DVM Class of 2020, Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine
Once upon a time, a young woman named Kristen Thomas wanted to be a veterinarian. When she asked potential colleges what kind of experience would help her get into veterinary school, they told her to find a veterinarian willing to mentor her for the summer. Kristen began volunteering at Leo’s Pet Care beginning in April 2015, and we enjoyed her hard work so much that we hired her onto our staff only two months later – an accomplishment unmatched by any of our previous volunteers. Kristen was accepted into six different veterinary schools, and chose to attend Purdue University beginning in the fall of 2016.
Below, read about Kristen’s experience at Leo’s Pet Care, in her own words.
Kristen Thomas writes about her first summer with Leo’s, July 2015
Every once in a while, you are lucky enough to meet an individual so stellar that they leave a lasting impact on you for the remainder of your life. I’ve been lucky enough to meet an entire team of such stellar individuals. The staff — Dr. Magnusson, Dr. Kostiuk, Dr. Stoots, Jen, Angel, Ruthie, Chloe, Brook, Abby, Ali, and Eshan — have created a beyond phenomenal vet clinic which I’ve had the immense pleasure to be a part of. My experience at Leo’s has not been just tagging along with some vet and cleaning some things just so I can fill a quota and go to vet school. My time at LPC has been so much more than that. Dr. Magnusson has taken it upon himself to become my mentor; he is very evidently invested in providing me an education not just in the art of medicine but also in my personal growth. Because of Dr. Magnusson and the entire staff at Leo’s Pet Care, I’ve gained a thorough understanding of what a vet clinic really is and the responsibilities of a veterinarian as a physician and as a leader.
Before coming to Leo’s, it was my goal to find any old vet clinic to spend time in, in whatever capacity the clinic would allow: watching, cleaning, that sort of thing. I just needed “clinical experience” to stand a chance at getting into vet school and fulfilling my goal of becoming a veterinarian. So step one, find a willing clinic. This proved to be more difficult than anticipated. My search boiled down to hounding every listed vet clinic within Indianapolis and its surrounding areas. These first interactions with vet clinics were fairly consistent but not particularly helpful: begin with an introduction to a receptionist, passing off a resume for consideration, and then wait on a phone call that never came. It would have been more time and cost-effective to just trash the resumes myself.
Eventually, my search led me to wander into Leo’s Pet Care and things were different from the start. Dr. Magnusson – not a receptionist but the doctor himself – came to the front to greet me. I gave Dr. Magnusson my spiel and handed him a resume. And instead of giving me the usual “we’ll get back to you”, he proceeded to grill me about my intentions and my resume. Whatever I said must have been acceptable enough; I was told to acquire some scrubs and come back Tuesday. Tuesday would be a trial period, not a guaranteed volunteer position. Later that afternoon, Dr. Magnusson directed me to the student volunteer page to look at the testimonies of past volunteers. Reading the past volunteers’ experiences, it became apparent that I’d stumbled into an incredible opportunity. This became even more apparent from day one.
When my first day at LPC rolled around, I had no idea what to expect. I’d never worked in a vet clinic before and yet right from the start, I was becoming actively involved. It started off with a few responsibilities: being taught and trusted to hold pets, draw up vaccines, and do nail trims. I wasn’t flawless at the tasks I was given but the LPC team was nothing but encouraging and instructive. With time and more experience, I was trusted with more responsibilities: blood draws from cephalic to jugular, running blood chemistry or cytology, placing catheters, and scaling and polishing teeth for dentals. During this time, Jen, Ruthie, and Angel also took the time to explain to me not only what we were doing but also why. They never shied away from questions and were always eager to share their knowledge of technical skills and experiences – good and bad – in previous vet clinics.
Very quickly on, I realized that my time at Leo’s has not just been about learning technical skills. There is so much more to a vet clinic than just running medical procedures on animal patients. Practicing medicine is certainly a large part of a vet practice, sure. But too often those in animal-based careers fail to appreciate the ever-present human side to animals. A vet clinic may be focused on animals as patients but its clients are people. Hence a veterinary practice – as is true of most of life – is entirely dependent on relationships with people — be that those who you work for or those who you work with. But this is a clinic that has not failed to notice and embrace the human factor.
This is not just some workplace where people come in, do the daily routine, grab a paycheck and rinse, repeat. Leo’s Pet Care is so much more than that and I am honored to have had the opportunity to work with such a phenomenal family of dedicated, intelligent, and caring people. Not only has this invaluable experience at LPC provided me with valuable technical skills and a deeper understanding of people and myself but this experience has also fostered in me confidence and the ability to think critically and ethically. This has been the experience that has shown me what veterinary medicine can and should be and solidified my passion, excitement, and pride in the profession. Never have I been given such a sense of purpose and personal fulfillment.
Dr. Magnusson responds, July 2015
Kristen Thomas approached me with a full and varied resume. A Dean’s List graduate of the College of Wooster in Ohio with a degree in Behavioral Neuroscience and a minor in Studio Art, Kristen has worked with big exotic cats in Arkansas, primates in Oregon, rats in Ohio, insects in a research lab, and humans in hospital beds. An avid climber, Kristen has spent the majority of her adult life literally and figuratively scaling every peak in front of her, and coming out on top. Don’t let her quiet and gentle exterior fool you. This young woman is no slouch, and when she sets a goal, she achieves it. Kristen is an example for every student hopeful out there.
Lucky for me, and every dog and cat in the area, Kristen has now set her sights on small animal veterinary medicine as a career goal. Just like every other goal she has set and won, I expect Kristen will quickly be accepted into the veterinary college of her choice and set out on a fine and exciting career.
Kristen is the kind of student a teacher dreams of. In every discussion I have ever had with her, Kristen has listened intently to my instruction, absorbed the material, synthesized intelligent questions and thoughtful responses, articulated her conclusions in calm and clear language, and assimilated the knowledge so thoroughly that she’s able to easily present the material on my behalf, to clients. Kristen is so good at teaching clients, in fact, that we have hired her on to our staff after only a few short weeks of volunteering with us, so we can squeeze every last day out of her before she gets accepted into veterinary school next year.
Kristen carries herself with unassuming ease which serves her very well with my animal patients and helps calm anxious clients. Our focus this summer has been on strengthening Kristen’s voice. For better or worse, a veterinarian must deal with not only fearful pets but frequently also loud and aggressive humans. Once Kristen becomes more familiar and confident with the material, I’m certain she will find that voice and be able to assert her vast knowledge in clear and respectful words and with even more confident body language, when challenging humans get in the way of her exceptional medicine.
Kristen has no ego, no attitude, and a wide-eyed curiosity about life that is truly humbling. It’s been a great pleasure meeting her, and teaching her, and learning from her, and I look forward to guiding her and watching her grow through the rest of her veterinary career.
Kristen painted this portrait of my cat Motor and presented it to me at the end of a year with our practice. What a gift, teaching Kristen has been! ~Dr. Magnusson
Kristen’s VMCAS Personal Statement, July 2015
In one way or another, I have been taking care of animals my entire life. Growing up, I was completely dedicated to animals, caring for what could be considered a mini zoo. Naturally, as a child, I was set on a career as a veterinarian. Like most children, I was naive about the veterinary profession, but I had plenty of people to warn me about its challenges. Albeit initially discouraged from becoming a veterinarian, my search for a meaningful career not only revived my spark for veterinary medicine but also gave me the maturity and experience necessary to succeed in it.
My search for a career began when, as a college freshman, I chose neuroscience as my major. Surprisingly, this became the starting point for my veterinary career. It opened doors to exciting research and medical opportunities, including a short-lived interest in human medicine. My father being a gastroenterologist, human medicine represented a familiar and respectable career path. As a result, I shadowed several human medicine specialists. Although I did not find it as appealing as animal medicine, I discovered empathy for people and the desire to make a difference in both human and animal lives.
While considering career options throughout college, I remained committed to animal care, which started with minimal animal husbandry duties for the biology department and evolved into being temporarily entrusted with all animal husbandry duties when our veterinary technician took an extended leave. The position expanded from two weeks into a semester and I stepped up to assume an extensive role of cleaning, managing supplies and other student workers, and monitoring animal health. Here I got my first taste real taste of veterinary medicine when I suspected Izzy the iguana was ill. I consulted the veterinarian, which resulted in a diagnosis of mouth rot and a series of shots. While Izzy did not welcome this, his improved health was reward enough.
My next step toward veterinary medicine was an internship at the Oregon Primate Research Center, where I trained macaques to perform a cognitive task. Here I matured, learning scientific thinking on a professional level and coming to terms with the harsh reality that the animals I bonded with were destined for necropsy. This prepared me for the realities of loss within the field of veterinary medicine.
By graduation, I was ready to pursue a career as a veterinarian with renewed vigor and a mature perspective. I accepted a post-graduate internship at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, a sanctuary for abused big cats. Here, I found my place within a community dedicated to improving animal lives and I learned the value of teamwork and communication. We provided basic care for the cats with the intention to build each one their own patch of freedom on the preserve. Though the cats did not always appreciate our hard work, there was nothing better than to watch one first experience grass and room to run. While this work was rewarding, I wanted to learn about these animals on a more scientific level. To that end, I spent my only day off each week shadowing at a mixed animal practice that cared for cats, dogs, cows, horses, and our big cats.
Post-internship, I began volunteering at Leo’s Pet Care, a small animal hospital. My education here has been invaluable. After just a few months of training, I have steadily been trusted with more responsibilities even as far as placing arterial catheters. I have learned not just techniques under the guidance of my mentor Dr. Magnusson but also the art and ethics of medicine, as well as what a veterinary practice can and should be and the responsibilities of a veterinarian as a physician and a leader.
Now, more than ever, I feel my purpose and my passion, excitement, and pride in this profession. Through my experiences, I have learned the reality of veterinary medicine. It is not about playing with puppies and kittens. My clients might not appreciate me, my patients might be difficult, I may get frustrated, and I might not make much money. Yet veterinary medicine is about more than that. It is a career with purpose, a lifelong source of challenge, personal growth, fulfilled academic curiosity, and opportunities to impact lives, both human and animal. In return, I offer a strong scientific aptitude, along with a diverse background and natural empathy. It will not be easy, but a degree in veterinary medicine is, without a doubt, my next pivotal step in life.
“Thank you for all that you do for us! For guiding, teaching, and being patient as we make mistakes. For answering our endless questions and challenging us with just as many of your own. All that you have done and continue to do is unmeasurably invaluable and can never be replaced. We hope that you remember this as we continue to leave and return back to the home nest. Thank you, Dr. Magnusson! From all of those you have taught and continue to teach in recent and future years.”
Dr. Magnusson’s VMCAS Letter of Recommendation for Kristen Thomas
July 2015 – VMCAS Evaluation Committee, Re: Letter of recommendation for Kristen Thomas
My dear colleagues,
Like many veterinarians, my path to a DVM degree was very linear. I got the idea in my head when I was five years old that I wanted to be a small animal veterinarian, and pursued that goal with single-minded determination until I achieved my degree. Unfortunately, as with many of my colleagues, I quickly became disillusioned and frustrated by the emotional challenges I was wholly unprepared to face every day as a veterinarian, and went through some serious emotional turmoil as I considered abandoning practice for research, industry, government, military, or just about anything else that wasn’t general practice, until finally finding my niche, and my bliss, as a practice owner.
Kristen Thomas is much smarter than me. She’s already gone through the hard work of considering other career paths and actually tried a few other careers on for size, before finally coming to the conclusion that veterinary medicine is where her heart lies. That’s why I feel so strongly that Kristen will be successful in her chosen career as a veterinarian; unlike me, she had the foresight to consider other paths. It’s actually pretty humbling and inspiring, to talk with her about her belief in our profession.
Kristen is the latest in a string of pre-veterinary hopefuls that we have been lucky enough to come across, two of whom were just accepted into Ohio State and Purdue. Don’t tell the others, but as far as emotional intelligence, maturity, communication ability, and critical thinking skills, Kristen blows every student before her completely out of the water. It’s like she was born a doctor. She’s a natural.
I really believe in my heart that Kristen understands the challenges she will face in our profession, not only the difficulty of pursuing her veterinary degree but also for the rest of her career. Kristen and I have had deep discussions about what veterinary medicine can and should look like in the next decade or two, and I’m convinced we can only benefit by having leaders like her at the forefront.
It would be in our veterinary profession's strong best interest to admit this exceptional young woman to any school she wants to attend. I always welcome her thoughtful, compassionate input into my day, and look forward to watching her contribute to our veterinary community throughout her career.
It’s been an honor and a privilege to meet Kristen Thomas. I know you will enjoy meeting her too. And, like me, I’m confident you will gladly sign off on welcoming her to our noble profession.
Please feel free to contact me any time with questions. I’ll happily sing Kristen’s praises in any format you wish.
Yours very sincerely,
Greg Magnusson, DVM – Owner, Leo’s Pet Care veterinary clinics of Indianapolis, IN
Western College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Saskatchewan, Canada, Class of 2000
UPDATE – Kristen Thomas writes about her year with Leo’s, ending August 2016
So you might be here because you’ve made the decision to become a vet. That’s step one to actually becoming a vet. Good for you. Unfortunately Steps two and three are not “Sign on the dotted line” and “Now you’re a vet”.
You’ve got this whole list of all the things to do, right? Do all the prereqs. All of the classes, mostly science and some not. The GRE. Spend time with animals and time in a vet clinic. End hunger and poverty and create world peace.
So maybe not that far, but there is plenty being asked of you. And, as much as I hate to admit it, there is a legit reason for it.
You need to be academically ready to become a vet. But more importantly, you need to be aware of and ready for the demands of the job. You need to know what becoming a vet means, on an adult level. You also need to become emotionally ready.
And nope, these are not skills you are born with. They are skills you learn.
And understanding the veterinary profession and being ready for it are not skills you will learn in school. Yes, as far as academics go, school has you covered. And with academics, you will learn how to work hard. You might even pick up some people skills as well as some professional skills.
But school is a bubble that will be popped when you go out into the real world.
You get pushed into school at age 6. Then you keep going until you finish high school around age 18. Give or take. Then maybe, like most, you jump right into college and come out at about age 22.
If you follow that pattern, as most do, you end up with sixteen whole years of your life spent in school. And you want to become a vet, do you? Tack on another four years. That is TWENTY whole years of your life given to school.
Holy actual crap.
You are an EXPERT at the school system. However, and I hate to be the one to break it to you, school does not accurately depict what life as an academic outside of academics will be.
Here’s the honest truth about my journey in veterinary medicine. I didn’t always want to become a vet. Younger me did. And I’m talking MUCH younger me. I’m talking still-uses-a-nightlight, recess-is-a-thing, pretends-she’s-an-actual-dog Kristen. I’d list a couple of other kid-based activities so you get the point, except I still do many of those things. Anyway.
Much younger me wanted to be a vet until she got a little older and realized the kid-version of a vet and the adult version of a vet are two different things and that the adult version of veterinary medicine, like many adult-versions of things, actually kinda sucks.
If you intend to add vet school – four more years of school of the most intense education you have received to date – to your life’s story, you NEED time outside of school. That goes without saying. Remember that vet school requirement for time spent with animals and time spent in veterinary clinics? The real world is unavoidable.
Maybe you’re scared of that time at your first veterinary clinic. Or maybe you’re excited to leave the school bubble. Either way, you who have completed or have yet to complete at least sixteen years of school, let my words be an assurance that this time is going to be some of the most fulfilling time you have ever had.
Get excited! Some apprehension is totally normal. And you will want to acknowledge that voice of apprehension. Then ask that voice if you might put down the apprehension for a hot second and consider how exciting this time can be.
This is your time to practice making for yourself the life you are hoping school will lead you to. For testing the waters and seeing what is out there.
This is your time to find all those things that give you a little pep in your step and that your mind keeps gravitating to. That makes the kid in you excited. That pure unbridled joy that a kid knows best.
This is your time to make incredible connections to people who are so much more than only students and teachers.
This will be your INVALUABLE time to learn all the life lessons school could never teach you.
IF you have a chance to spend a year after your undergraduate education outside of school, rather than jump right into school…I could not highly encourage it more. These things can be learned over summers, sure. And everyone has their own path. You ultimately know, or can figure out, what will work best for you.
But there are some stages in life that are universal. We all have some of the same questions and same needs in life.
The intensive year I spent at Leo’s Pet Care was my time spent answering those questions and fulfilling those needs.
If you’ve spent any time trying to find a veterinary clinic to join, you likely know it is notoriously difficult to do. You could even ask to work for FREE and pick up poop and still get turned down. It is awfully discouraging.
And yet, I am grateful for every clinic that turned me down. The person – not just the vet – that I am today has been shaped so thoroughly by my intensive year at Leo’s Pet Care. I don’t know that I ever would have made it to this level of growth without this kind of truly phenomenal leadership.
In fact, I’m fully aware of just how capable I am of pushing myself pretty far, even in the wrong direction. I probably would have eventually fought my way into veterinary medicine one way or another and then have dug myself into every hole under the sun.
That is where the beauty of a mentor comes in. Someone who genuinely cares enough about you to take your personal growth into their own hands. To teach you what you didn’t even know you needed to learn. And a mentor does this, even knowing you are going to be a lot of work and need to be picked back up, sometimes constantly.
But that is just the thing about a great mentor. They don’t just protect you. They teach you how to protect yourself.
At Leo’s, I’ve been taught me how to protect and heal myself. How to be strong and self-sufficient. How to stand up for myself and not get pushed around. And how to teach others the same.
Leo’s is more than just a job and the people there are more than just your coworkers. Here, we have this incredible dynamic. The encouragement and support that I get from EVERYONE – Dr. M and Jen, Dr. G and Angel, Rob and Maddie, Brooke and Abby – there is no better definition of a team than us. I mean, c’mon. We should be the dictionary example of a team.
I’ve worked jobs in the past that could not be farther from this. Where every single second of labor is squeezed out of you because you’re on the clock, dammit, and that time is not your own. There was no trust that you would be a contributing colleague. There was no trust in the team. There was only the assumption that you had to be ordered around. Micromanagement to the extreme.
Not so at Leo’s. Micromanagement is kicked to the curb.
The leadership with which Dr. Magnusson guides myself and all of his students has us picking up the torch and leading each other. I am still growing into the leading role. I don’t know that being a leader is all that natural but I’ve been given the confidence to step up and try on my own flavor of leadership, with all the strengths and weaknesses that come with it. And I’ve found a tremendous amount of joy in it, in this role I never saw myself in. A role I’ve been given a chance to take on, because of the vast amount of trust is given to me, to be an adult and to take care of the clinic and my family.
At Leo’s, we really are a family. We are taken care of and we look out for each other. No one gets thrown under the bus. Instead, we are given trust and protection from the wrath of a client. When I speak or ask questions, I am heard. No matter how dumb or frustrating my question is. Here I trust and am trusted. Here, I am accepted and do not fear rejection. Even despite mistakes.
In fact, one of the most valuable things that I have learned during my time here has been that mistakes are a given part of life. Mistakes should be celebrated. As should the people who help you to overcome them. Because teaching someone how to overcome mistakes takes dedication and commitment. It takes effort on someone else’s part to be looking out for you. And to help you correct your mistake, to take the time to teach you through it. It is no easy task.
But mistakes are your single best way to learn. There is no substitute for real-life hands-on experiences and a real-life hands-on “oops”. That I found people at Leo’s who not only readily forgive my mistakes and laugh it off with me but who also teach me how to fix those mistakes and then gave me trust to try again…that says everything about how truly special my home is.
I can’t thank Dr. Magnusson enough for that, and for every single one of the millions of conversations we have had. Because I absolutely love our conversations. His conversations with me have been nothing but constant support.
And regular brain melting.
Actually, I’m pretty damn thankful for that. My brain melts because it is growing and learning, and making progress. And I absolutely love it. Don’t get me wrong, it is often frustrating. Yet it has gotten me past roadblocks I’ve been frustratingly stuck at.
But that extraordinary amount of time and effort is a gift Dr. Magnusson has given me and has made all the difference. He is certainly not required to give to a gaggle of naive students. This is no obligation. He has seen something in every one of us and has given us this gift, by choice.
With how much I have been given, I want to do whatever I can to give back. I have this insane amount of pride for my family and that has made me excited to scrub every last corner of the hospital. I know it sounds silly to be so excited about cleaning. But I believe in the work and in the people, I have found that I am happy doing even the grunt work.
Leo’s is home and Leo’s is family. And we all work together as a team to protect our home, our family, and our patients, and to take care of the people who walk through our doors. I cannot say enough how absolutely in love with this world that Leo’s has created for all who walk through the doors, myself included. And I can’t mean it enough when I say what we are doing here has filled me with a passion, sense of purpose, and just pure joy. Like nothing ever before.
I have actual literal undying gratitude for everyone at Leo’s Pet Care. For building so phenomenal a place. And to Dr. Magnusson specifically for being the rock that grounds us all.
For giving us a place to be infinitely proud of. For continuing to support and help us. For going way above and beyond what any mere mortal would do. For helping me fight through a mountain of crap, for making my world brighter and more colorful, for showing me how to take one day at a time. For being safe and trustworthy. For giving me purpose and bringing together some of my most favorite people on this planet.
A collection of clinic images from Kristen’s year with us, on the wall of her apartment at Purdue