and continued training at inconvenient times even during school breaks, a college athlete is well prepared for the rigorous commitment in time and energy of veterinary school.

Third, that she would be resilient, and used to discomfort. I believe the physical and emotional bumps and bruises of college athletics translate well to veterinary training, and the long hours, expectant professors, and demanding course work that veterinary school requires.

And fourth, that she would be a team player. While sports are by nature competitive, college athletes in team sports in particular understand that the whole team needs to win, for the individual to win. Building up and encouraging your colleagues to do their best every day isn’t just a nice thing to do, it’s a critical component of the success of any practice.

Of course, just being coachable, committed, resilient, and a team player, is not enough to be successful in this field. You also need to be brilliant, compassionate, and most importantly, adaptable. That’s where Cassidy really shines.

All of our students have picked up what we were throwing down very quickly. Now, it may have been because she had the privilege of being taught the ropes by three different degrees of prior students on top of our already excellent core training staff, but Cassidy became very comfortable in our practice unusually fast.

On her first day I gave her several warnings. The first was that restraint, while somewhat trainable, is also a natural talent, and it’s the most valuable one she needs to learn right off the bat, and if she sucked at it we wouldn’t let her stay. So she studied the anatomy I gave her and mastered restraint immediately.

I also warned Cassidy that we don’t tolerate drama, but that was an unnecessary coaching point. The team accepted her right from the get go, and I never once got a hint of a disagreement between Cassidy and anyone else.

My absolute proudest moment, though, came one day when the whole team was in the treatment room taking care of a pet for an annual exam, laughing and joking and having a great time with each other, and Cassidy spoke up and broke the laughter for just one critical moment to remind everyone that we had nearly forgotten to vaccinate the dog. Even while she was enjoying the environment and her colleagues, Cassidy still kept her eye on the ball, and made sure we achieved the goal. That’s just exactly what you would expect a college level soccer player to do, and she kept everyone else on task while still operating within the team, brilliantly.

No doubt, Cassidy still has a long way and a lot of coaching to go. We haven’t even begun to dive deep into the medicine and surgery bits yet. But it’s already clear she is a welcome addition to Team Leo’s Pet Care, and I’m excited to continue her training.


An update from Cassidy, Summer 2021:

I was given the opportunity to come back to Leo’s for Summer 2021 and I happily jumped on the offer. This summer presented me with more challenges and obviously more lessons to be learned. The social aspect became very prevalent as the Clinic allowed clients to come inside, rather than the curbside option due to COVID that I had experienced in the Winter. Everything changed for me because you not only have to take care of the patient’s needs or issues, but you also have to take care of the client’s concerns or questions face to face and on the spot, rather than over the phone. With this I was able to check clients in, listen to their questions and be in the room with them for the actual exam while I handled their pet. This experience made me realize how important the social aspect is and how you not only have to know what’s happening to the patient, but also how to explain it in a way that the client can easily understand. Since I was the restrainer during most appointments, I got to listen to the exchange between clients and Dr. M which helped me to learn on the fly.

I was able to continue working on the tasks that I was taught in the Winter. I became a lot more confident in making samples and doing lab work and I fully learned how to use our computer software system-which allows me to make proper notes, book appointments and look at patient history. I was very fortunate in the fact that I got to sit in on my first mass removal and be of assistance by listening to the pets heart rate and watching the breathing. Watching Dr. M teaching Hope and Abby how to do surgeries, run anesthesia, and properly suture makes me anxious and excited for the day I’m in that position. Having Abby, Hope, Jade and Angel there again to continue to teach me veterinary medicine tips and tech tasks was super helpful and made me feel more comfortable in trying them myself.

When I first joined the Leo’s Team I was hoping to figure out if Veterinary Medicine was the career direction I wanted to go in. After the Winter, I knew I liked the job and was hoping it would continue to give me the hunger to learn when I returned over the summer. After reflecting on my Summer and having a semi-nonCOVID time in the clinic, I can say with full hope that this is the career path I want to go full steam ahead for whichI can thank Dr. M and his team for. I’m looking forward to returning to the clinic, if invited, and continuing on my path. I’m hoping to get some big animal experience in the near future, as well as potentially trying out the ER vets to help broaden my horizons.

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