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Dr. JODY SANDLER (BA Biology 1983)- Director of Veterinary Services, Guiding Eyes for the Blind
As with most people in animal related sciences, I always had an interest in animals at a young age. That interest naturally turned towards veterinary medicine during my high school years, and especially at Binghamton as an undergraduate. Since all pre-veterinary students need to have animal related experience to apply to veterinary colleges, I took a volunteer position at a Spay/Neuter clinic, as well as a paying position working in a small veterinary hospital during my senior year of high school, and during summers off while earning my BS at Binghamton.
The curriculum at Binghamton was always challenging, and I look upon my time in the Biology Department and at SUNY B in general as the best time of my life. I was generally a B+/A- student while at Binghamton, and perhaps one of my strongest impressions of my time there was a meeting that I had with the Pre-veterinary advisor. I can remember the advisor, whose name has now faded from memory, telling me that I should think of another career because I did not have a high enough GPA to get into Veterinary School! I think that person made me angry enough to prove them wrong.
Back in the late 1980's, veterinary applicants who lived in New York really only had one option for Veterinary College, and that was Cornell. Other schools outside the state were not accepting New York applicants, so it was Cornell or bust (things are a bit different now, from what I understand). With Cornell having only a class of 80 students, competition was tight. Many people who applied did not get in on their first attempt, and I was one of them. I must admit, the words of that SUNY B advisor were ringing in my ears at that time, but it was a dream that I was not willing to give up on. I briefly considered going to vet school overseas, but found the quality of those colleges really lacking.
The most useful step that I took at that point was to schedule an interview with the admissions director at Cornell to get insight into why I was not accepted. It turned out that a broad experience in animal related fields was extremely important (even more so than having a 4.0 GPA) and since I grew up in suburbia, I did not have any experience working with farm animals. So, the summer after getting my bachelors degree, I found a small horse farm and cleaned stalls for the most part. As insignificant as that was to me, having worked around horses was apparently an important addition to my application.
That year, I came back to Binghamton as a graduate student to work on a Masters Degree while waiting to reapply to Cornell Veterinary College. I worked with the squirrel monkeys in Dr. Frank Sulzman's lab aiding in his research into circadian rhythms. It was a fantastic experience, and Dr. Sulzman was a great teacher and mentor. The addition of working with laboratory animals, coupled with the equine experience, was enough to get me a formal interview on my next application to Cornell and ultimately admission to the school.
Veterinary College was challenging, but not hard. Cornell gave me a great foundation, and after my four years there, I headed out into private practice as an employee at a hospital on Long Island. I learned a lot there, but felt there was more yet to pursue, and I began to look around after two years. Luckily, Guiding Eyes for the Blind was just beginning their search for a veterinarian to run their veterinary department, and after three interviews, I was given the job. Not only was I challenged to set up their new veterinary department, but I was also challenged to learn about the special care and needs of these amazing dogs and their partners. Between my associate and myself, we administer medical and surgical care to over 500 puppies born into the program every year and we continue to provide care to our graduates and their guide dogs around the country. I also enjoy teaching, and so I host pre-veterinary as well as junior and senior veterinary students for externships, and I published an article in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association on the special needs of guide dogs and their owners. Guiding Eyes for the Blind is also a unique place to perform research, because we have an extensive genetic database on our dogs going back over 20 years. I am presently collaborating on studies with Cornell Veterinary College as well as with the San Diego Zoo's Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species. My work is very rewarding, and I am proud to be associated with such an amazing organization as Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
The best advice that I could give anyone interested in a career in veterinary medicine is to not be discouraged by the uninformed, and to get as much "hands-on" experience as you can before applying to veterinary college. If you are committed to your goal, you can make it no matter what you may be led to believe. Some of my classmates at Cornell were third and fourth time applicants before being admitted. Don't give up!