Amanda is a Non-traditional Student, Who is Pursuing Laboratory Animal Medicine

Amanda, who is pursuing a career in laboratory animal medicine, applied to 4 schools was rejected outright by 2, interviewed by the 3rd, and accepted at 2 schools, NCSU and WSU. Being a non-traditional student allowed Amanda to work in a research setting before getting into veterinary college.

Learn About the Specialty of Laboratory Animal Medicine, and How Amanda Got into Vet School on Her First Try

Name, veterinary school attended, and year that you started.

Amanda Szucsik, North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, 2014

While Aiming to Pursue a Career as a Lab Animal Veterinarian, Mentors at Rutgers Were Integral

What was your major in undergraduate college?

Animal Sciences at Rutgers University

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laboratory animal medicine Amanda and Apollo
Amanda and Apollo in Utah.

At what age did you first apply to vet school? 


How many schools did you apply to?


How many application cycles did you apply to, before being accepted to NCSU? 


Interested in how to become a lab animal veterinarian?

How many schools invited you for an interview? 

I was rejected outright from Mizzou veterinary school and the Univ. of Wisconsin right off the bat (pre-interview). I was interviewed by the joint Utah State/Washington State college of veterinary medicine program. North Carolina State University does not interview and accepted me outright.

How many of those gave you an acceptance letter?

2; Utah State/Washington State college of veterinary medicine  (resident of the state of Utah at the time of application) and North Carolina State (accepted as an out of state student)

Do you remember any specifically challenging interview questions?

It was so long ago 😉 Honestly, I can’t recall.

What was your GPA (in undergraduate)?


What was your GRE score?

Can’t recall off the top of my head. High scores on the verbal and writing sections, average scores on the quantitative section.

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Did you apply to vet school after, or during your bachelor’s education?

Long after. I graduated from Rutgers with my BS in Animal Sciences in 2001. I was accepted to NCSU’s veterinary school in 2014. I am the oldest member of my class and will graduate at 39 years old.

Did you attend grad school?

Yes; I was awarded my Masters of Science degree in Biological Sciences (Comparative Physiology) from the University of California-Irvine’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in 2009. I was originally enrolled in a PhD program and exited the track with a terminal Master’s degree.

A microbiology textbook will come in handy if you are considering becoming a lab animal vet.

Get Some Experience in the Field Before Becoming a Lab Animal Veterinarian

Did you have large and small animal experience prior to applying to veterinary school? How about lab animal medicine? 

Yes to both! I worked in an equine exercise physiology lab during my time at Rutgers. During my undergrad, I worked in the Rutgers University laboratory animal care department. Which led me to obtain my Ph.D. at the University of California Irvine.

What types of paying jobs did you have before becoming interested in becoming a lab animal veterinarian? 

As a true non-traditional applicant, I had several full-time jobs for multiple years prior to applying to vet school. Aside from my years in research/teaching during graduate school, I was also a staff scientist at contract research firms (industry) and within academia prior to my application year.

How many people read your personal statement before submitting it?


Did you volunteer? If so, where? 

Yes; my church, Utah’s Hogle Zoo (animal husbandry; Salt Lake City, UT), and the Aquarium of the Pacific (animal husbandry; Long Beach, CA).

laboratory animal medicine Amanda and Irvine
Amanda and her Bloodhound-cross, Irvine (adopted during her first summer of vet school)

When did you Decide to Become a Vet, and Pursue Laboratory Animal Medicine?

I had aspirations to pursue a career involving animals from a very young age (elementary school). I attended college (Rutgers University) with the initial goal to attend veterinary school immediately following receipt of my Bachelor’s Degree. Much to my surprise, I had a transformational experience conducting research within an Equine Exercise Physiology Laboratory on campus and completed a year-long thesis project.

When faced with the choice of attending grad school (end goal = professor of animal physiology) or veterinary school, I ultimately chose graduate school. Although I enjoyed the hands-on work associated with my project, I did not enjoy the writing and grantsmanship required to remain competitive within academia.

During those years, I developed a close professional relationship with my institution’s laboratory animal veterinarian. As a lab animal veterinarian, he inspired me to channel my love of both research and animal welfare into a laboratory animal medicine career. Therefore I applied to veterinary school with that goal specifically in mind. I am now in my final (clinical) year of the curriculum and have not swayed from this original ambition of a career in laboratory animal medicine, becoming a  lab animal veterinarian!

Did you interview any lab animal veterinarians before starting the application process? If so how did you approach them? 

Yes; I spoke with many, including lab animal veterinarians, prior to attending vet school. Many of the vets I had worked within a professional or volunteer capacity. It was easy and comfortable to facilitate these conversations with folks who were already career and personal mentors.

Were you a member of any clubs at your school? If so, which ones?

Yes; during my undergrad years at Rutgers, I was a member of the Society for Animal Science and the pre-veterinary club. I was and continue to be an active member of many professional organizations related to my area of expertise, which is research and lab animal medicine. I held leadership positions in a handful of these.

Did you Join any Student Clubs Specificlaly any Lab Animal Medicine Clubs in your DVM Program at NCSU? How About Any Other Clubs Aside From Veterinary Laboratory Animal Medicine?

Yes; I was heavily involved (President, Vice President) with my institution’s laboratory animal club (it is a local branch of ASLAP, the American Society of Laboratory Animal Practitioners). I am likewise a member of the Research Triangle and national branches of the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS). I was a member of two other clubs on campus (Wildlife, Avian, Aquatic, and Zoological Medicine; PathHeads [anatomic and clinical pathology]), but did not hold leadership roles in either of these.

Yes; I believe that clubs are quite helpful and complement a student’s experience throughout the academic curriculum. Club membership affords students the opportunity to interact with peers and faculty who share their unique professional interests and permits them to partake in hands-on laboratories associated with those interests. Club membership is fulfilling both personally and professionally.

I add the caveat that club membership can be a significant time sink, particularly if a student holds one or more leadership roles. I recommend that students refrain from over-burdening themselves with club responsibilities until they have a realistic idea of their ability to handle the demanding academics of vet school. Joining one to two clubs the first semester is well and good. Joining 10 may be a bad move.

 Letters Of Recommention from Laboratory Animal Veterinarians

Who gave you your Letters of recommendation?  Did you know them well?

Yes; I submitted 4 LORs for veterinary school. Two of these were written by laboratory animal veterinarians (my specific field of interest, and the reason I was returning to vet school in the first place). Both vets were and continue to be personal and professional mentors. I have known one of these individuals since 2001 (13 years at the time of application) and the other since 2010 (4 years at the time of application). The third LOR was written by my graduate adviser (Full professor/academic research scientist; 8 years) and the final letter was written by my research supervisor/boss at the time of application (3 years). This individual was a human cardiothoracic surgeon/clinical investigator and made for an interesting letter.

I knew all of my letter writers very well. They certainly strengthened my application.

Did you find the application process stressful? Why or why not?

Not particularly. VMCAS is a lot of work, and the data entry (specifically coursework and dates of experience, etc.) can be frustrating. I completed the process over the course of a month and didn’t find it onerous.

Are you Happy that you Chose this Career Goal to Pursue laboratory Animal Medicine?

Yes. I am very happy with my decision to return to vet school later in life and pursue laboratory animal medicine as an end goal.

Do you have any advice for students, wanting to be a lab animal veterinarian?

Vet school is a grind. The coursework is difficult, and it is virtually impossible to master all of the information with which you are presented in four years of didactic training. When I’m frustrated, I frequently return to a piece of advice handed down by one of my faculty- with respect to the veterinary profession, it’s called ‘practice’ for a reason. Mastery of veterinary medicine is a lifelong pursuit. The love of learning and absolute commitment to the welfare of your patients will drive you to constantly hone and improve your knowledge base. Hold on to the passion that originally directed you to a career in vet med.

During the long nights of studying anatomy, clinical pathology, and internal medicine, you’ll need those feelings to maintain your motivation. Never lose sight of the reason you’re there- your love of and desire to help suffering animals will assist you in putting a poor exam score in proper perspective. Don’t be afraid of failure- if vet school were easy, everybody would do it. Turn to your classmates and professors for assistance in your weak subjects, and offer that assistance to others who are struggling in subjects where you’re strong. Make a concerted effort not to compare yourself to others- everyone travels their own road.

Any study tips? 

What worked for a student during the undergrad years may not work for that same individual in veterinary school. The familiar analogy of ‘drinking from a fire hose’ is apt. It takes vet students a while to develop a system of sorting out detail from bedrock, foundational knowledge. Don’t be afraid to try different techniques, and ask others for their input re: success. Failure can be a bitter pill to swallow but is hardly the end of a student’s story. When you lose (i.e. poor grade), don’t lose the lesson.

Have there been any classes, within your DVM program that will be especially helpful in your desire to get into the field of laboratory animal medicine?

I aspire to be a laboratory animal vet and specifically enrolled in vet school to pursue this specialty, in laboratory animal medicine. Lab animal vets are, first and foremost, veterinarians. All of the foundational subjects (anatomy, physiology, virology, bacteriology, immunology, pathology, medicine subspecialties, etc.) are relevant to this field.

Exotics and laboratory animal classes were fun and useful, but students must first learn how to be a doctor (generally) before they become specialists. Focus on mastering the problem-oriented approach to clinical decision making. Laboratory animal medicine specialization will come later (i.e. internship/residency, real-world job experience). How long it takes to be a veterinarian will depend on your specialty.

What was the most challenging class, in your DVM program?

The answer to this question depends on the particular student. For me, it was anatomy.  (anatomy and physiology flashcards will help you memorize the terms) Hands-down, no other class came close. Pharmacology was my favorite.

As a student Doctor, has there been any particular case that was your favorite? 

Each case presents an opportunity to learn, improve my skills, and impact the lives of animals/people. How could I possibly choose?

Do you have a specialty or are you working towards one?

Laboratory Animal Medicine. Currently applying for residency positions.

What has been your most challenging case?

Many of my cases in Internal Medicine were challenging, for various reasons. Often, patients have a complex clinical history, encompassing multiple problems. It would be difficult to choose just one.

Do you frequently have to research cases, on off-hours?

Do I ‘have’ to? Sometimes. Do I CHOOSE to? Yes- and often. I owe it to my patients to do so.

Have you read or listened to anything worth sharing? 

HBO’s Game of Thrones always makes my day 😉 I’m also a fan of animated films. Had I not become a scientist/veterinarian, I aspired to be a 2-D animator for Disney.

Do you have any last words of wisdom?

Becoming a veterinarian is a noble and worthwhile goal. There are many reasons to be a veterinarian.  I am wholly committed to my profession. That being said, veterinary medicine does not define me. My job is ONE FACET of the person I am. When life presents you with challenges (whether in vet school or not), don’t forget that you are far greater than the obstacle in front of you. Make a concerted effort not to let failure/setbacks define you, or derail your goals. Remember the important people in your life. Be deliberate in showing your appreciation for their support. Success is far sweeter with lovely people to share it with.

How can people find you?