Nov 18, 2020
Bonita Springs native, Kimberly Couch ‘16 graduated from FSC with a degree in biology and minors in chemistry and business administration. This hardworking alum had her sights set on accomplishing her childhood dream of becoming a veterinarian. After completing all of her schooling, she is living out her dream as she runs her own veterinary practice.
What inspired your career path?
I have wanted to be a veterinarian since I was 5 years old. While it is pretty common to have a dream job when you are child, it is usually difficult to make that dream a reality as you grow older. I have never been the type of person who LOVED school. However, I forced myself to do whatever it took to fulfill my childhood dream. I planned the classes I knew I needed to take years in advance and tailored my extra-curricular activities to boost my credentials for my veterinary school application. I love science so I immersed myself in all of the biology, chemistry, and pre-professional clubs as soon as I arrived at FSC. Every single step I took academically was in furtherance of my goal. Despite the countless years of studying, achieving that goal this year has made every step along the way more than worth it.
Why did you choose to attend FSC?
I loved the small college feel and the campus was beautiful. I was really able to connect with my classmates and my professors and have an involved, hands-on learning experience. When I began looking at colleges during my senior year of high school I started by touring the larger “standard” state universities. However, when I first stepped foot on the campus FSC it dawned on me that this was a different kind of school than the ones I had looked at previously. I was drawn to the small class sizes and the personalized learning experience that FSC provided. This difference was reaffirmed on my first day at FSC, I felt as though I was not simply a number in an overcrowded lecture hall.
What was your experience with your major and your professors?
My professors not only knew my name, but knew who I was as a person and what I aspired to professionally. The fact that they would take the time to stop in the courtyards to chat with me was especially meaningful. The establishment of these relationships were strengthened by the fact that several of my professors taught multiple classes that I took throughout my years at FSC. The continuity in the teaching staff coupled with their approachability allowed me to feel very comfortable when I stopped by during office hours. I was able to not only ask questions about the topics discussed in class but also for advice regarding my future and career aspirations. Through these relationships I was able to establish, I was asked to be a TA for multiple courses, tutor students in classes I had taken in prior years, and even participate as a member of several research projects. Dr. Montgomery, Dr. Bromfield Lee, Dr. Herrick, Dr. Morvillo, and Dr. Langford were just a few of the professors always very supportive of me. My professors and the time I spent at FSC were crucial in helping shape me into the veterinarian I am today. The professors at FSC always go beyond their role as simple instructors and would go out of their way to provide individualized constructive criticism on everything- exams, lab reports, semesterly reviews, even career meetings. This commitment to students was highlighted by the mock board style interviews several professors held for me in preparation for my veterinary school interviews.
How do you believe FSC contributed to your success?
When I first arrived at FSC, I was very introverted- the type of student who sat in the back of the room taking copious notes but never daring to raise my hand to participate in class discussion. FSC provided the environment and encouragement to engage the people around me, ask questions, speak my mind, and above all gave me the confidence to try things outside of my comfort zone. I had a great relationship with my professors but I also had a lot of opportunities to supplement my resume, like tutoring other students and research projects. I had a lot of guidance that helped me make decisions and talk about my life goals. I wouldn’t have gotten that attention at a larger school. I sincerely believe that attending FSC provided me a variety of unique opportunities that may not have been possible had I attended a larger school. These opportunities in conjunction with the very personal recommendation letters that my professors wrote were absolutely crucial in getting admitted to top-tier veterinary programs throughout the world.
You were involved in quite a few extracurriculars. Can you talk about some of the ones were you involved in?
I was a member of BBB (Biology Honor Society), the president of AMSA, and the secretary of GSE (Chemistry Honor Society). I was a student worker in the nursing department, along with being a botany tutor and a chemistry teaching assistant. I also volunteered with animal rescues before and during school. As FSC is a smaller school there was no pre-veterinary club so I took it upon myself to change that. I founded both the FSC pre-vet club as well as the FSC campus cat club. While starting these clubs was a great deal of work given my passion for these things it was absolutely worth it. I am thrilled that both organizations are continuing to grow in membership and that the effort of the founding members has provided a pathway for future animal lovers. I am particularly proud of the impact both organizations are having in the Lakeland community through volunteering and participation in the programs to care for and vaccinate the campus cats.
What do you like most about what you do now?
I love what I do. I get to help people’s animals and see them through their entire lives. I get to be there for the good, happy visits and take care of people’s four-legged family members. I also implement alternative medicine into my general practice and get to help my patients in every way possible by combining natural and traditional modalities.
What does your average day as a veterinarian look like?
I see appointments throughout the day. It’s never boring. I see cats, dogs, bunnies, gerbils. Young, old. Healthy, sick. I can have a new puppy in one room and the next appointment is an end of life conversation with someone’s dog they’ve had for 14 years. Many people are under the impression that being a veterinarian is all puppy hugs and kitten kisses. While I do get lots of cuddles from the cute tiny animals, the job is so much more than that. My first year in practice has taught me that this career is much more challenging than I could have anticipated, but that it is also far and away more rewarding than I imagined it would be. There are many aspects of this career that only day-to-day experience can prepare you for. For instance, how difficult it is to euthanize a beloved family pet in front of that sobbing family- a pet that you have grown to love because you have been treating it since it was tiny enough to fit in the palm of your hand. How difficult it is to decide which essential treatment is the most essential treatment for a sick pet when you really need to provide ten different treatments but the owner can only afford one.
I find comfort in a specific line contained in the veterinarian’s oath which reads “…the prevention and relief of animal suffering”. Being a veterinarian means doing your best to improve or maintain an animal’s quality of life and to prevent and relieve animal suffering. Sometimes, this means euthanizing a pet if that pet is suffering or if treatment is unavailable for some reason. Our pets don’t understand why they are sick or in pain, they only understand that they are, and it is my job as a veterinarian to make that sickness or pain go away whatever way I can. It’s never an easy decision and I still cry almost every time I have to euthanize a pet. However, I remind myself that in the appropriate circumstances, this is the best thing for the pet in order to bring their suffering to an end. It is a struggle to not to take every single one of those animals home with you and spend your entire paycheck trying to save them. Overtime, this reality can take a toll on you- which could explain why the veterinary field has the highest suicide rate of all professions in the United States. In my first year in practice, I have realized that I cannot pour from an empty cup. I have learned that taking care of myself both mentally and physically is a vital part of being a great veterinarian. I’ve also discovered that while every pet that walks in my door will have a special place in my heart, I know that every pet, owner and situation is different and that my job is to provide the best care options in order to relieve and prevent that specific pet’s suffering while making their quality of life the best that I can.
What advice would you give current students or young alumni?
I would advise any prospective students to be aware of the realities of the field and learn how to find balance in your life early on. I made the mistake of pushing myself too hard through high school, college, and vet school- to the point where I was exhausted both mentally and physically and almost had nothing left. It was only when I took a step back that I learned how important quality of life was for both me personally and as a veterinarian. I can only do my best for my patients if I am giving myself time to enjoy life. Another crucial lesson for veterinarians to learn and something that I struggle with alongside many of my colleagues is how to distance oneself from the profession. Everyone that ends up in this field because they love animals and want to do everything possible to care for them. The reality is, no matter how much effort we put in we simply cannot save every animal. There will always be homeless animals, owners who can’t pay for necessary treatments for their pets, or an emergency that has to come in an hour after closing. I would advise all potential veterinarians/ students to work hard, be forgiving of yourself and others, do your best, and take time to enjoy the journey!
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