For David Toomey, veterinary medicine is about more than helping animals. The profession is about supporting animals’ owners, too.

“I really like the relationships you build, especially in general practice with the clients and the pets. You end up building long-term relationships,” Toomey said.

Toomey, a mixed-animal track veterinary student, was named the 2021 Outstanding Graduating Student by the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine (VMCVM).

A native of Naples, Florida, Toomey worked at a veterinary practice as a kennel assistant while in high school and progressed to being a veterinary technician. He always knew he wanted to be a veterinarian, but he was initially discouraged by veterinary colleges’ competitive admission rates.

Majoring in civil engineering at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Toomey was encouraged by his mother to pursue his dreams. Not only did he continue to work as a veterinary technician during summer and holiday breaks, he switched his course of study and went on to earn a B.S. in integrative animal biology. “She really believed in me when I didn't believe that I could get into vet school,” said Toomey, “and also when I've doubted myself throughout vet school.”

Toomey’s mentor at the veterinary practice where he worked pointed him toward VMCVM, and the direction proved to be perfect for Toomey, who is most proud of the bonds that he developed at Virginia Tech.

“During my time as a veterinary student, I have experienced many triumphs and losses, but the relationships I have formed with my classmates, professors, and patients are what have helped me through it all,” he said. “Working with a group of unique individuals towards a common goal has formed bonds that I will have for life.”

With the support of his fellow students and faculty, including David Grant, associate professor of internal medicine in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, and Jacquelyn Pelzer, director of admissions and student services, Toomey thrived at the veterinary college.

“The faculty and staff are phenomenal,” he said. “At the end of the day, they care so much about our success. They have been instrumental to not just my success, but everybody else's successes.”

As a student, Toomey was involved in the Student Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society, as well as the Christian Veterinary Fellowship Club, which led to a weeklong mission in Olancho, Honduras, where he participated in the spaying, neutering, and vaccinating of more than 150 cats and dogs. Toomey describes the experience as transformational, despite the language barrier.

“It was during this trip that I truly realized the difference I can make in people's lives with my education,” Toomey said. “The Honduran people were some of the nicest and most appreciative individuals that I have ever met. I also learned that possessions contribute so minimally and transiently to a person’s overall happiness and condition. The sense of community and love for one another are what made the Honduran people happy and strong, and I can only hope to replicate that in my own life.”

Although he arrived at the veterinary college with a companion animal background, Toomey chose to enter the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Program’s mixed-animal track because of its flexibility and opportunities for external rotations. Even so, he was initially cautious about the size and strength of production animals, a fear exacerbated by a run-in with a bison during an external rotation.

Helped along by clinicians and fellow students who were both welcoming and encouraging, Toomey grew to love the work, in great part because he got to be outdoors and to experience the unique relationship that producers have with their animals.

His heart, though, belongs with companion animal medicine. “Puppies come in, and you take care of them pretty much their whole life,” said Toomey. “And you get to take care of the people, as well, for just as long.”

In contrast to sweet puppies and their doting owners, Toomey is drawn to emergency medicine because of its unpredictable, fast-paced nature that requires veterinarians to think on their feet.

“You never know what's going to come in the door,” he said. “You get to do a lot of unique, interesting surgeries, and you never know when you're going to get to do them.”

Following graduation, Toomey is headed to the Southwest, where he will enter a small animal, one-year rotating internship with an emergency medicine focus at Arizona Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care Center.

His goal is to own a general practice offering 24-hour emergency care, which will allow him to pursue his passion for emergency cases and to form long-standing relationships with clients. “You can take care of people in the worst times,” Toomey said, “and I think it is really kind of special.”

— Written by Sarah Boudreau, a student in the M.F.A. program in creative writing

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