UD graduate Natalie Miller finds success working with animals large and small

UD graduate Natalie Miller finds success working with animals large and smallAs University of Delaware graduate Natalie Miller puts it, her career path in the field of animal science and veterinary medicine is “constantly evolving.”

That evolution finds her currently working at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Division of Cardiovascular Devices as a veterinary medical officer, primarily reviewing animal studies for firms that are developing new cardiovascular devices for humans and are attempting to initiate clinical trials in the United States.

Prior to her work with the FDA, Miller worked with both small animals at Graylyn Crest Animal Hospital in Wilmington, Delaware, and large animals as the export manager for LI Animal Health.

Miller’s non-traditional road to her veterinary degree and her doctorate began soon after she graduated from UD in 2002 with a degree in animal science.

Instead of going straight to veterinary school, she decided to take some time to figure things out and ended up traveling and working abroad, spending three months in Switzerland and six months in Croatia working on a livestock loan program funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

“That gave me a little bit of a sense of the international community as far as working at that point in war-affected areas of Croatia,” said Miller, who explained that the program was designed to help farmers in the area who did not have a lot of capital.

Back stateside

After returning from overseas, Miller started a post baccalaureate program at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where she worked in a lab studying HIV.

Having gained experience at UD working in a lab with Carl Schmidt, professor of animal and food sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), Miller said that she enjoyed the NIH program. “That program is fantastic for students that are out of undergrad and preparing to go to graduate school or medical school,” said Miller.

Following her time at NIH, Miller determined that she was ready for veterinary school and enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine’s combined VMD/Ph.D. degree program.

Miller started the program in 2004 and finished in 2013.

With her husband completing his graduate degree, Miller had to find work in the Philadelphia area and wanted to work with large animals but realized that would be tough in the city. “There aren’t a whole lot of cows around so I was trying to figure out how to balance all of these things, and I ended up getting two different part-time jobs,” said Miller.

The first was a traditional small animal veterinary medicine job working 12 to 15 hours a week the Graylyn Crest facility. She also worked as the export manager for LI Animal Health, a company that exports livestock overseas. It was a job that she found through one of her mentors at veterinary school.

“She put me in touch with a company representative to see if it would be a good match so I worked with him for about two years and learned a ton about the export business and, honestly, I had no idea that it was even a thing that happened. That was really exciting,” said Miller.

Miller also said that it was great to be able to work with both large and small animals in the two jobs.

“It was a nice foundation for me in both ways and they were very contrasting and very different jobs and it was a lot of fun to be able to do both things,” said Miller.

Evolution continues

Two years into the jobs, however, Miller found herself on the move again as her husband found a job in the Washington, D.C., area.

That’s when Miller started her work at the FDA. Of her current position, she said “It’s completely different but a lot of fun. It’s definitely something that I never would have known anything about as an animal science student or even as a veterinary student, but it’s a great fit.”

Veterinary advice

As for any advice to current undergraduates looking to get into veterinary school, Miller said it is important to understand the financial implications, as vet school can be expensive. She also said that it is important for anyone considering a career as a veterinarian to enjoy talking and interacting with people.

“When I’m working in small animal medicine, 99 percent of my day is interacting with clients. Very little of it is actually interacting with the animals at all and if I can’t interact and talk to the clients and explain why I want to do the things that I want to do with their animals, I don’t get anywhere,” said Miller.

Miller also said there is no shame in waiting a few years to figure out if veterinary school is truly the right option.

“Take a year off, work in a clinic, work somewhere else and make sure that the decision really is the right one for you. An extra year or two is not going to make a difference in the long run and if it means that you’re more sure of your decision then it’s definitely worthwhile,” said Miller.

As for her time at UD, Miller said that she absolutely loved it.

“I had a fantastic experience at UD. I love the program, I love the animal and food science department, I love the fact that the college was a smaller, more cozy home in the south of campus but that you were still a part of this big university where you had so much diversity and so many different activities that you could be a part of,” said Miller. “I was really active in the Animal Science Club while I was in school and just got to do so many amazing things through that club and through being an animal science student. I spent a lot of time out on the farm and it was just a great experience all the way around.”

Veterinary school success

Miller is just one of many successful students that studied pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences while at CANR and went on to a career in veterinary medicine. As of 2011, the department has over 170 alumni veterinarians and the department will have 45 more in the coming years.

There are currently alumni studying at 12 different veterinary schools and from 2012-14, graduates of the pre-vet program at UD have been offered admission at 18 of the 28 veterinary schools across the United States and six schools internationally.

The program is also a major feeder school for the University of Pennsylvania with 12 UD alumni entering the Penn Veterinary School in the past two years and 10 others that graduated from Penn in 2013.

In 2014, 9 out of 12 student applicants were accepted to veterinary schools and those students were accepted to half –14 of the 28 – United States vet schools and three international schools.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.