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RUSVM Alumna's Drive to Become a Veterinarian Helps Her Overcome Adversity, Attain Dream

09/07/11

Erica Heim, DVM ’04

Erica Heim, DVM ’04

NORTH BRUNSWICK, NJ—September 7, 2011—RUSVM alumna Erica Heim, DVM ’04, was—quite simply—meant to be a veterinarian. Consequently, she would not let anything life threw at her hold her back from attaining her dream—including having to re-take undergraduate courses to gain acceptance into veterinary school while working full-time as a vet tech; not being accepted into US veterinary schools; or being diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer during her final weeks of clinical rotations.
 
Heim has wanted to be a veterinarian for as long as she can remember. She graduated from Vassar College with a major in biology; however, it was during her time there that she became discouraged about the challenges that becoming a veterinarian presented.

“When I got to college and met pre-med and pre-vet students, it seemed like a pretty tough road and I wasn’t sure I was up for it,” she explained. 

After Vassar, Heim took a job as a receptionist at a veterinary clinic in San Francisco and quickly realized that while she didn’t love the position itself, she did love working in the clinic and being around animals.

“So, I became a vet tech,” she said. “I teched for five years, and during that time I went back and re-took all the courses I had done poorly in so I could apply to vet school.”

Heim found out about RUSVM from a friend of a friend, and noted that her “interest was piqued almost immediately.” 

“I will say unabashedly that I applied to every single vet school in the States where I met the requirements. I didn’t decide to go to Ross; Ross picked me and it was a great thing. My time at Ross was incredibly special and I wouldn’t change it for the world.” 

Through a “stroke of luck,” Heim and several of her closest friends from RUSVM went to the University of Missouri for their clinical year. Three weeks before she was scheduled to complete her training, however, Heim was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma and her life abruptly changed.

“My parents came and packed me up and instead of embarking on my new life as a practicing veterinarian, I went through a grueling year of intense treatment that included chemotherapy, radiation, 15 blood transfusions and two surgeries – one to try to save my arm and then, when that was unsuccessful, the amputation.”

At the end of that year, Heim was cancer-free; however, she was faced with having to teach herself first how to live life day-to-day with one arm; and then, how to finally attain her dream and start practicing veterinary medicine. 

“What I fantasized about when I was scared that I was going to die was not traveling around the world or going in a hot air balloon or jumping from a plane – what I wanted was to be able to practice veterinary medicine like a normal vet day in and day out,” she said. “I had tremendous support from my family and there was no question that when I was better I would go back into vet medicine. I think most cancer patients don’t go into the closet and wait for the inevitable to happen. Most of us try to live our lives as best we can. Maybe not everyone would go back into vet medicine, maybe they would choose an easier path, but it was the only path I knew.” 

Today, Heim is the medical director of Best Friends Animal Hospital in Valley Village, CA, and has been successfully living her dream of practicing veterinary medicine for more than seven years. 

“I am pioneering how vet medicine can be practiced and there are challenges, but I have a great team and I rely on my vet techs to do the things I can’t,” she said. “Because I was a tech for so long, I really appreciate the hard work they do. And my clients value that the most important thing for me is caring about their animals. As a result, they are confident in the fact that even though I may be missing an arm, it does not in any way diminish the care I provide for their pets. They know that medicine is in my head, and in my heart.”

About Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine
Ross University is a provider of medical and veterinary education, offering doctor of medicine and doctor of veterinary medicine degree programs. Founded in 1982 and located in St. Kitts, West Indies, the School of Veterinary Medicine is accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the St. Christopher & Nevis Accreditation Board.  The School of Veterinary Medicine is affiliated with 22 AVMA-accredited US veterinary schools where students complete their clinical year. The Ross University Veterinary Teaching Hospital is the only facility outside the US and Canada accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association.

Ross University’s administrative offices are located in North Brunswick, NJ. For more information about Ross University, visit www.RossU.edu or call 732.509.4600/877.ROSS.EDU.

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