UCF Sets Dreamer On Path to Becoming Full-Time Veterinarian

Rachel Williams ‘13, DVM, is in the business of making big impacts on communities of small animals. The graduate of the UCF pre-veterinary studies program notes there hasn’t been a time in her life where she was inclined to do anything other than take care of critters and creatures of all kinds.

While Williams currently serves as the newest surgery attendant of Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, she spends her time pursuing her life’s dream: being a voice for the furry friends that don’t have one.

“This is my passion,” said Williams. “I’ve always been enamored with animals and wildlife.”

Williams has always known she’d be a vet. Her mom even told her that by the age of three, she’d exclaim to others that it was to be her future career. Her best guess is the constant exposure to the Australian wildlife of her childhood was the inspiration behind the passion for animals. In 2001, Williams moved to the U.S. as an 8-year-old girl after living in the Australian outback.

“I remember my first impression of the States from when I stepped off the plane,” said Williams. “The thing that surprised me most was that people were loud. I did not expect the volume at which people in America spoke!”

Moving to the U.S. took a slight cultural adjustment, but Williams quickly picked up hobbies that connected her back to her passions, including equestrianism. The latter eventually connected her with the University of Central Florida when it came time to pursue a degree.  Maggie Leclair, assistant to the College of Sciences dean and longtime advocate for COS students, met Williams through their mutual love for horses. Leclair encouraged Williams in her studies, and helped her choose the challenge of STEM as the means to pursue her dream of mending animals.

“I knew I didn’t want to be a zookeeper, animal trainer or vet tech,” said Williams. “These roles are important but the idea of being the person to put together the entire puzzle; the clinical signs, the physical exam, the diagnostic findings…I wanted to be that person.”

Williams began auditing college-level classes as a senior in high school, allowing her to complete a four-year degree in only three. She credits Chris Parkinson, a former UCF professor, for encouraging her and creating a welcoming environment for learning.

“My time at UCF was amazing from the get-go,” said Williams. “It attracted me for a number of reasons, but what really drew me in was the strength of their science programs and the support offered to students.”

Campus life involvement was something Williams was zealous about as a student. Some of her best memories are of the pre-veterinary club, where she was exposed to experiences that would carry over into her career as a veterinarian.

“There was one field trip we took where the club got to go behind the scenes of Sea World to observe marine and aquatic medicine,” said Williams. “I remember how much it opened my eyes to how multifaceted veterinary medicine could be. I was fortunate to get experiences like that during college.”

Williams packed her bags and headed to the West Coast after being accepted to veterinary school as a junior. UCF’s program prepared her adeptly for the future of her academic career.

“Vet school is incredibly difficult to get into,” said Williams. “I thought that one of the coolest things about UCF was the fact that many of my peers and I were accepted on our first try. We got to where we needed to go and many of us carried what we learned as undergraduates with us into our now professional lives.”

Williams attended the Western University of Health Science in California before being accepted to the University of Pennsylvania for her residency. One of the most impactful parts of the experience, said Williams, was becoming a teacher herself while mentoring students in clinical rotations.

“I always stress to my students that it is so important to see multiple ways of doing things. Some methods will be wrong, some will be right, but overall you must go through the experience to decide what works best for you in a career as difficult at times as medicine can be,” said Williams. “I love working with my students and that experience alone gave me so much respect for my professors at UCF.”

After completing her three-year residency, Williams flew across country to begin her newest endeavor as an attending veterinarian at Massachusetts Veterinary Referral Hospital.

Out of all the rewarding days she’s experienced in the hospital thus far, a case involving a bull terrier named Billy stands out as one of the most impactful cases. Billy the bull terrier came to Williams after getting caught in a shooting in West Philadelphia. He arrived at the hospital bleeding out and needing emergency surgery; Williams and her team weren’t sure he’d make it.

“We thought he may not win this battle, but at the last minute Billy turned a corner,” said Williams. “He’s living a healthy and happy life now, and I feel so honored to have saved a hero like him.”

As a veterinarian, there are many moving pieces to one’s career. But Williams notes that every day is just as incredible as the last.

“There really is no better feeling than an animal coming in, injured or in a dire state, and I can put a stop to that pain right there with my own hands,” said Williams. “The gratitude you receive from everyone involved is unparalleled, and it is nice to be able to make a notable difference in the lives of these animals and their families.”­­­





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