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Class of 2023: Vet School Packing List – Best Friend Included

A first-person essay by Ethan Williamson, who after graduation will be working as a small animal general practitioner in Myrtle Beach. 

Brooke Childers and Ethan Williamson have been best friends throughout veterinary school.
Brooke Childers and Ethan Williamson have been best friends throughout veterinary school.

By Ethan Williamson

Looking back on the last four years, I recognize that many things have changed — career goals, last names and even the amount of caffeine needed to prepare for a test. One thing during this life-altering journey, however, has remained steadfast: my friendship with Brooke Childers.

Countless professors and classmates have approached us during our years at the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine and posed the same question: “Were y’all friends before vet school?” We both answer with the same response and twang: We’re both from North Carolina, but we met at a vet school interview in Alabama.

This may sound a little like a Golden Girls episode, but it would be fitting. Picture it: Auburn, Alabama, Jan. 18, 2019. We are both undergoing the daunting task of interviewing for admission into veterinary school. We are both sitting, waiting for our admission appointments and chatting with our parents. We realize our accents are somewhat similar. Our parents speak to one another because what else would Southern parents do? 

Brooke and I chatted little with each other. As an interviewee, you’ve got a thousand thoughts racing through your mind before taking the 10 minutes to sell yourself as a worthy candidate. 

Post interview, our parents bid one another goodbye, and we both went on to our own worlds — or so we thought. Fast forward to March 2019. We’re sitting at Welcome Weekend for NC State, and we lock eyes. It’s like we know each other subconsciously. 

Since that day, we’ve shared each other’s brain cells, we’ve finished the other’s sentences and we’ve been inseparable. On the first day of veterinary school, we waited for each other in the parking lot so we could walk in and pick seats together. Because we are both creatures of habit, we chose seats four rows up from the back on the right-hand side. Yes, we both can recite it. 

Over the next days to months, we laughed, cried and laughed some more in those seats – sometimes we laughed a little too hard and had to leave the classroom. During and even after COVID, we resumed the same seats. When clinical year came around, we knew we wanted to spend as much time together as possible, and we completed several blocks and even an externship together.

Life doesn’t wait for you to complete your degree. It just happens. We’ve both experienced the lows and highs of what life gives you, and we’ve been there for each other the entire time. 

When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, we studied together and even accompanied my mom to chemotherapy appointments. When Brooke was planning her wedding, she asked me on the first day of first year if I would be her “Man of Honor.” I didn’t think she was serious. But as the days got longer and the curriculum got tougher, I knew there was no one else I’d rather celebrate with than her. 

As we close this chapter of life, we can reflect on the last four years with rose-colored glasses and be thankful for the afternoon anatomy studying that allowed us to get coffee together, and we can be thankful for COVID because it gave us time to work at my farm, and we can even be thankful for 5 a.m. dairy palpitations because we got to spend them together.

While the end of veterinary school is a celebration of being done, it is also bittersweet knowing my best friend will not be a seat away. These are the only people who understand why you’re exhausted after studying anatomy, or why you are subconsciously conducting a physical exam on every dog you touch at the bar or even why you have so many surgical photos on your phone. 

Even on the long days, we are both thankful that vet school brought us together, and in the face of challenges in this career, we know we have each other to lean on.

After graduation, Brooke will be working in large animal ambulatory practice in Asheboro, North Carolina.