As the 25-year-old Middletown resident prepares to graduate from the University of Rhode Island on May 17 as one of the top students in the University’s animal science program, she knows that she is half way to achieving her goal.
“When I came here, I just wanted to get my prerequisites out of the way, but I ended up getting a lot of hands on experience that I didn’t expect,” said Atkins. “I got to see lambs being born; I participated in a research study to take blood from lambs every week to look at the effects of vitamin E on their immune systems; and I got to observe surgeries and tissue biopsies. I wasn’t expecting to get that much hands-on experience here, so I’m really pleased with that.”
Atkins’ interest in becoming a vet was born out of her lifelong interest in horses. She has been riding for 20 years, starting out with hunter jumpers and later transitioning to dressage.
“In dressage, there are no fences involved,” she explained. “It’s more about the relationship between you and your horse. It’s a lot more personal and mental.”
During her URI career, she continued to work at Island Veterinary Services in Portsmouth, helping to take care of a wide variety of small animals. Among other things, her experience there convinced her of one thing: “I would rather get kicked by a horse than scratched by a cat,” she said with a laugh. “I prefer the large animals. It’s my motto.”
She has also gained experience working with an equine vet in Wakefield, one of only two such clinics in the state. She learned to draw blood, assist during surgery, conduct lameness exams, and file down a horse’s teeth.
Atkins said her most exciting experience at URI was an opportunity to palpate a cow in a reproduction lab.
“That’s when you use the large glove and enter the animal rectally and feel around for the ovaries and the uterus and the cervix,” she explained. “It was one of the favorite things that I got to do. And it’s a lot harder than it sounds. You’re in there and you can’t tell what you’re feeling. I was fumbling around in there for about five minutes not knowing what was going on until I found the cervix. That’s when a little light bulb went off in my head.”
The URI student credits her relationship with URI lecturer Darlene Jones for much of her success and enthusiasm. “Dr. Jones has been phenomenal, including helping me through the application process for vet school, which is pretty overwhelming.”
Atkins said that much of her senior year has been spent applying to veterinary schools. She has been accepted to eight – a tremendous feat in itself – and has decided to attend the University of Minnesota, which has one of the best equine veterinary programs in the country.
“I’ve never been more excited or more terrified at the same time,” she said. “My whole life is going to be turned upside down, but I’m really excited about it.”