The leaves are turning and starting to fall, and we’ve a line-up of veterinary students to feature! Next up: Jason Szumski, University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine (Class of 2023). Jason was chosen by field veterinarian Dr. Jayme Cicchelli.
Will you please share something unexpected you discovered on your path into veterinary medicine?
I discovered how important being passionate is. Growing up, I wanted to be a physician. My kindergarten teacher always used to joke around and say that she was going to send her grandkids to me as their doctor.
Plans took a turn in my junior year when my calculus professor told me that I can pursue an engineering degree, make a lot of money, and only go to college for four years. As a naïve high schooler, the thought of that money and less schooling excited me tremendously. I spent two years studying chemical engineering at the University of Illinois and partway through my junior year I was struggling. I didn’t enjoy the work I was doing; I didn’t wake up wanting to go to class and to learn, and to me, that was a big red flag. I had to take a step back, think about where my priorities were and what would make me happy.
That’s when I got introduced to veterinary medicine, and I fell in love. Since the day I made the switch, every day I wake up wanting to make a difference. What is the reason I feel like that? Passion. I am in love with this profession, and until I was in a profession that I loved, I didn’t realize how important it is to be passionate about what you do. To me, passion is the No. 1 thing that wakes me up and gets me excited to learn. I am a big advocate that if you are not passionate about what you do, it is never too late to make the change and pursue something you love.
My vision for the future of veterinary medicine involves limiting compassion fatigue and burnout. I think we are doing a great job in our profession right now to acknowledge that there is burnout and compassion fatigue.
People argue as to why there is more compassion fatigue and burnout now, whether it is the media availability, the student debt rising, the emphasis for work-life balance, or just the fact that it has existed, and we are now talking about it. With that said, that influences the way that I am preparing because I am taking the steps to learn how I can limit compassion fatigue and burnout, not just in myself, but my veterinary team too.
What resources can I provide? How can I provide an environment that allows people to want to go to work every morning? What is something I can do to excite people for the workday? How can I make someone go home after work, already looking forward to coming back the next morning? To me, that is where our profession is trending. By acknowledging that this is an issue, we can combat it by educating ourselves, doing our research, and finding resources that allow us to improve and help other people.
Looking for a silver lining, what is one positive thing that you think our profession can take from the COVID-19 pandemic so far?
I tend to be an optimistic person, so in my opinion, there are lots of positive aspects here. COVID has taught people to be adaptable, to work closely as a team, to trust each other, and to think of other people when you are making decisions. These are skills that will directly benefit our profession when the pandemic is over.
In addition, COVID-19 research is led in part by veterinarians and colleges of veterinary medicine. At the University of Illinois, we are on the front lines of COVID-19 research, and we are one of the only schools in the country that has developed a saliva-based COVID-19 test. This project is in part due to the College of Veterinary Medicine and our Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.Being able to go to a school that has given us the opportunity to test at least twice weekly in a non-invasive matter has been a blessing and I believe is the future of COVID testing.
This is a great example of how important it is for human medicine and veterinary medicine to collaborate and help each other grow. While we are our own independent field, One Health really shines now. We would not be able to do all this groundbreaking research without the knowledge of veterinary medicine and human medicine collaborating. I think it is starting to open the eyes of many people as to why veterinary medicine is so valuable.
Thank you, Jason!