Recent Graduate, Alexia Sampson ‘09 discusses the importance of these three pillars of White Mountain’s mission on her career and life in Veterinary Medicine.
Lexi Sampson has loved animals for as long as she can remember. At the age of seven, following the death of her beloved family pet, she knew she wanted to be a veterinarian. Now in her clinical (fourth) year of veterinary school at Tuskegee University, she’s confident she made the right decision, proud of her accomplishments and looks forward to all she has yet to learn and contribute. Lexi reflects here on the roles curiosity, courage and compassion play in veterinary medicine in general and on the impact they’ve had on her journey to becoming a vet.
The Importance of Being Curious
What role does curiosity play in your professional life?
Curiosity is at the very center of veterinary medicine. Because our patients can’t talk, we need to engage in a sequence of questions to our client, the pet owner, physical examination of the patient, and analysis of lab tests. With each layer of information that is added, we need to revise our original hypothesis, ask new questions, gather more data. There is a constant ebb and flow of questions and revisions based on new evidence. This requires both a curious mind and an open mind. If you remain stuck along one line of thought, you could easily miss the underlying medical issue.
What you’re saying here reminds me of White Mountain’s Anatomy and Physiology/Wilderness First Responder course.
Exactly. I think there are two areas in which White Mountain clearly helped me develop the skills and habits I’ve needed to be successful in veterinary medicine. One was my Anatomy and Physiology/WFR class experience. WFR required us to evaluate the medical situation, ask probing questions, assess the problem, and reassess the problem when new information was presented – all in the high pressure environment of a wilderness emergency scenario. It was both terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. WFR cemented my resolve to pursue a career in medicine. And, as it turns out, Veterinary triage is exactly the same as First Responder triage!
White Mountain also taught me the cognitive flexibility I’ve needed throughout my higher education. In elementary and middle school, I relied on strong memorization skills to be successful in school. When I received my first progress report at White Mountain, I was both shocked and devastated to see low grades and less than positive comments from my teachers. My advisor, Lee Zanger, went through my comments with me and helped identify a trend. My teachers were all asking me to dig deeper, and to communicate my thoughts more clearly. My grades were low because I wasn’t asking enough questions and my resulting work was superficial – gone were the days when memorizing facts and spitting them back to my teachers was acceptable! I had to re-learn how to learn. With my advisor’s and teachers’ help, I began to study differently, think critically and communicate my thoughts more fully and more clearly. Developing new thinking patterns and study habits is hard, but I am forever thankful that White Mountain (and Lee Zanger!) taught me how to do that. Critical thinking and effective communication are skills that I use every day in my profession now. And my ability to assess who I am as a student – to think about how I’m learning and adjust my study habits accordingly – was important in college and then again in veterinary school.
The Courage to Pursue One’s Dream
In what way has courage influenced your ability to achieve your goals?
Becoming a veterinarian has been hard academically, emotionally and financially, and it hasn’t happened overnight for me. I’ve had to overcome setbacks, defy critics and make both personal and financial sacrifices. I’ve dug deeply into my personal store of courage and have relied heavily on some incredibly strong friendships and mentorships to help see me through.
How do you think one develops the courage necessary to pursue a goal worth attaining?
In small steps. Looking back, I see how important White Mountain was in helping me develop the courage and the confidence I’ve needed in later years. Lots of people helped me along that path. I remember, specifically, the role my advisor, Lee, played. He never let me give up on myself and always encouraged me to face each challenge head on. Seeing that I had lofty academic goals, he pushed me to take difficult classes and supported me when I chose to take more than the required number of credits. Lee also encouraged me to step outside of my athletic comfort zone, which were team sports, by signing up for outdoors focused trips like mountain biking and wilderness orienteering. And, as I mentioned previously, when I got my first academic progress report, Lee was there to help me navigate through the critiques. Instead of letting me feel defeated because of one report with low marks, he recommended new ways I could study and assured me I would improve. I guess, then, I developed courage by being listened to, supported to push myself, encouraged to try a different approach when something didn’t work instead of giving up. People at White Mountain reminded me regularly that I was both worthy of success and capable of achieving it.
Living a Compassionate Life
You’re remembered at White Mountain, Lexi, for being a compassionate person. Can you tell us a little about the role compassion has played in your life?
Compassion is a principle that was taught to me from a very young age – it’s deeply valued in my family. My father, who is a Pastor, involved our entire family in church mission trips and community events that both required and deepened our compassion for others. In my family, living a compassionate life is to live mindfully, joyfully and within the teachings of God. It is just something one practices on a daily basis.
I have been able to take advantage of many opportunities to further develop compassion through international service trips and internships. At White Mountain, I went on two service trips – to the Dominican Republic and to Nicaragua. Both were deeply challenging and also deeply fulfilling. I’ve also been on service trips to Ghana and have had veterinary internships in Ghana and rural Alabama. Being exposed to cultures that are very different from one’s own deepens compassion. It helps open one’s mind and reduces one’s tendency to be judgemental.
It is vital in veterinary medicine to continually practice compassion. When you are a veterinarian, your animal patient can’t speak to you and your human client is trying their best to explain the situation from their perspective to you. In my line of work, it’s a constant balancing act between patient and client and you need to develop empathy for both while you work toward decisions and treatments that are best for the patient. It is especially humbling for me to see time and time again the tremendous love people have for their pets regardless of their level of education, their geographic location or their cultural background. I am reminded daily of the impact a vet can have on animals as well as on their human owners.