Dean's Merit Scholarship Winner, Caitlin Bell

Her Journey: Overcoming Fears of the Ocean to Study Veterinary Medicine on an Island




“When I was young, I had a big fear of the ocean, maybe I watched the movie Jaws a few too many times,” remarked Caitlin.




However, overcoming fears and exploring new situations was something Caitlin Bell would be destined to do in her life. Ultimately it would be that passion which influenced her decision to attend Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine (RUSVM) and become one of the first recipients of the RUSVM Dean’s Merit Scholarship ($3,000). The Dean’s Merit Scholarship was established to recognize achievement of highly qualified students (> 3.4 GPA) to defray the cost of attending RUSVM in the first semester of enrollment. Recipients who meet eligibility requirements are automatically considered.

Caitlin grew up in Rockaway, New Jersey, a scenic town with lakes, rivers, and rolling hills The town has a foundation in the iron industry and is home to a few historic sites related to its iron-rich history. Her exploration of new opportunities begin with her journey to North Carolina where she attended East Carolina University (ECU) to study Biology, earning honors on the Chancellor’s and Dean’s List, as well as, her membership in the Golden Key Honor Society (top 15% of her class). As a laboratory technician at ECU, she participated in an environmental monitoring study made possible through a grant awarded by Intercoastal Science and Policy.

“I wanted to be far enough away from home where I could gain some independence and new life experiences,” she said. Those new experiences provided opportunities for Caitlin to explore her love for animals, broadening the traditional species skills beyond dogs and cats.

Caitlin participated in a Study Abroad Program in Panama where she had the opportunity to learn more about Aquatic and Terrestrial Ecology. She spent her mornings in the rainforest with research focused on native species, such as birds, fish, frogs, monkeys, etc. Her fear of water was slowly being pressed as she snorkeled in the afternoons to find species she had learned about in the study abroad classroom.

In her last year of college, her fear of the ocean became something her will-power would take hold of. “I had a friend who was going to take SCUBA certification as a class in college. My willpower to do something different grabbed a hold of me and I just couldn’t let my fear win, so I decided to take the course,” she said.

Caitlin became SCUBA certified—talk about overcoming a fear—and hopes her certification, she now holds an advanced certification, will allow for further opportunities to participate in projects while attending school at RUSVM.

At this point, Caitlin began volunteering to gain additional veterinary-related experience by teaching basic behavioral commands to dogs and assisting with adoptions at the Humane Society of Eastern Carolina.

“I’ve always had a special connection to animals and I enjoy educating their owners, just as much. Nothing compares to the feeling of seeing a patient leave the clinic better than when they arrived,” said Caitlin.

In 2012, the ocean ‘waved’ to Caitlin as she moved to Florida and became involved in coastal cleanup and beach ecology educational programs. The same summer she volunteered with the Volusia County Sea Turtle Program, where she would rise early in the morning to traverse the shores conducting sea turtle nesting surveys—marking, relocating and excavating sea turtle nests under the supervision of a field biologist.

“My experience working with the sea turtles in Florida was amazing. When I realized Ross University had a program working with the sea turtles in St. Kitts, I knew I wanted to be a part of that program. I’m already looking forward to becoming involved as soon as I can.”

As if the sea turtle program wasn’t experience enough, Caitlin wasn’t finished with her veterinary exploration. In September 2012, she journeyed to Octavlo, Ecuador with World Vets to assist with a program to spay and neuter more than 200 animals in just three days. Otavalo has a large overpopulation of dogs and cats, and at times, members of the local community were poisoning the animals to reduce the population. World Vets had worked with officials in the area to agree to send volunteers to assist with a proper population control program if the local community would cease its own control mechanisms. In addition to the spay/neuters, the team provided examinations, vaccinations, deworming and administration of parasite medications.

Since 2011, Caitlin has worked as a veterinary assistant at Banfield Pet Hospital in both New Jersey and Florida, until November 2012 when she joined Animal Emergency and Referral Associates. Caitlin will continue as an emergency veterinary technician until she joins the May 2013 incoming class at RUSVM.

Why did Caitlin choose RUSVM? She believes that RUSVM provides a sense of community and family and believes that type of atmosphere “fosters success,” which she has recognized through her interactions with alumni who attest that RUSVM professors really care.

“That is the type of atmosphere that I would like to be a part of. I am an avid traveler and spending a few years in another country is like a dream to me,” said Caitlin.

St. Kitts is surrounded by ocean, but Caitlin has overcome that fear—at least for the most part, she says that swimming in such a vast body of water “still makes her nervous, sometimes”—and is ready to find a new challenge at Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine and on the island.

“I can’t imagine doing anything else, I even have a countdown calendar—34 more days until I’m on the plane to St. Kitts,” Caitlin concludes in reference to becoming a veterinarian.



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