Cat fostering leads to a career choice in veterinary medicine for Honors student

Lena Huraibi is a senior Psychology Honors student who is also minoring in Biology. We sat down with her to speak about her future plans of becoming a veterinarian, why she wanted to go into veterinary medicine and how Wayne State and the Honors College helped her achieve her goals.

Why did you want to become a vet and how has Wayne State helped prepare you for your career choice?

It was kind of a long process to figure out what I wanted to do exactly in a career. I was always really good and really passionate about the sciences and medicine, and I wanted to incorporate that into my life somehow, I just didn’t know in what way I should do that. 

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So I kind of experimented with physical therapy, surgery in hospitals, occupational therapy, and forensic science, but none of them really stuck with me at that point. At that time I was fostering cats, (which) required me to administer medications for respiratory infections and work on their socialization so that these orphan kittens could be put into adoption and be adopted into a home. I took that experience and I said, well, that could be a career for me.

So I started to experiment…to see if I would like it, and that kind of fulfilled my need for medicine and surgery and so forth. So I started working in a bird rehabilitation center, and that was really cool because it kind of exposed me to this new species that not a lot of people get to work with, including feeding baby birds and birds with broken bones and making splints for them out of cardboard, which is really fascinating to me. So that kind of started my interest in this field because (of) something that I couldn’t fulfill with the other career choices - I needed challenges and something exciting and diversity within the field.

So veterinary medicine...gave me that fulfillment where I could work with cats, dogs, horses, birds, exotic animals, and wildlife. That was something that really captured my attention and interest.

I started off having a lot of experience in wildlife medicine and that is where I want to go. When I entered Wayne State University, it was during that process where I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and psychology was just a major that was really interesting. Now looking back in my senior year as well as being in the Honors College, this fulfilled my need to connect with other individuals of the community of Detroit, and with working in the Honors College, doing our service-learning, especially taking the 1967 riot course, that really allowed me to adapt to the history and background of Detroit. This is where I go for school, this is where I work. I am here every day of the week, so I really wanted that understanding of where I come from and where I’m studying.

So attending Wayne State University is very important to me and connect(ing) with people from various communities, various cultures, religious beliefs, moral values that is really important entering any field of medicine because it helps you become culturally aware of everybody. That really fulfilled my need for being aware of those around me as well as animal welfare, because I needed a balance between the two. I needed to put myself in a career where I could contribute to the environment (animal welfare as well as human health), but also not neglect my needs to understand those around me and be sympathetic and sensitive to those I’m always working with. I believe there is always a balance between the two and understanding a university that really helps me understand human compassion and diverse subjects and diverse people really are contributing to my upbringing and my career.

What direction of veterinary medicine do you want to go into?

I want to do wildlife rehabilitation because I need to be indulged by various species and exotic (animals). I want to be able to work in various areas around the world, and I really want to contribute to the ecosystem, and many people depend on the ecosystem for their health as well. Sometimes this is done by looking after endangered species. If you partake in their survival, you keep them in the ecosystem, which keeps that environment healthy and how it is supposed to run. So I wanted something where I could contribute to animals, the environment as well and human health. I get all of that in one bundle and that is what I love about it.

What are other career directions can one take within the field of veterinary medicine?

When people first look at veterinary medicine, a lot of people think you are just contributing to animal welfare and its cats, dogs, and typical cattle animals. I would say for people thinking about this career, there are so many directions you can take with it. You can specialize in surgery, neurology, oncology, emergency dentistry. You can work at a local, state, or governmental level and you can work in areas such as the military, in public health with the Center for Disease Control, environmental protection agencies, and a lot of veterinarians in these fields, what the main goal of theirs is to do is to research and look for ways to stop the prevent of animal to human diseases, known as zoonotic diseases. There are various areas you can work in. You can contribute to human health by working on research vaccines for diseases. You can protect the environment and animal welfare, so you get everything in one if you want. There are many different directions you can take with it.

How does majoring in psychology fit into your goal of becoming a veterinarian?

There are various aspects of education and the world where psychology applies itself. Some examples include the workplace, impacts of the brain on behavior, human development, and more. One of the most important lessons that I have learned throughout my journey as a psychology student is that biology, the environment, and life experiences all join together to uniquely shape an individual. This has allowed me to keep an open mind and remain judgment-free when it comes to interacting with people from diverse backgrounds who may have different morals, values, and beliefs than I. This, among many other factors, strongly contributes to maintaining relationships of honesty, trust, and compassion between clients and professionals, necessary for all fields of expertise and aspects of life, not just the veterinary field.           

Where are you currently volunteering and where have you volunteered in the past?

So right now I’m working in a veterinarian clinic in Detroit, and this is really where I got my clinic experiences and I really saw how medicine was incorporated into my passion for learning about different species and animals. On a daily basis I assist in surgeries, learn about the tools needed for surgeries, as well as the pharmaceuticals that they use over there, which is completely parallel in the human medicine world (same drugs just different dosages). A lot of the same protocols in keeping cleanliness and spread of bacteria is the same. What is big with animals is that you understand their behavior and how you can protect yourself by understanding…their signs of distress or how to help them become comfortable.

And also in this clinical setting I see the importance of therapy animals and service animals and how they contribute to their caretaker’s health and mental health.

Another area I have volunteered at, which is a really interesting one, is the Creature Conservancy in Ann Arbor. This is a sanctuary for unwanted pets, neglected wildlife or wildlife that can’t be released into the environment because of injuries or they are too socialized to humans, which can subject them to humans taking advantage of them, harming them or taking them for themselves without knowing the right care. In this facility they have kangaroos, a mountain lion, coyotes, skunks, turkeys, vultures. So my main role was to feed these animals and understand their different diets, and that exposed me really more to exotic (animals) and wildlife, which is one of the volunteering that I really liked.

Another area I volunteered at was Starry Skies Equine Rescue and Sanctuary. This was more physical and intense work where you clean the stables of all the horses and at the end when you cleaned, feed them and gave them water, you can socialize with them and brush them. It was really cool being up against these animals that are sometimes two times your size, but seeing their emotions and how they can connect with people – I had a horse come up to me and put his head on my shoulder and his head was half the size of my body, so that was really cool.

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What has been your favorite experience so far as you’re on your way to veterinary school?

My favorite experience has been my foster cats. You really see their growth and see how human connection changes their behavior when they enter the world and how, being an orphan without a mom cat, you can provide them this nurture and care and really contribute to their growth and that helps you as an individual find importance in the world and you can see how your nurturing care to them really changes their world and your raising them can make a difference between being stuck in a shelter or being adopted. They are depending on your for chances of a better future, and they are a lot of fun to take part in. So that has always stuck with me.

How has Honors played a role during your time at Wayne State?

The Honors College really pushes you to achieve greater, especially with Honors fulfillment courses, engaging in Honors options for courses that aren’t typically offered as honors courses. By doing Honors options, you push yourself to go above and beyond what is required in the class and it really tests your knowledge of how you can connect real world situations to what you’re learning in the class or requires you to take everything you learn and apply it or be able to, for example, list everything I learned in the class and create my own examples from what I’ve learned. It requires deep-thinking and connecting real-world ideas to your class and thinking outside the box and thinking from points you normally wouldn’t think about.

This is really important when you’re applying to vet school and I really saw how Honors played a significant role because when you’re doing so, they look for how you can advance yourself in circumstances, and how you can put yourself out there and challenge yourself. Furthermore, they really look for how you connect with individuals and be aware of different cultures and beliefs, and that is something that is really taught in this Honors College. You really put yourself out there in the community and engage in service-learning, as we’re all meant to take part in, and that really expands your understanding of people and gets rid of bias of what you may not have known about a certain area of study or it expands your understanding of a class, expands your understanding of different communities. And that is what graduate schools are looking for - how you are constantly looking to improve yourself and your mentality of what is around you.

Why should students who are looking to head into a career in veterinary medicine choose Wayne State to complete their undergraduate degree?

Wayne State is an amazingly diverse school and there is so much you can learn with the people you interact with and the culture’s you come in (contact) with – the beliefs, the values, and the morals. Furthermore, it’s very open to helping its students and they (staff and faculty) are always available to help when you need help…they put themselves out there to help you get on your feet and get started with what direction you want to go in.

So I think coming to Wayne State can really provide a challenging (experience) and what graduate schools are looking for in students because coming here, they can take the initiative to start more clubs for animal welfare. They can make connections and bring people in the veterinarian community here to Wayne State and they obtain leadership from that and they can also broaden the horizons on people who may not know about veterinarian medicine here. Although there are many students, it’s not as well-known as what’s offered for human medicine or other careers here. I think coming here you really get to expand your knowledge on people around you, the communities around you, and you can take advantage of being a leader here and starting these clubs and veterinary focused programs since there aren’t many for people to engage in.

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