The lifelong dream of becoming a veterinarian is one step closer to reality for 125 new students at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.

First-year students participated in a “white coat” ceremony at the college’s Virginia Tech campus on Aug. 22 following four days of orientation to prepare them for the next four years of professional training.

“Our profession views veterinary students as part of the profession,” said Dr. Gerhardt Schurig, dean of the college, who gave his final remarks to the incoming class before Dr. Cyril Clarke assumes leadership of the college on Oct. 1. “So this matriculation ceremony is not only a symbol of welcome, but in a very real way, it marks an important transition in the lives of these students.”

New students received a white laboratory coat and a stethoscope in front of more than 250 family, friends, faculty and staff members, and guests. Also in attendance were Dr. Mark Finkler, president of the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association; Dr. Jeffery Newman, president-elect of the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association; Dr. Jan Ginsky, president of the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association; Dr. Eric Boshoven, president-elect of the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association; and Dr. Shawn Sette, president-elect of the West Virginia Veterinary Medical Association.

Earlier in the week, the Class of 2017 went through the college’s full schedule of orientation activities designed to produce well-rounded and professional veterinary students. “The orientation gave us a good transition into the veterinary profession and helped us get to know other students who are new like us,” said first-year student Tracy Perdew of Vienna, Va.

In addition to lectures introducing them to the profession and the college, first-year students participated in a day of team-building exercises at the Alta Mons campgrounds in Shawsville, Va. Faculty, staff, and current students served as facilitators of the day’s events which developed leadership, self-confidence, and communication skills.

Erin Yanovich of Springfield, Va., a second-year veterinary student, explained that the orientation helped her prepare for veterinary school a year ago. This year, Yanovich served as a facilitator at the Alta Mons camp. “I remembered some of the things my facilitator taught me, and I found myself saying those same things to my group,” she said.

Perdew agreed that the Alta Mons camp was the highlight of orientation. “It was great because we got to know others in our anatomy class who we’ll be working with for the rest of the year,” she said.

A James Madison University alumna, Perdew majored in communication but realized she wanted to pursue her passion for animals after working for a public relations firm for six months. She found a job at a veterinary clinic and began taking prerequisite classes part-time before applying to the veterinary college.

The Class of 2017 includes many students like Perdew who come to the college with interesting — and sometimes unexpected — backgrounds. Aria Guarino of Severna Park, Md., considered a career as a professional opera singer before deciding on veterinary medicine three years ago.

“My entire life I have been told, ‘If you don’t sing, you’re wasting your gift,’ ” Guarino said. “But I learned that I could no longer suppress my deep love of animals.”

Guarino began her freshman year at Harvard studying musical theater but changed her major to organismic and evolutionary biology after watching “Gorillas in the Mist.” When working in a veterinary clinic, she was sometimes asked to sing for patients to calm their nerves, such as dogs during a blood draw. Although Guarino’s rigorous schedule may prevent her from singing in front of audiences in Blacksburg, she hopes to perform in community theater after she graduates and enters private practice.

Cindy Harrison of Gray, Tenn., a first-year veterinary student, juggled two jobs before coming to the veterinary college: She not only managed her own dairy herd, but also worked as a hairstylist.

“I have always showed, raised, and milked cows since I was a kid,” Harrison said. “Doing hair was one of the only jobs that gave me the finances and the flexibility to be able to have a dairy farm.”

Although Harrison had to move her 35 Guernsey cows to a farm in Greenville, S.C., before she left for veterinary school, she will oversee the breeding and medical needs of her herd while earning her doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

The Class of 2017 also includes a pilot, several musicians and song writers, an actress, artists, a photographer, award-winning equestrians, a scuba diver, a martial artist, and more. They represent 20 states, including Virginia and Maryland, plus British Columbia.

The college — one of the first U.S. veterinary schools to have a “white coat” ceremony — welcomed the incoming students after what was once again one of the most competitive application periods in its history. “These students truly are the cream of the crop,” noted Schurig. The college has already begun recruiting students for its next Doctor of Veterinary Medicine class.

The college’s Facebook page has more photos of the “white coat” ceremony.

Written by Michael Sutphin.

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