From Elle Woods to Latinx Student Veterinarian: A Story Of Perseverance
My name is Carolina Fabelo. I am a second year veterinary student and I'm half Mexican and Cuban. My personal path to becoming a veterinarian was anything but ordinary.
During undergrad, I changed my major several times from undeclared to Apparel Merchandising. I did this believing it would result in an effortless path to receive my degree in four years (and who doesn’t love clothes?) However, when my golden retriever Max died of an unknown complication, I felt myself wanting to rediscover my longstanding interest, the sciences, so I changed my major again during my fourth year to Nutrition Science with an emphasis in Animal Nutrition.
Once committing to this decision, I had family members, faculty, and advisors questioning my drastic career path, knowing that a much more arduous path was ahead of me. (Real talk - I had an advisor tell me that with my grades, I would never get into veterinary school, so I might as well quit) Trust me, I was aware that this change would be difficult, but I was prepared to do what it takes. I had continually described myself as the “Elle Woods” of my science classes because I was suddenly the new fashion girl with the sparkly pencil bag, and I could sense my peers underestimating my intelligence. Little did I know that this feeling would be described as the imposter syndrome.
Now, many years later, I have achieved things I did not think that my brain was even capable of achieving. I earned my Master’s degree in Biomedical Sciences where I did neuroendocrine research, and during this time I had the honor to write and become a published author in several articles. I also had the opportunity to attend and present my research at national conferences. Now with all of that said, I still didn’t have the confidence in myself to be qualified for vet school (due to the extreme competition of admittance) so I was encouraged to apply to PhD programs as well to increase my chances of doing something with my science-filled brain. My grades from undergrad weren’t amazing, (thanks organic chemistry) and I was missing a few prerequisites, but then I thought “oh what the hell, I have to at least try.” I’ll never forget the feeling I had from receiving the invitation for an interview for the fourth ranked veterinary school in the country. Even though interviews weren’t guaranteed admission, I felt amazing knowing that I was at least considered. After six years of undergrad and three years of research later, I was accepted into The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine class of 2022!
Being the first in my family to go to medical school, moving to a state where I didn’t know a single soul, and going back to school at an older age put a lot of pressure on me. Also, being a Latinx in a predominantly non-Latinx state compared to Southern California created a sense of culture shock that I have never experienced in my own country before.
My first year of vet school was the most difficult year that I have experienced, and not so much in terms of academic difficulty, but MENTALLY. I was constantly comparing myself to other students— younger students, straight A students, students who could go out all weekend, study only twice, and still get As – all the while I kept myself indoors trying to teach myself how to study again, how to retain information, and how to essentially “keep up.” Even when I did well on exams, I told myself, “that’s not enough – you could have done better,” Or even worse thoughts like, “you have a Master’s degree, why didn’t you do better on that exam?! You’ve taken that class before.”
Needless to say, I self-sabotaged my brain into thinking that I wasn’t good enough - that I didn’t belong here. (This is screaming imposter syndrome isn’t it?). Now that I am in my second year, I’ve told myself that I WILL NOT allow my brain to go through that kind of suffering again – that my mental health is more important than getting two additional questions correct on an exam. An “A” versus a “B” WILL NOT affect my ability and my drive to become the best doctor and the best person I can be.
I want to end this by saying that you never know who’s watching you, who’s looking up to you while you’re stuck in tunnel vision. I hope to be a mentor and an influence for anyone out there who has ever felt this way before, and especially as a Latinx. SI SE PUEDE. Sounds cliché, but with the drive, motivation, and support YOU can do ANYTHING. Your path may not be linear, and that’s completely OKAY. Just think about it this way: There’s nothing that a dark lipstick and cute blazer can’t fix.