Finding the Heart in Veterinary Medicine

Sept. 22, 2022

For University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine second-year student Cristina Guijon, the decision to become a veterinarian was inspired by an encounter with compassionate veterinary communication as a middle schooler.

Veterinary student Cristina Guijon holds a white cat.

For University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine second-year student Cristina Guijon, the decision to become a veterinarian was inspired by an encounter with compassionate veterinary communication as a middle schooler. Veterinarians serve not only animals but also the people who care for them. Excellent communication is a must for a veterinarian to connect with pet owners and supply understandable explanations for health issues and treatment options. An experience with the empathetic side of veterinary medicine influenced Guijon’s aspirations and showed her a path to care for the pets and families in her own community. 

Coming from a family of medical professionals, Guijon was familiar with the medical world, albeit from the perspective of human practitioners. Her strong bond with her family’s pets was established from an early age, and when the family dog became ill during her middle school years, she became invested in the care plans her veterinarian developed. Her veterinarian met her concerns with warmth and clarity. Guijon shared, “Our veterinarian was absolutely amazing. She did a wonderful job of going through everything with us as pet owners and making sure that we fully understood the disease process, what we needed to do, and what to look out for.” This focus on clear communication and empathy made Guijon’s veterinarian an aspirational figure. Guijon knew she wanted a way to bring these values to her own future career and combine care for animals with caring for the people who love them. Following her own heart towards veterinary medicine, Guijon began shadowing her veterinarian before even beginning high school.  

Guijon prioritized her passions as she navigated her educational career. While earning her undergraduate degree in chemistry may have been an unexpected choice, Guijon trusted that majoring in a subject she was passionate about was the strongest move for her goals. After graduation in 2020, Guijon took a gap year and focused on gaining more experience in the veterinary medical field and applying to veterinary schools. Her hands-on work experience provided vital insight into cardiology and emergency and critical care, which would ultimately benefit her learning later. “I'm glad that I was able to take that year off and [gain an] understanding of how things worked. It really helped me to prepare my applications and to prepare to be a veterinary student.” This choice paid off when Guijon was accepted to CVM on her first application cycle.  

Following her matriculation into veterinary school, Guijon found herself drawn to cardiology, but did not lose sight of the essential role empathy plays in effective practice. She shared, 

“I really like the human side of veterinary medicine and connecting with pet owners and building those relationships. My background is that I've worked in general practice, cardiology, and then emergency and critical care. Getting those experiences, I was able to gauge aspects of veterinary medicine [and ask whether] I would be able to have that relationship-building opportunity. As exciting as emergency was, I decided that's probably not for me just because I can't build those relationships with pet owners. With general practice you do get that and with cardiology you get that.” 

At CVM, Guijon encounters countless opportunities to hone the necessary medical and interpersonal skills she will need to become a veterinarian who is defined by passion and professionalism. In addition to the outstanding medical education at CVM, students undergo extensive professional skills training, which helps them develop the communication skills necessary to develop connections and compassionately serve communities. In our professional skills training, students engage in simulated client encounters and gain a sense of how best to meet clients where they are. In these classes, Guijon refines the heartfelt communication she aims to make a hallmark of her career. 

While Guijon feels deeply connected to her future career, she recognizes the importance of staying connected to the people she is closest to. Vet school challenges even the strongest students, so Guijon shared about how she stays centered and ready to learn, saying,  

“I think when I'm overwhelmed by the information, I kind of just lean back on my family and friends. I make sure that I have hobbies outside of school. And I make sure that veterinary medicine is not my entire life, not my entire personality. I have those things to fall back on. So at least once a week, my friends and I, we all live all over the country, but we'll FaceTime and play games together or something like that, just so all of us can have a break and I can have that step back from veterinary medicine for a little.” 

This balanced approach to her schedule allows Guijon to engage wholeheartedly with her studies when she is in class or working on homework without burning out. Throughout her time at CVM, Guijon takes steps toward a sustainable schedule so she will be prepared for the next level in her career. 

After graduation, Guijon plans to stay connected to the heart of veterinary medicine and the community in which she practices. Sharing about her next steps, Guijon said,  

“The cardiologist that I worked with was such a great mentor for me. He knew that I wanted to be a veterinarian, so he taught me everything he could. Right now, I'm primarily planning to start an internship or rotating one-year surgical internship in that field [after graduation]. After that I'll apply for residencies in cardiology and then hopefully become boarded in that.”  

Her experiences at CVM are preparing her to become the most exceptional, compassionate veterinarian she can be, and we are excited to see the accomplishments and connections in store for her.