As Casey Jacobs sat outside LaSells Stewart Center in her cap and gown Sunday afternoon, her family did a paparazzi impression. They crowded around with various cameras, smiling widely.
Though Jacobs shooed them away, they had reason to be fawning over her. Jacobs and 48 other students from Oregon State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine were about to be crowned Doctors of Veterinary Medicine.
Just before Sunday’s commencement, Jacobs reflected on one aspect of the program that surprised her.
“I don’t think we quite expected how much time we would spend with our hands up large animals,” she said.
The program might not be glamorous, but it is prestigious. OSU has the only veterinary medicine degree program in the state, and getting accepted is no easy feat. Susan Tornquist, associate dean for student and academic affairs, said they generally get 400 to 500 applications. The acceptance rate for the class of 2012 was just under 11 percent.
Why did they want to enter the challenging field of study?
“I was born wanting to do it,” Jacobs said.
It took Heidi Franck only slightly longer to find the calling.
“Pretty much when I discovered what a veterinarian was, I wanted to be one,” Franck said.
Linx Alexanderson, who plans to go into large animal practice, wanted to reconcile her love of training horses with a career.
“I realized that I couldn’t make a living training horses,” she said, “but I could make a living fixing sick horses.”
“It’s an incredibly satisfying profession,” Diana Capozzi said.
It’s a profession that has changed over the years.
“We used to mostly train our students to go into a practice,” Tornquist said.
But a DVM can work in many areas, including public health, government or bioengineering. Program curriculum now exposes students to those fields.
Post-grad plans reflect the possibilities. Tornquist said several will do internships. One such graduate is Brian Dugovich, who will work at OSU’s small animal hospital.
About 20 to 25 percent of graduates will likely get advanced training.
Many of the rest, Tornquist said, go work at a practice. Jacobs is in that category; she’s headed to Australia to work at a small animal practice.
“I would say the majority of our graduates do have something lined up,” Tornquist said. “Some are still looking. Some are more picky.”
There has been some effect on jobs for DVMs given the economy, but Tornquist thinks it will turn around.
“Our graduates are going to be able to find jobs,” she said. “If not right, now I predict very shortly.”
As with the human medical profession, retirement means more spots will come open.
“Literally every veterinary program in the United States has increased their class size to sort of make up for that,” Tornquist said.
The OSU classes of 2012 and 2013 have 56 students. Tornquist said OSU has the smallest class size of any vet school in the country.
The class size isn’t the only thing that has changed.
“There has been a change over the years of many new graduates moving a little bit away from rural vet practice,” Tornquist said. “That’s a trend that has concerned the profession.”
OSU is addressing that by recruiting people with an interest in rural practice.
But on Sunday, thoughts of future plans were briefly put aside as the graduates basked in the attention of their friends and family, and each other.
Ruth McDevitt, voted by students to be the class speaker, talked about how much she valued the friendships with her classmates.
“I would have never gotten through the last four years without you guys,” she said.
She reminisced about lessons learned from classmates, most of which had stories that provoked laughter from the graduates.
But McDevitt got serious at the end.
“I’m really happy to call you all my friends,” she said, “and I could not be more excited to call you my colleagues.”