There are so many career options in veterinary medicine, it’s hard to pick just one. Small animal or large? Private or public? Tiger surgery or acupuncture? If you’re having a hard time trying to commit to one subset, take heart. Ross grads like Dana Dobbs, DVM ’06 prove that it’s possible to follow your dream—and then another dream—and another.
We chatted with Dr. Dobbs about her many lives—from field veterinarian to the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps—and how they all came together for her.
Pre-vet: Scientist, Police Officer, Detective
After graduating from Washington State University with degrees in microbiology and animal science, Dr. Dobbs researched admission requirements at several veterinary schools. She’d already been denied once when applying as an undergraduate, but wasn’t giving up. Yet admissions committees asked the same question: “Why don’t you have a 4.0 GPA?”
Dr. Dobbs’ response? She had worked three jobs during college to finance her education. And while she sacrificed some A’s the first couple years because of it, her grades had steadily improved as time went on. Her latest scores were exemplary, demonstrating mastery of not only the course material, but also self-discipline and time management.
None of the schools budged, and after feeling completely discouraged, Dr. Dobbs set her sights on other ventures. Over the next decade, she took on a slew of interesting and diverse positions: virologist, medical technologist, police officer and detective—as well as being an Officer in the Washington Army National Guard.
But Dr. Dobbs still had a place in her heart for veterinary medicine. Thinking she’d like to be a veterinary technologist (LVT), she visited a local clinic to see if she could get some volunteer experience.
“Within two minutes, the veterinarian I spoke with—a Ross grad—told me I wouldn’t be happy as a vet tech. I needed to be a vet,” said Dr. Dobbs. “When I told her I’d already applied in the past, she asked if I’d considered going to the Caribbean. That’s when I first heard about Ross.”
While Dr. Dobbs wasn’t sure if she would get in, she gave it a shot and submitted her application. Good thing she did. “Ross was willing to look at the whole person and what they brought to the table,” she said. “They knew I was more than just my GPA.”
Dr. Dobbs took a two-year leave from the National Guard to attend Ross. As soon as she graduated in 2006, she branch transferred to the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps, and almost immediately got deployed to Kosovo for nine months as a Reservist.
“Veterinarians are in high demand for many humanitarian missions,” Dr. Dobbs said. “Not only did I take care of military working dogs and do food inspections, I went to remote villages giving rabies vaccines, deworming cattle and sheep, and provided basic preventive care for animals that might never receive care from a vet.” Local vets accompanied Dr. Dobbs to learn from her, with the goal of sustaining veterinary services after she left.
Soon after, she volunteered to go to Afghanistan as part of an Agricultural Development Team (ADT), serving as the subject matter expert in animal health. Dr. Dobbs taught local officials and veterinarians about basic diagnostic procedures and disease containment, particularly Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), which is endemic in the region. She worked with the Special Forces and Navy SEALs, traveling through remote, dangerous areas. For her exceptional meritorious service, she was awarded the Bronze Star.
Upon her return, Dr. Dobbs assumed command of a brand-new veterinary unit at Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington. “That’s one of the accomplishments that I’m most proud of,” Dr. Dobbs said. “I had to recruit vets to fill up my roster, and eventually I had five vet teams that I could deploy separately or all at once. We did humanitarian work all over the place—Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Belize, and El Salvador. We also provided spays, neuters, and other preventive medicine during Arctic Care 2016 in Alaska. It was a real honor serving with the finest Soldiers, raising that unit up off the ground, and making it happen.”
WSDA Field Veterinarian
After some time working as a small animal veterinarian, Dr. Dobbs took on her current role, as a field veterinarian for the Washington State Department of Agriculture. A fellow Ross grad had heard about the opening and suggested Dr. Dobbs look into it. “I never expected to work in this type of role, but it’s worked out well,” said Dr. Dobbs.
Her main responsibilities include disease detection, response and eradication across central Washington, but her work also touches broader aspects of public health, including education and outreach to others in the veterinary community. There’s no typical day. Dr. Dobbs has helped suppress an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), trace cattle back to the origin of a disease, conduct follow-up Tuberculosis and Brucellosis testing, and investigate animal abuse and neglect cases. Fortunately, she has plenty of experience to handle it all.
“It’s basically a combination of all my past jobs,” Dr. Dobbs said. “I use my lab skills, my investigative skills from my detective days, my veterinary medicine, of course; and the public health aspect is familiar from being in the Veterinary Corps.”
Her advice to current Ross students? “Keep your mind open,” she said. “There’s so many different things you can do. Some people are dead-set on doing one type of veterinary medicine and don’t see all the possibilities there are. I didn’t plan any of this, but it’s worked out great for me.”