OSU Vet Med graduate to serve in Army Veterinary Corps
Monday, May 8, 2023
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Rachel Farr always had a strong interest in medicine, stemming from her dad’s career as a family practice physician, but would not realize her passion for veterinary medicine until she was 15.
“I've had an interest in medicine for as long as I can remember and I've always loved animals,” Farr said. “I started working at my cousin’s vet clinic when I was 15 and after that, I knew that that's what I wanted to do.”
Farr was excited about her decision to pursue veterinary medicine, but she also felt a strong pull to the military. Medical professions are common in many branches of the military, but she wasn’t sure how a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree might fit into that — She asked herself, ‘Are there even veterinarians in the military?’
Toward the end of her undergraduate program at Iowa State University, Farr began applying to veterinary schools. She was elated when she learned that she had been accepted to Oklahoma State University's College of Veterinary Medicine.
“I remember the morning that I opened my email and realized that I had gotten in somewhere — I was super excited,” Farr said. “I told my family and then when I checked my email again, I had one from the Army talking about the Health Professions Scholarship Program.”
For individuals pursuing an advanced medical degree — including veterinary medicine — and who qualify for the HPSP, the military pays tuition, provides a living stipend and reimburses individuals for required books, equipment and supplies.
“When I saw that email, that's when I became really excited and I just knew it was something that I had to do,” Farr said.
So, Farr set off for veterinary school. Being from Macomb, Illinois, Oklahoma seemed like an odd choice — it’s a long way from home at almost 600 miles, after all — but it was the care and compassion the OSU CVM imparts to its graduates that drew her to Stillwater.
“I chose Oklahoma State to go to vet school because I had a mentor who was an Oklahoma State grad and I really liked the way that she worked with patients and talked to clients, and I knew it was going to be a great educational experience for me,” Farr said.
Being in the Army during vet school, Farr’s educational experience, for the most part, was not different from her classmates. She did spend six weeks at basic training between her second and third years, but her academic years were the same as other students. When it came to her clinical year, the only difference for Farr was that four of her rotations were with the Army. Two of these rotations took place at Fort Shafter in Oahu, Hawaii, and two at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
“The externships with the military are really clinical-based,” Farr said. “At Fort Shafter, I worked at a small animal clinic on base and we cared for the pets of service members and their families.
“Lackland AFB was all working dogs all the time. Lackland is the first stop for every dog when they enter the military — it’s where dogs have their basic training. When dogs get to Lackland, they have a medical exam to start with and then throughout their training, we make sure that they stay healthy and sound.”
Now that externships are complete and exams have been taken, Farr is looking forward to the next chapter.
“In September, I start another set of training called Vet Track, which is a five-week, vet-specific training at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas,” Farr said. “After that, I will be stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia for my First Year Graduate Veterinary Education. That’s a year where I get to work with fellow incoming Veterinary Corps Officers to practice and learn the ropes from mentors who will help sharpen our skills, teach us how to handle certain situations, what paperwork to fill out and things like that.”
So, what exactly does a career as a veterinarian in the Army Veterinary Corps look like?
The Veterinary Corps conducts and oversees all Department of Defense veterinary service activities. Army Veterinary Corps Officers are responsible for preventing contagious and zoonotic diseases, providing care to military working dogs, caring for ceremonial horses, treating family pets and even supporting Human-Animal Bond Programs at military hospitals.
Although she may not know exactly what the future looks like, Farr is excited about the journey.
“I know where I'm going to be for the next year, but after that it's really up in the air,” Farr said. “And I think that's part of what makes it so fun, is I don't know quite what's going to happen, but I know that with the training that I've had, I'm ready to go anywhere and I'm really excited.”
As Farr learned, earning a DVM degree opens the door to a variety of careers far behind just general practice. Whatever someone’s passion may be: the military, scientific research, agronomy, or some other field, there is a path forward in veterinary medicine.
“I learned that you can go to vet school and you don't just have to go be a general practice vet,” Farr said. “There are so many career options, and the degree is just so versatile. This career can really take you wherever you want.”
While the path to becoming a veterinarian may not always be easy, it is always worthwhile.
“I've made a ton of friends and some great connections within the vet school,” Farr said. “It's been a blast. It's a lot of hard work, but it is so worth it and I know that Oklahoma State has prepared me well. Just stay focused and dedicated and you can do it.”