A Journey through Pathobiology

by Krysten Rose Holland

Sigma Alpha Sisters and I representing UConn’s chapter at a professional development Leadership Seminar.

Attending a large university was a great change for me, coming from a small all-girls high school. There were so many new opportunities available to me at UConn, particularly in the College of Agriculture, Health & Natural Resources (CAHNR), which is a smaller college within the very large university with a lot of academic and extracurricular support. Starting off pre-veterinary in animal science, I knew that I would have nothing short of excellent academic and professional preparation. Outside of the classroom, I decided to join a professional agriculturally-based sorority, Sigma Alpha. Through this organization, I became connected with many other students and was able to enhance my journey as a first-year university student in a field that I knew little about but wanted to explore–agriculture! Through the encouragement of my peers and advisors, I was able to try new things and discover different opportunities within the college. For example, I was encouraged to try participating in the annual Dairy Show and learn about dairy showmanship. To my surprise, I placed top in my showman class and among the top overall for fitting, which includes presentation of the animal!

Before entering college, I thought I was certain in what I wanted to do and what I wanted to study: animal science. My freshman year was a difficult transition, however, and I knew I wanted to explore my options. Through one of the Sigma Alpha sisters who was heavily involved in CAHNR activities, I was directed to talk to different academic advisors, one of which was Dr. Sandra Bushmich in Pathobiology and Veterinary Sciences (PVS). I wanted to switch my major to something that would involve laboratory preparation and focus on disease studies in order to broaden my experience in case I decided not to go into veterinary medicine. I learned that in studying PVS, I could change my concentration if I my interests changed and stay on track to graduate.

During my sophomore year, I decided to look into careers in human healthcare and public health. Although a veterinary path could be enormously rewarding, I did not necessarily know if I wanted to commit a large portion of my life and finances to a professional program when I did not know enough about the profession. Veterinary schools are among the most competitive graduate programs to get into, so the preparation in pre-veterinary studies requires a lot of dedication. I already faced a lot of stress adjusting to a new environment out of my home state.

Ultimately, I decided to pursue human healthcare. For that, I would need patient care experience. I enrolled in certified nurse’s aide programs in Massachusetts in the Greater Boston area and took night classes to earn a certificate to gain experience and make some money. Although during that time I considered myself on a pre-physician assistant route, I discovered that I loved the nursing model! From there, I decided to look into ABSN programs. Throughout the journey of navigating the healthcare field, I have worked in a wide variety of environments such as zebrafish research in Longwood Medical Center, personal care in client homes as a personal aide, managing medications at an assisted living facility, assisting doctors in facilitating patient appointments at a globally-renowned hospital, and then being promoted to a medical assistant in a private practice.  Although my experience in the field were out-of-state by my own initiation and ambition, my classes in PVS (and Allied Health Sciences [AHS], another department within CAHNR) put my experiences into perspective. I took a diagnostic medical techniques class within PVS where we extracted DNA and RNA and processed diagnostic tests, histological structure and function, which is basically anatomy and physiology based on slides, and a seminar in which various guest speakers from all over the world presented their research. In AHS, courses in medical terminology and counseling and teaching for the health professions helped enhance my knowledge and further my skills.

Pathobiology and Veterinary Science is a small, close-knit department and has a variety of classes and opportunities for research for undergraduates.  Due to the variety of interests that PVS can accommodate and great academic advisors willing to help me navigate the unknowns of career preparation, I did not fall behind in my studies and fulfilled requirements for programs that I explored throughout the my years as a PVS major.