With frogs in my pockets…. My journey to TTU SVM

For the rest of my life I will remember something a professor said to me on my first day of college in August of 2015. I was nineteen years old, sitting in my first class as a Red Raider at Texas Tech University. I was eagerly pursuing my undergraduate degree in Animal Science to start building my career into the veterinary world. It was an introductory animal science course and my first real slice of enjoying classes all about animals. It was taught by a legendary professor, whose wisdom and guidance has echoed through the halls of TTU for years. On this day, he looked out into this classroom of about 100 students and forwardly said “raise your hand if you want to be a vet.” I shot my hand up immediately, and when I began to look around the room I saw, quite literally, every single person with their hand raised as well. He smirked and said… “Well, great…. Now know that only 10% of you will ever make it.”

That’s right, 10%.

The idea of my dream being challenged made my thoughts radiate with shock. The professor didn’t say that to hurt our feelings, either. He said it to allow us freshmen to open our minds to how difficult getting into veterinary school would be and to let us know that other careers in agriculture do exist. This statement, however – this idea of only 10% – has stuck with me ever since that day. It fired me up! On that first day, I committed to myself that I wasn’t going to let this statistic take away my confidence in pursuing my dream.

Flash forward six (long) years later. I just had the honor of shaking this man’s hand while standing smack dab in the middle of the lobby at the brand-new Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine; this time, however, as an inaugural student and the elected Vice President of the class of 2025. I got to look him in the eyes and remind him of what he said to me so many years ago that had kept me going when the going got tough. He was in Amarillo that day giving a guest lecture and let me tell you: being in his lecture six years later, sitting exactly where I had worked so hard to be, was the most surreal feeling.

My professor was never wrong about what he said, either. He informed us the path to vet school is highly competitive and could be a long and defeating one for many. And boy… was he right in my case. After five years of working as a veterinary technician, three years of application cycles, pursuing a Master’s degree, countless rejections, waiting lists, tears, and nerve-wracking interviews, my dream finally came true the day I received the call offering me a seat in the inaugural class at TTU SVM. When I answered that call, I had just sat down and started taking an online at-home test for my STEM MBA program. The test was on a timer, and looking back I’m pretty sure the answers I gave after the fact made little sense, because once Dr. Dascanio said “we would like to offer you a seat in our inaugural class” … I’m pretty sure time stood still.

I have a different background from what you’d expect from a Texas vet school applicant, and I often worried if this would impede my chances of getting in. I will be forever grateful that TTU SVM was able to see me as a person and see value in a diverse student upbringing. You see, I grew up in the military. My father, Retired Colonel Bryan Patridge, is a decorated war hero who served almost thirty years active duty as a military police officer in the Army. Much of my life was spent overseas in Europe, or shuffling around states in the U.S. By the time I was nineteen, I had moved sixteen times during my childhood. I never lived in one place for long, so opportunities to raise livestock, be in meat judging or FFA were not easily in the cards for me based on our duty stations. Even though my family is from Texas and I’m a third-generation Red Raider, the fact that I was not raised within the industry, like many others were, worried me. It wasn’t until college that I was able to fully immerse myself in everything I could. Shelter work, vet tech work, swine and equine research, horseback riding, and so much more. This is yet another thing for which I am so grateful to Texas Tech University. TTU has all the doors with opportunities for students to open, you just need to go knocking. So, knocking I did, for many years.

Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine takes the time to look holistically at every single applicant. They look at our life’s work, field experience, values, and ethics. They don’t value us solely on a quantitative academic level. Once we meet that academic requirement, they want to know who we are as people in every sense and display true care for us as individuals. Being able to do this ensures they have the right students in their seats, and specifically, students that will continue to serve rural and regional Texas proudly. Our youngest students here are 21 years old, and our oldest are in their early 40s. There is truly no shortage of diversity in background, experience, and what every single one of my peers brings to the table. I am honored to train beside these astounding individuals every single day.

The day I walked into the halls of TTU SVM for that first day of orientation, my life felt like it went into hyperdrive. I easily compare it to when you hit a magic super boost in Mario Kart. You’re going so fast, everything feels overwhelming, but you know that, whatever comes up on the road ahead of you, you will ecstatically take the challenge head on and conquer it. Except this time, you’re not competing against your peers or anyone else at the school; rather, just to be better than the person you were yesterday. This school along with the experience of being in the first class is exhilarating. It’s everything I expected – everything I didn’t – and so much more.

We have five core values here are TTU SVM: community, integrity, kind-heartedness, inspiration, and grit. These values are exuding from the spirit of everyone that walks these halls. It’s not a facade. It’s not something you just read about online or might have seen on the local news. This school and our clinical partners are literally a family, and one that has the utmost compassion and respect for one another and our field.

Even our own dean, Dr. Guy Loneragan (who insists we call him only by his first name), knows every single one of us as well. I don’t know of another vet school where the dean himself will approach you in the hallway and ask you about how your mom and dad are doing or laugh about little stories you tell them. It doesn’t stop at our wonderful dean, either. All our professors and instructors know us individually as well, even our backgrounds, strengths, and weaknesses. They treat us as respected colleagues, as individuals eager to learn from their experiences.

Every single person in the halls of TTU SVM goes above and beyond to ensure our success. For example, we have professors that will stay up at the school until 11pm the night before an exam just to rotate through study rooms to help answer questions and break down concepts for students. We have anatomy professors who take time away from their own weekends to come to the lab on Sundays to just make sure there aren’t any last-minute questions before our morning exams. These are things they don’t have to do, but this is just another example of their selfless proclamation to our program’s success and the longevity of veterinary medicine in Texas.

TTU SVM continually promotes an open-door policy for students, which includes our deans, our professors, our instructors, whomever. If we need them, or we have questions about anything, they are very quick to let us know they are just an email away if we need to meet.

We also are incredibly privileged to have access to our study rooms, clinical professional skills lab, library, anatomy lab, and learning museum 24/7. This comes in very handy when you need to get your hands on a plasticated model of a kidney or practice your leg bandages on models at 1am in the heat of finals week!

Another thing that makes our day-to-day life at TTU SVM unique is that we have the most physical space and weekly class hours devoted to our clinical skill development than any other program in the country. This allows us room to do live animal physicals, simulated client interactions, ultrasounds, bandaging, catheter labs, communication and surgery skills, you name it. TTU SVM has taken the time to strategically design their curriculum approach to cultivate the most hands-on experience possible for students. Our entire day every single Tuesday is spent out of the lecture hall and on our feet doing and learning something new. From the second we received live animals on campus, there has not been a single week that my peers and I haven’t had our hands on a real animal learning something. We are even set up on a track now to be performing surgery by the end of our second year, which is much sooner than any other program.

From the first week of school, we were assigned our own personal Butterfly Ultrasound machines that plug directly into our iPad. They allow us to take these home and practice with them both in and out of class. Almost all the students have pets with them up here in Amarillo, whether it’s dogs, cats or even horses. The ability to meet up with fellow peers and practice our ultrasound techniques on our pets has helped strengthen our knowledge and skills, as well as our friendships. If we feel confident now in identifying abdominal organs via ultrasound, I can only imagine how much my fellow peers and I will continue to develop over the next three years.

In my opinion, TTU SVM’s emphasis on a hands-on curriculum has quite literally revolutionized the way veterinary medicine is taught in this country. It’s been a magical thing to be a part of it first-hand. They have set the bar high in their expectations of their students, and I know that I as well as each and every one of my classmates are eager to meet and exceed those expectations.

So, after an arduous journey filled with years of rejections, smiles and tears to get here, I am still often asked to this day: why? Why not give up? Why not just choose another path? After all, what inspires one to become a veterinarian? These are questions so easily asked by every scholarship committee and family member, yet ones with boundless and diverse answers. For me personally, pursuing this profession was never truly a choice I deliberately made. Growing up, I remember being absolutely enamored by every single animal I could get my hands on. Science classes in grade school became my safe haven and walking in the door after school with my hands and pockets full of frogs and critters became second nature to my mother (sorry, Mom.) That all being said, choosing to pursue a career as a veterinarian was a desire, I honestly can say I feel I was just born into. It was a feeling I always had with me since my earliest memory of petting a dog. I don’t recall having this beautiful decisive moment of selecting what I wanted my career to be. It was, rather, this underlying feeling my entire childhood of “Okay, this is who I am… so, what am I going to do to get there and make it happen?” The answer is different for everyone. What intrinsically drives them? What sets their soul on fire to heal these animals and sustain this industry in our great state?

So, to anyone reading this who feels born into a mission to pursue something like I did and who might be considering giving up their dream – in whatever field that may be in: don’t. Try again. Apply again. Switch it up, change your tactics and work hard. Have grit. You never know when you’re going to get your big break. But one thing’s for sure… you’ll never get it if you don’t try.

Ashleigh E. Patridge
Class Vice President
TTU SVM Class of 2025

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