Hillsboro High School senior Valerie Klassen wants to be a veterinarian. Since she was young, it’s something she has always known and has always wanted to do.
When Jessica Winter took ownership of Hillsboro Animal Clinic and was seeking new personnel last year, Valerie was dead set on working there.
“I was very persistent,” Valerie said. “I turned in a resume and I kept calling.”
Valerie also stopped in sometimes to talk with Winter and remind her of her interest.
“She’d come into talk about things she researched,” Winter said. “Our conversations opened my eyes to the drive that she has.”
Valerie started at Hillsboro Animal Clinic last June. Since then, she has been in a unique position to observe and practice skills relevant to the field she wants to go into.
“When you see something in real life it just makes so much more sense than it does in a book,” Winter said.
Valerie helps Winter with spaying and neutering small animals, observes in wellness exams and vaccinations, and she also assists Winter during emergency calls that currently involve delivering calves, uterine prolapsed procedures, and cesarean births.
“There are some procedures I definitely need four hands for,” Winter said. “Valerie gets right in there.”
Working weekdays after school and during the weekend, Valerie doesn’t have much spare time, but that doesn’t bother her.
“It’s not really work for me because I am learning so much there,” she said. “I’m learning things I would never learn in a high school English class. It’s all hands-on.”
When Valerie does have spare time she takes it upon herself to learn more about animal health.
“My life revolves around veterinary medicine,” she said. “Learning about any animal intrigues me. I have all kinds of huge vet-med books that I read in my leisure time at home. My friends always make fun of me, but I just love it.”
Valerie’s father Kyle Klassen is farmer and a rancher. Klassen began teaching her about livestock when she was about 5 years old by taking Valerie and her brother into the fields during calving season.
As a little girl, Valerie used to play a music box for cows while they were in the pangs of giving birth. She said her dad always told her that was why the calves she helped him with lived.
“As Valerie got older she would help me pull calves and work cattle,” Klassen said. “She’d hold up the cow’s tail while I was pulling a calf. She’s always been very interested in animals.”
When he heard there was a new veterinarian coming to town he encouraged her to apply, because he thought it would be good for her to have a female mentor in the area she wants to study.
In addition to lending Valerie veterinary books from her personal library, Winter also provides her with learning exercises. Right now, Valerie is practicing how to suture an incision by using two folded T-shirts and needles veterinarians use.
“As a mentor, Jessica is just awesome,” Valerie said. “She explains why things they go wrong and tells me why she does the things the way she does. We used a laser on one of the first cats we spayed, because it reduces bleeding risk and also cauterizes the wound.”
Next year, Valerie will be an animal science major with a pre-vet option at Kansas State University. She also plans to apply to the early acceptance program for veterinary medicine in September. If she is accepted, she will have the chance to graduate a year early.
“Any time you enter into a field like ours, it’s good to have previous experience,” Winter said. “K-State usually has about 2,000 applicants to their vet-med program but only 100 are accepted. They look at grades but a big part of the interview process is being able to talk about experience in the field.”
Valerie is getting just that. Originally, she just wanted to specialize in large animal medicine, but since she started working alongside Winter, she said she has “seen both sides” and learned the value of a mixed practice.
In her best-case scenario, Valerie sees herself graduating from Kansas State University and returning to Hillsboro to work with Winter.
“I enjoy working with animals because it’s different than working with people,” Valerie said. “Every day is different. Animals can’t tell you what hurts, so you have to be able to problem solve and think outside of the box.”