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Shelby Thomas – Molecular Biology Researcher, Miami University Ohio

shelby thomas
Shelby Thomas

Shelby Thomas spent the summer of 2012 working, learning, studying, and practicing alongside the veterinarians and staff of Leo’s Pet Care. We asked Shelby to write a letter describing her experience before she went back to school in the fall.

“I’ve been telling people for as long as I can remember that I want to be vet. It’s always seemed like a good plan; I love animals and am interested in medicine. However, until this summer I didn’t really know what I was bargaining for.

Foremost, this experience has given me a first-hand look at what it means to be a vet. To have strangers come to you with a member of their family and trust you to provide the best care. To make decisions based on what is right for the patient and not to treat each pet as an excuse to make a sale. It’s given me more confidence in my decision to work towards becoming a vet.

Watching Dr. Magnusson carefully assess each pet and apply what he knows to the case has taught me how important it is not only to tell clients the diagnosis, but also to explain the “why” and “how.” It’s a hard job when every animal comes in with his or her own story and background.

I learned the hands-on skills that will give me an edge as a pre-vet student: how to fill prescriptions and pull up vaccines, how to hold the animals during exams and treatments, how to take and develop X-rays (that’s always a fun one), and how to run blood and urine tests. There’s also the messier side of keeping up a clinic: cleaning up after each appointment, taking out trash, mopping the floors, and that sort of thing.

Dr. Magnusson’s office is a business too, and I’ve gained a greater appreciation for the concept that technology and business go hand in hand. Using the computer system daily gave me valuable exposure to the scheduling, record keeping, and billing aspects of the job.

Perhaps my favorite experiences were the surgical procedures. These were always pretty exciting. During surgery, Dr. Magnusson would point out things that to the common eye don’t stand out, and show me a different way to look at it. Of course there’s benefit to the daily exams where I might see an animal come in with itchy allergies and get prescribed Prednisone tablets, but watching an actual procedure take place was always a very informational and cool thing for me to see. But obviously it’s just as important to handle the little things as it is the big ones.

I’ve also been working on my communication and teaching skills. For example, when I first began I was surprised at how hard it was to answer phone calls and explain information about basic pet care. I remember Dr. Magnusson made a point to me that teaching people something they can use on their own is very rewarding. So I’ll take information I’ve learned about fleas, intestinal worms, ear cleansing, nail trimming, vaccines, allergies, and heartworm and do my best to pass it on to pet owners.

I knew I wanted to spend my summer building experience with animals, specifically at a vet office. My experience at Leo’s Pet Care exceeded my expectations and helped me gain confidence that caring for pets is what I want to do with my life.”

UPDATE: October 2014

Hi Dr. Magnusson,

I hope you are doing well. I wanted to update you on my progress in school and otherwise since I had the opportunity of volunteering in your practice a few summers back.

I am currently in the midst of my senior year at Miami University, and plan on graduating in the spring with a major in zoology and minors in molecular biology and neuroscience. When we last met I had my goals set towards applying to vet school, and spending the summer at your practice was a tremendous step towards that goal. The next summer I worked at Miami in a molecular biology lab doing genetic research with fruit flies, and this past summer I traveled to South Africa to participate in an environmental science program and volunteer at a game reserve.

Needless to say, I’ve learned a lot during these new experiences and my love for science has developed as I’ve come to be involved in more fields of biology. Specifically I’ve become very interested in molecular biology, and have changed my plans from applying to vet school to graduate school in order pursue a masters degree in molecular biology. Regardless of this switch, the knowledge I gained during my time at your practice has not been wasted. Many of the skills I now need in my molecular biology lab I learned while at your practice, and the business and moral lessons you taught me will stick with me in any field.

So thank you again for giving me the oppurtunity to participate in you work. I hope you and everyone at Leo’s Pet Care are well, and I hope to stop by soon to say hello!

Best Wishes,
Shelby Thomas

Dr. Magnusson responds, August 2012:

Dear colleagues,

Re: Shelby Thomas, letter of recommendation

There are a lot of things that students like to do in their summer breaks between school terms. Some like to go camping, some like to hang out with their friends, others strap on backpacks and travel the world. Shelby decided she would commit her entire summer to my practice, to gain valuable veterinary experience.

Lesser students have come in once or twice, kept to themselves in a corner somewhere, and left in a whisper. Shelby stuck it out all summer long, arriving on time and ready to go every time she was supposed to, staying until the work was done, soaking up information and experience like a sponge.

Honestly, in her position, I don’t know that I could have been as committed. I pretty much remember sitting on my butt in between school sessions, like I was somehow entitled to a parent-funded vacation.

Entitlement is a problem these days. Some students think things should be handed to them, that hard work is not cool. Shelby isn’t one of these students. Shelby has the work ethic of a much older soul.

It’s clear to me that Shelby Thomas will succeed at whatever she dreams to become. If you are a potential employer reading this, or a veterinary college admissions officer, you would be wise to invite Shelby into your institution immediately. The veterinary community needs more committed hearts like hers.

I recommend Shelby Thomas without hesitation. We’re sad to see her go.