Kim Lewis, a nontraditional student who never abandoned her dream of working in veterinary medicine, exemplifies the Arizona Bear Down spirit and inspires those who believe it may be too late to pursue their passion. Growing up in North Carolina, Lewis was fascinated with animal care from an early age. “Even as a kid, I always related to animals and empathized with their pain and their situations.” After earning her bachelor’s degree in accounting and working in the field for several years, she found herself again pulled toward veterinary medicine and decided to give it a shot. Lewis worked in veterinary clinics as a second job for experience before choosing to apply to veterinary school. The road to veterinary school acceptance was over thirteen years long, but Lewis held tightly to her goals and remained undeterred. Recognizing that experience and education were critical to acceptance, she explored ways to strengthen her application.
“It took me a long time to get here. I just kept getting rejected, so I continued working hard to improve my application. For example, I have 2 master’s degrees now. I just kept trying to improve that application and get somebody to notice me. I did a lot of things to try to get there. I went to work at NC State’s vet school in their small animal emergency department. The professor in charge of internal medicine and the emergency department there told me, ‘Don’t give up, keep trying.’”
As the self-proclaimed (and proud-to-be) oldest student in the program, Lewis’s unique perspective and varied background make her an asset in her team-based learning group, the classroom, and veterinary clinics. She noted, “I’ve definitely [experienced] a lot of different opinions and ideas and I like that I can turn to the people around me and help them see things from other angles.” Students like Lewis bring a depth of experience to our diverse program and encourage an environment where everyone can learn and value others’ perspectives and contribute vital information. She believes her life experiences inform her interactions with others and help her communicate effectively. She said,
“I seem to have a good knack for putting [medical conversations] into terms that are easy to understand, whether it is relating something to human medicine or to [an individual’s] day-to-day life. I try to put [the situation] in a perspective where [a client] can understand and see it through the animals’ eyes. I’ve seen a lot and I think that gives me a whole different worldview. I can use my experience to try to help others to see [situations] from a different perspective.”
Good communication skills are essential for veterinarians. Lewis’ background and experience have enhanced her ability to provide relational, easy-to-understand explanations that others may take more time to hone. While Lewis has a lot to offer her classmates, she also appreciates and values her teammates and the invaluable skills and insight they bring to the table.
Starting veterinary school as a part of the inaugural class was a confirmation of her years of work and the knowledge that it is never too late to make one’s ambitions a tangible reality. Now in her final year of veterinary school, Lewis has had ample time to reflect on her love of animal care and what inspires her most about veterinary medicine.
“I believe [animals] have a soul. They feel things and not everybody sees that. The longer I work with them, the more in tune I become with them. It’s always just been about standing up for those who don’t have a voice and trying to help owners understand what needs to be done and why it’s the best course for their animal, [although] it’s not always black and white.”
Her compassion has an excellent outlet in veterinary medicine, and when she graduates, she will be able to spend each day working with her biggest inspirations.
Lewis’s persistence and unwillingness to be deterred is a testament to her passion for veterinary medicine and the fulfillment of her promise to her dad before he passed. “My father, who died a few years ago, had made me promise never to give up on it and keep trying. [His encouragement] really pushed me not to stop.” Her determination made the difference, and this Wildcat is making the most of her educational journey as she honors her father’s final wish and the numerous mentors who encouraged her to persist.