Perhaps Libby Majette simply wasn’t meant to fit the profile of the typical vet student. For starters, she earned bachelor’s degrees in drama and math, eschewing the conventional biology major. Her sights, she admits, weren’t set on attending vet school.

Fast forward nearly a decade, and Majette is poised to receive a doctor of veterinary medicine degree from Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech as the Class of 2019 valedictorian. The achievement has also earned her the Richard B. Talbot Award, named for the college’s founding dean.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Majette’s route to becoming a veterinarian was circuitous. During the six years between her undergraduate graduation and vet school matriculation, she worked in theater as a props master. In her free time, she began volunteering at a place that offered affordable small-animal surgery — and a career switch was ignited. Soon enough, she drifted away from theater work to take a position as a veterinary assistant.

“As a vet, I love helping people. I think that’s the thing with veterinary medicine I like so much,” Majette said of her decision to attend vet school. “It’s about animals, but it’s really about helping their people. It’s the human connection.”

While Majette’s theater background almost certainly demanded an ability to connect and collaborate with people, both backstage and offstage, the experience lends itself to veterinary medicine in an unexpected way. “One of the important things about theater is it really teaches you to work,” Majette said. “You’re always on a budget, always on a timeline. Working with limited constraints is a really important skill to learn, and there’s certainly a lot of problem-solving and creativity involved in that.”

Upon graduating, Majette will move to New Jersey to work as a veterinarian in private practice. There, she’ll mostly go on house calls for small and exotic animals, which she experienced while working at a private practice prior to vet school, riding along with a house-call vet. “It’s such a different environment,” she said. “The animals are happy to be home, and they’re happy to see you. It’s a lot less stress and a different relationship to have with your clients.”

Although Majette professes that she would like to see “any pet with a name and that fits through the door,” she is quick to add that her time at VMCVM provided plenty of work with food animals, such as participating in research exploring an injectable vaccine for rotavirus and norovirus. “In humans, rotavirus in developing countries still kills a bunch of babies worldwide,” she explained, “and gnotobiotic pigs happen to be a wonderful research model for that.”

That particular research project, Majette said, played a significant role in guiding her to approach veterinary medicine with a One Health perspective. “I think the college does a great job of helping us realize that what we do can really affect human health, that it all works the same way, that we can help people and animals, that we’re all interrelated.”

Along with patient care, one of Majette’s favorite activities as a student was participating on the college’s cattle palpation team. “You go out into the freezing cold in January once a week,” she said, “and feel a bunch of cows." Because she doesn’t have a real passion for cattle, the activity was, she admits, a bit out of her wheelhouse.

“I was the only small-animal person on the team, so it was great working with a bunch of students who knew a lot more than I did and who could reach in and tell you the exact age of a cow,” Majette said. “That was actually something where I felt like I started poorly and improved, in large part because the committee leading it was lovely and really dedicated.”

Not only did the team travel to Texas A&M University for a national competition, Majette said that she “just loved the opportunity to explore different avenues.”

With a range of experiences under her belt, Majette feels confident in her and her classmates’ abilities as future veterinarians and lifelong learners, a confidence instilled by the college’s emphasis on hands-on learning.

“I think this place is really above-average for continuing education,” Majette said. “I feel like I’ve been set up with a background to continue learning, to continue getting the information I need, and to know when to ask for help, which is so important. My classmates all have different skill sets, and they’re all going to be great with their own niches. I love knowing I can go out there and depend on all these people. I’m just incredibly impressed.”

- Written by Leslie Jernegan (M.F.A. ’19)

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