Supporting rural veterinary care one story at a time.
“So one thing about me is I did not have a straight path to veterinary school. I wasn’t one of those kids who grew up knowing they wanted to be a veterinarian,” says Dr. Rebekah Hartfield, mixed animal practitioner from Chandler, Okla. “I have a lot of faith and God helped me get through everything that I’ve been through and overcome. That’s what helps me keep going and to keep fighting. I wasn’t going to give up.”
Hartfield grew up in Bridgeport, Texas. She tried a semester of college after high school and didn’t like it. She spent the next semester riding horses. The next summer while working on a dude ranch listening to her colleagues talk about school and classes, she decided to try college again.
“I ended up getting my associate’s degree in equine science,” she says. “I needed a second job to help pay for school and worked at a veterinary clinic. I decided to get my vet tech degree as well. It was my husband who really inspired me to go to veterinary school. He said, ‘hey, you’re really good at this. Why don’t you go to vet school?’ I was like, no, that’s just way too much school. I don’t think I’m smart enough to go.”
However, Rebekah decided to look into things and really enjoyed the classes while earning all her pre-requisites.
“It was hard. School is really, really hard for me.”
She earned her undergraduate degree in animal science at Texas A&M University and applied there first for veterinary college.
“I didn’t get in my first year. I applied the second time at Texas A&M and I also applied at Oklahoma State. I probably wasn’t the best candidate to get into veterinary school but I worked really hard and with my experience and everything, I was able to get into OSU. My husband and I moved out of Texas and made residence in Oklahoma.”
Hartfield earned her DVM degree from OSU in May 2016. Since graduation, she has been working full-time at Cushing Veterinary Clinic, a mixed animal practice in Cushing, Okla. owned by Dr. Brian McNeil, a 1978 OSU Veterinary Medicine graduate.
“I see everything—dogs, cats, horses, cows. I feel like OSU really prepared me to work in private practice,” states Hartfield. “First year they got us into clinics working with fourth year students doing exams on animals. They also put us at various locations like the OSU dairy so we got to work there. Second and third year, same thing. We just really got a lot of hands on experience. I also created a lot of hands on experience for myself by volunteering outside of school. And then, of course, fourth year, a lot of experience in the hospital working on cases.”
Hartfield says she works about 55 hours a week at the clinic. And in her free time, she works on her next love—her book.
“What originally inspired me to write a children’s book actually came from my sister. A senior at the University of North Texas working on her graphic design degree, she needed a school project. I also had a friend call me up and ask me, ‘hey, my daughter who’s 10 wants to be a veterinarian. What are some good books for her?’ I did some research and I couldn’t find any good books for her age so that’s when I called my sister and said, let’s write a children’s book. And so, from that, my niece, Abby, who was three at the time, came out to my farm. We went to check on all my animals and Rosie, my pig, was sick. So I led her (Abby) through how to do an exam, diagnosis, treatment of Rosie. And that’s when I was like this is what my first book needs to be about.”
Rosie the Pig is the first book published in a series of six books for this age group, which is for 10 and under. Just three months after its release, Hartfield and Rosie had traveled over 1,500 miles to read to over 3,000 children at 10 schools, five libraries and multiple events across Oklahoma and Texas.
In that same time, she had sold well over 1,000 copies of her self-published book mostly through events and her website, doctorhartfield.com, and has no intention of slowing down. She’s partnering with area veterinary clinics to also carry her book and will have a Doctor Hartfield Veterinary Book Series display at the OSU Veterinary Medical Hospital. Hartfield’s book has been a way for her to marry three things she loves: veterinary medicine, teaching and reading. So while not all kids have access to the large animals featured in her book series, they do have access to books.
“I really hope that my book will inspire younger kids to maybe practice in rural medicine in a mixed animal practice working with large animals specifically. And I really want to start at a younger age. When I’m visiting several of these schools, the biggest thing that I’ve seen is not even half, not even a quarter of these kids have even seen a pig let alone touched a pig. And so that could be with any animal—horses, cattle. I just want to expose these kids to as much of those large animals as I can and then hopefully that will inspire them to want to be a large animal vet one day as well.”
Her next book Pistol the Horse will be out May 2018, and will share the story of how Abby and Dr. H help bandage a cut on Pistol’s leg. Each book will reiterate some of the lessons from previous books while also introducing new knowledge. Other books in the series will feature a goat, a cow, a dog and a cat.
Hartfield plans to use some of the proceeds from her book sales to establish a scholarship for veterinary students at Oklahoma State University.
“I just think there is such a need to have more scholarships out there to encourage kids to pursue rural medicine especially that mixed practice. I want to give back to the school that gave me a chance.
“And the biggest advice that I have for someone wanting to go into veterinary medicine is get experience. Get hands on experience before school. Four years of veterinary school; they can only teach you so much. So create those experiences, create that hands-on experience for yourself. I was actually a veterinary technician for about five years before I decided to even go to veterinary school. I gained a lot of hands on experience. I already knew how to do a lot of the procedures going into school. Then once I was in school, I was able to get help developing those skills even more.
“I struggled when I was in school. I had to study probably more than anybody else but I made it through. I think my story can help encourage other people who maybe think ‘I’m not really smart enough’ but I think that you can do it. If you really want to do something and that desires in your heart, then you can do it. So that’s what I did.”
If you share Dr. Hartfield’s passion for animals and would like to support veterinary student scholarships, contact Chris Sitz, senior director of development at the Oklahoma State University Foundation, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 405-385-5170. For copies of Dr. Rebekah Hartfield’s book, Rosie the Pig, or to sell them at your clinic or business, visit Dr. Hartfield's website.