UCAN is convinced of the power of potential in all our youth, no matter the neighborhood they live in or the challenges they face. In this series, we give voice to our future leaders, as they interview Chicago’s current leaders in the fields they hope to one day lead.
Veterinary medicine in Chicago: Serving pets and their people
Taylor Kerr, a UCAN participant, aspires to be a veterinarian. She recently sat down with one of Chicago’s finest veterinarian surgeons, Dr. Aaron Jackson of MedVet, to learn about his passion for the field, and what it takes to serve both pets and people to the fullest.
Taylor Kerr: Dr. Jackson, what made you want to be a veterinarian in the first place?
Aaron Jackson, DVM: I would have to give that credit to my aunt. She used to be a Chicago public school librarian, and I remember when I was five years old, she gave me two books. One of them was Winnie the Pooh and the other book was called Junket, which is a book about an Airedale Terrier, written by Anne White, I believe. And so, I read that book first, because Winnie the Pooh is 600 pages, and for a five-year-old, that seemed like a daunting task. So, I read Junket, and fell in love with it. And I think I read it about 10 more times after that within a year. Ever since then I’ve just loved animals.
By the time I was in the fifth grade I had decided to be a veterinarian… So, I was a very unusual kid in that I knew what I wanted to do at such a very young age – and I held onto that, and just did it.
TK: Can you describe your path to becoming a veterinary surgeon?
AJ: I got my first dog when I was in the seventh grade. And at that point I started reading everything I could about medicine in general. I would watch TV shows and everything else on animals and medicine.
I ended up vaccinating my own dogs. Back then you could order the vaccine online, and have them deliver, COD [Collect on Delivery]…Then, when I was 17 years old, I applied to work in a veterinary clinic in Bloomington, Illinois. I did my pre-med work at Illinois State, was accepted at University of Illinois [in the veterinary program]…and the rest is history.
I did work at a very good clinic at Illinois State, where a veterinarian kind of took me under his umbrella He would tell me what I needed to do at school, and how to study. And even though I had to do the work, I had his support, I had my parents, and my brothers, and aunts, and uncles. And those are the strengths that helped me get through.
On the weaker side… I was always looking at other people. I’d see how easily they could pass a test and think, “Wait a minute, I had to put so much work in, and they didn’t study at all, but they’re getting As!” It was almost as if I could talk myself into thinking I couldn’t do this. And you know, if it wasn’t for having that support behind me, still propping me up, I don’t know if I would’ve made it through.
TK: What would you say are the most rewarding – and the hardest – parts of your job?
AJ: It took me until about six years ago to realize what I really get out of this job. I always enjoyed helping animals. I love medicine, just tinkering and fixing things, you know? But about six years ago, it occurred to me that what truly drove me to do this job was the idea of helping people…of helping a fellow human being whose pet means the world to them. As much as I love the pets, it’s that desire and that passion to help somebody.
The hardest part of the job is going through losing a patient, when you don’t feel like you’ve gotten to help them. And knowing that I have to somehow still reign it in, because I have somebody else coming behind me that needs me to give them 100%.
But at the same time I know that part of helping other people is allowing that emotion and that vulnerability to come through. That took a while to learn, how to be vulnerable with my clients, and my patients.
TK: So, as a sophomore in college, what do you think I should be doing right now to prepare myself for a career like yours?
AJ: I think you’re doing it – doing interviews, talking to people, learning as much about the world as you can.
You know, there’s this fallacy within veterinary medicine that to be a great veterinarian you have to have this love of animals, and only animals. I think you also have to like people, and you have to be curious about the world around you.
Animals are a part of that, and how they integrate in our lives with us and within the environment is important. So you need to expose yourself to as many different opportunities that you can, still maintaining that focus on your end goal of becoming a veterinarian, taking the classes that you need to take…not just science classes, but classes that help you have a well-rounded balance.
TK: Why do you think a career like yours is important to the future of a city like Chicago?
AJ: Chicago’s grown into this large, multicultural center, and there are a lot of young people out there who have pets. In the 30 years I’ve been doing this, animals have grown to be more than just pets – and we’re actually looked at as their “pet parents.” So, people want what’s best for their pets, because they’re family members.
That includes medicine. We all realize that they may not be around as long as we want them to be, but during that time we have with our pets, we want them to have the best. As a veterinary surgeon, I feel lucky that I’m able to offer that to my patients.
TK: Thank you Dr. Jackson.
AJ: You’re welcome.