students walking on the Danforth Campus

From Training Racehorses to Becoming a Veterinarian, One Woman Follows Her Purpose

Student Cailin Doolin, who studies at University College at Washington University in St. Louis, spent years training racehorses. And while the excitement and passion motivated her each day, there came a point where she wanted something more.

She began pursuing an undergraduate degree in psychology at University College, where she’d hurry to make it to classes after long days at the barn. She was constantly around veterinarians, and began working some vet-school prerequisites into her schedule. Eventually, she officially declared pre-vet and began taking classes through the school’s Post-Baccalaureate Premedical program. And now, she’s on her way to fulfilling her dream of becoming a veterinarian.

Keep reading to learn more about Cailin’s story and experience at University College.

What made you want to go back to school?
Working with thoroughbred racehorses was a great job for me. I loved it. It was exciting, but [it] required a lot of long days. Sometimes you’re galloping in 25-degree weather or extreme heat. It’s a lot of fun, physically demanding and mentally challenging. It’s the kind of thing every little girl wants to do growing up. But it was a career I didn't see myself having for the rest of my life.

At first when I enrolled at University College, I’d get to the barn at 7am, leave at 4pm and go straight to class.

Basically the fact that University College exists made me want to go back. I don’t think I would have [went back to school] at the time without that night program.

I really wanted to finish school, but I also loved my job and wasn't willing to give it up at the time. I was looking at some other schools in the area, which had some night courses, but not enough to put together the kind of full degree program I was looking for.

I did have to stop that job when I decided to begin the Post-Bac Pre-Med program as well. But now I go to school full-time and work with an equine veterinarian. I go with him to the race track and work on equine athletes.

How has the flexibility of University College’s program impacted your experience?
I’ve really noticed that in the last year. Professors are really great about being generous with their resources, and Assistant to Course Instructors are willing to email you any time when you have questions. The course work has absolutely been challenging, especially compared to courses I’ve taken at other universities. Professors understand if I need an extension or something like that, and it’s been nice to be around other working adults.

I think having a group of classmates that are in a similar position in life helps. Some have kids or have just restarted their careers—everyone’s busy. And while everyone’s challenged, everyone wants to do this so badly. They don’t let the intimidation factor stop them.

And professors are really concerned about making sure students entirely grasp the concepts. It’s not always about the test scores. They want to sit down with you and make sure you understand what you’re learning. It’s really engaging.

What made you want to become a veterinarian?
Really, it was training horses. I met many veterinarians through my work, which piqued my interest in veterinary medicine. While I was in school working through my psychology classes, I decided to pick up some prerequisites for vet school.

I decided to get a degree in psychology because that’s most of what goes into training and understanding animal behavior. It was always something I was interested in. It really fit into the picture of what I was doing at the time. Ultimately, I’d love to stay in the field of working with racehorses. I really love equine horse medicine.

What have been some of your favorite classes?
I’ve really enjoyed the psychology program. The pre-med and psychology courses were especially interesting because they were taught by adjuncts who were professionals in the field. A student pursuing a psychology degree might not know what you could really do with it, but seeing someone who’s actually practicing is so helpful. I’ve also had a great experience with the pre-med program and professors being really understanding of how difficult the courses are. Organic chemistry, for example—that’s a tough class, especially without a strong chemistry background. Professors have been really understanding and are totally willing to sit down with you and help you understand the concepts.

With labs especially—if you work full time, take these rigorous classes and have labs on Saturday mornings or Thursday nights, you’re not going to have a lot of time to do anything else. And the professors really respect that. It makes for a nice dynamic in class.

Also, at this point in our lives, everybody has had enough experience in the workplace to know what they actually want to do. By the time you get into these classes, people are really focused. And the group discussions are really lively, because everyone’s had some life experience and has a lot of interest in what we’re studying.

For University College students in particular, it seems like students are really willing to make sacrifices for education. How has that impacted your experience, and how is University College helping you achieve your goals?
It’s something I’ve been working towards for awhile now—I’ve been around animals for a long time.

First of all, nothing looks better on an application than WashU, to be honest. It has a great reputation. Working really hard during the day and taking these classes at night is pretty stressful, so having that name attached gives all the hard work an extra boost. The Career Center and advisors have also been very helpful. I worked on my resumé with the Career Center, and after one meeting I got a page and a half of notes on how to improve it.

What would you say to someone considering a University College program?
I would say if there’s a career path you’d like to pursue, then the resources at WashU are absolutely available to get you there. If you’re going to pick a university to pursue at night after work, you can’t do better. The resources are just invaluable. Taking advantage of that as a full-time student is important. It’s not like going to a university where there are only 18- to 22-year-olds and you don’t feel like you fit in. You make good friends, too.


Note: this post was originally published with Alive Magazine.