“I’ve been a vet for two days!” expressed newly-minted veterinarian Elizabeth Peck who graduated from St. George’s University Vet School in Grenada, West Indies, virtually, just days before our conversation. San Luis Obispo County was her home for her first five years of college, as a student at Cal Poly. Here she fell in love with the people, the places and the weather of the Central Coast. Elizabeth is especially fond of Los Osos and the everyday beauty on display there. That is the location she hopes to return to again, for good, to call it home.
Begins College Career at Cal Poly
Growing up in Menlo Park provided the opportunity to play Polo. So, upon moving to San Luis Obispo she naturally gravitated to the Cal Poly Polo Team, coached by Megan Judge, where she red-shirted her freshman year then played all four following years winning 4 Western Regional Championships. Upon graduating from Cal Poly with a degree in Animal Science/Pre-Vet, Elizabeth took a year break where she worked as assistant manager for Megan at Central Coast Polo Club then traveled for three months before taking on the intensity of Vet School.
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Vet School at St. George’s University in Grenada, West Indies it is!
“St. George’s University was the perfect opportunity to live internationally,” explained Elizabeth. “Many people consider it the ‘second chance’ vet school.” Yet she found it drew people from a vast array of backgrounds, un-like the cookie-cutter versions in the states. Elizabeth’s classmates all found themselves in the middle of an island in the Caribbean while coming from places all over the world. One was a mother of four who transplanted her family with her to complete vet school. Another was a recovering addict who purposed his life on a new trajectory. Yet another was one who flunked out of college earlier in life and overcame the odds to achieve an education in veterinary medicine. “Everyone of my classmates had a unique depth to their experiences that brought them to the middle of the Caribbean ocean,” remarked Elizabeth.
Finds Herself to be a Minority
Going to school on an island in the Caribbean plopped Elizabeth in an environment where she found herself to be the minority. “This brought a new perspective and developed an awareness I never had before,” remarked Elizabeth. “It was so eye-opening. When you live abroad and surround yourself with different types of people, you grow.” She found that being a veterinary student at St. George’s University on an island in the Caribbean was the perfect place for her.
Vet Work in a Developing Country
Elizabeth led the One Health One Medicine initiative at St. George’s University. “It’s a developing country, so supplies are limited,” she explained. “We trained groups of veterinary students to go out into the rural townships and provide medical attention to animals who had never seen a veterinarian before. The tasks we perform are complete physical exams, vaccinations, and we treat a variety of skin conditions. We work on livestock as well as dogs and cats.” Elizabeth estimates she has handled over 1,000 animals in the three years she spent on the island.
The cultural management of animals is quite different on the island. Some owners treat their animals as pets, but there are also numerous bands of dogs and cats just running loose. “I saw many instances where animals were considered a nuisance, or had been tortured or not paid attention to. We saw a lot of festering machete wounds or untreated hit by car cases.”
In all that experience Elizabeth has developed a perspective of being grateful that the animals were brought in at all. It has helped her become less judgmental of how an animal is cared for and has spurred a desire to create better relationships with her future clients. She also learned to work through the effects of natural disasters where supplies, space and sanitary conditions are limited.
The St. George’s University Program leads to Cornell
Veterinary Students at St. George’s University spend three years completing book work and practical animal care on the island. The final year is clinical based, working in State side University hospitals. She spent her last year at Cornell University in upper state New York. She found a stark difference in the comradery and outlook of the students at Cornell. “I wouldn’t trade my experience at St. George’s for the world!” expressed Elizabeth.
Year of Clinical Hospital Work at Cornell Comes to an Abrupt Halt
However, finishing out her last year at Cornell came to an early and abrupt halt two months before graduation. Across the country University hospitals closed to students. Elizabeth decided it best to make her way back “home” to the Central Coast where Megan Judge of Central Coast Polo welcomed her with open arms.
She and a friend took off in her truck seemingly on a mission to beat the closing of the country due to Covid-19. “It was most difficult to find restaurants open. Yet, people all across this country were so kind and went out of their way to provide food and shelter for the night,” explained Elizabeth.
“We also visited a few national parks which would normally be slammed with people. Driving through deserted resort towns, we still found the kindness of strangers overwhelming.” Elizabeth found that the heart of America truly wants to serve and take care of each other. “People were so giving; it restored my faith in humanity in a time where there were more questions than answers.”
Lands Back in the Central Coast and Becomes a Newly-Minted Veterinarian
“Even while living in the Caribbean, I thought every day about returning to the Central Coast,” says Elizabeth of her destination during the shutdown. The friendly and kind people of the Central Coast plus the scenery and opportunity to ride horses drove her desire to return. So, Elizabeth finished her veterinarian degree online while sheltering at Central Coast Polo Club. She was reminded daily of how much Megan cares for each horse. “Megan goes above and beyond, offering her horses, facility and massive amount of knowledge to teach people how to ride and play polo,” relates Elizabeth. “As a young rider, expect to be put to work, but what you gain back is an invaluable experience.”
Dressed in her gown and velvet tam, standing in the living room of her living quarters at Central Coast Polo in Los Osos, Elizabeth graduated from St. George’s University Vet School along with her classmates. “We all followed the ceremony through a YouTube broadcast and said our oath. I was wearing my cap and gown, standing in my living room.” Her brother came to help her celebrate and she had a big beach day where she tried out her new surfboard. She hasn’t seen her parents for months, but they are talking about coming for a weekend soon.
What is Next for this Newly-Minted Veterinarian?
Elizabeth is starting the next chapter of her journey with gratitude as an intern at Advanced Veterinary Specialists in Santa Barbara. She is thankful for the respect of the work she has already put in, but is looking to hone her skills and find her specialty. After a year she’ll focus on a specialty. Eventually she sees herself opening an Emergency Clinic in San Luis Obispo. Although she’ll focus mainly on small animals, she plans to become acupuncture certified and serve the equine community in this manner.
“I’m so excited to start my life and join the work force!” exclaimed newly-minted veterinarian Elizabeth who added, “I even got my first ‘my dog’!” She also plans to become a part of the Polo community developing in Santa Ynez. Someday however, she has her heart set on returning to Los Osos. When she does, it will be for good; she will call SLO County home.
Cover Photo: Elizabeth holds on to Polo horses and her new pup. Photo Credit Lori Sortino Essence Captured. Other photos not credited are from Elizabeth Peck’s files.
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