Skip to main content
Student Experience

Class of 2024: A Father-Daughter Graduation Celebration Honors a Goal Three Decades in the Making

When his daughter’s vet school journey reignited his own long-held dream, Craig Barnett followed her, and his heart, into the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine to launch a second career.

A male veterinary student smiles at the camera as he sits on stairs in the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine.
Dr. Craig Barnett, a member of the Class of 2024, will start a new career as an emergency veterinarian this summer. (John Joyner/NC State College of Veterinary Medicine)

Two years ago, Craig Barnett sat proudly in the audience as his daughter, Dr. Alex Barnett, received her DVM degree and recited the Veterinarian’s Oath. This year, their roles will be reversed, and the cheers from their family’s seats will be extra loud.

The Barnetts were the first father-daughter duo simultaneously enrolled at the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine. Earning a DVM degree is impressive in its own right, and having two veterinarians in the family is a source of pride. 

But Craig Barnett’s graduation next week also marks larger milestones: The fulfillment of a goal held for over three decades, the gratification of making his daughter proud and the realization that it’s never too late to start over.

“It’s incredible, quite honestly,” says Alex Barnett. “He’s just such a solid individual. It’s been fantastic to see him achieve his goals.”

Craig Barnett, 52, wanted to study marine biology as an undergraduate at Florida State University in the late 1980s and set his sights on graduate school. Those plans detoured when his grades started slipping, and meeting a Tallahassee Police Department reserve officer in a biology class set him on a path into law enforcement when he graduated in 1992.

Working as a police officer, raising two children and earning a master’s in homeland security kept him busy and fulfilled, but the familiar pull to work with animals resurfaced as he approached retirement with the Raleigh Police Department and supported Alex Barnett toward her veterinary dreams.

A family of four smiles in front of a rainbow mural bearing the words "Love one another." The family's father, Craig Barnett, is at the left, followed by the son, daughter and wife/mother.
The Barnett family, from left to right: Craig Barnett, Eli Barnett, Alex Barnett and Blanka Barnett (photo courtesy of Alex Barnett)

The pair leaned on each other through prerequisite courses and the veterinary school application cycle, which for Craig Barnett coincided with his final year on the police force. He retired from a 27-year career in 2020, right before returning to school.  

“It was a lot of work,” Craig Barnett says. “I had to learn how to learn in the style of vet school, which is very didactical. Coming from a career where you learn more by doing, getting back into a classroom and test-taking mindset was pretty challenging for me, but it was also a lot of fun to be learning something brand new.”

Because of the pandemic, Craig Barnett’s return to the classroom began at home, where Alex was his only in-person colleague. The two claimed separate workspaces for remote learning and traded a quiet upstairs office for exams.

Once he made it through his first year and back to campus in 2021, studying became easier and he found camaraderie with his classmates.

“My class has all been very supportive of me,” says Craig Barnett, who switched from mixed animal to a small animal focus during his program. “Actually, everybody at the school, the staff included, has been incredibly supportive and helpful, so it’s been a fun journey.”

Earning scholarships from the CVM, including the Sara McCorkle Graduate Award in his final year, helped Craig Barnett focus on his studies instead of fretting about their cost as he prepared for his second career.

He learned more about the veterinary field as he watched his daughter navigate her clinical year and start her job hunt. Alex Barnett, 27, landed a job as an ER vet with Blue Pearl in Tampa, Florida, in 2022 and has been working there since.

“I definitely look up to her,” Craig Barnett says. “I’m very proud as a parent to see her be not only successful at school, but successful in her career. I mention her vet career and personal accomplishments every chance I get.”

A blonde female veterinarian holds a small, black-and-pink newborn puppy.
Alex Barnett holds a newborn puppy at work at a Blue Pearl emergency clinic in Tampa, Florida (photo courtesy of Alex Barnett)

His clinical rotations over the past year have given him a new perspective, too. 

Craig Barnett spent 13 years of his police career in Raleigh as a canine handler and later the department’s head dog trainer. During that time, he brought many of the dogs he worked with to the NC State Veterinary Hospital for emergencies. 

This past year, he became the veterinarian leading a police dog’s check-up and interpreting an injured military K-9’s CT scan.

“It’s a ‘back to where I was’-type feeling, like a connection to my past,” Craig Barnett says. “I enjoyed my previous career, so it’s nice to be able to relate to those that now work with working dogs and get to help them in different ways.”

His skill of knowing how to communicate in high-stress situations, an ability honed in the police force, has also come in handy in the clinic. Craig Barnett recalls that during his ICU rotation, a pet owner was anxious when ending a visit to her sick dog, but his encouragement that the pup was in good hands helped the owner leave reassured.

“He just has such a calm presence,” Alex Barnett says. “That is one of the largest advantages that he has coming into veterinary medicine, already having all this interpersonal experience.”

Four years after entering a new field, Craig Barnett is tackling another big change. He has accepted a job offer as an ER veterinarian at Carolina Animal Specialty & Emergency in Hickory, North Carolina, prompting him and his wife to move for the first time in three decades.

Dr. Craig Barnett, a male veterinary student, smiles at the camera inside a common area within the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine.
Dr. Craig Barnett worked in law enforcement for 27 years prior to attending the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine. Nearly half of that time was spent working with the Raleigh Police Department’s K-9 unit. (John Joyner/NC State College of Veterinary Medicine)

Alex Barnett hopes to dispel her dad’s first-day jitters by returning the same advice that he gave her as she started her first job.

“Give yourself some leniency to make mistakes,” she says. “I made plenty of them my first year out, and you survive. You work through them, you get better and you slowly become the doctor you want to be.”

Next week’s Oath and Hooding ceremony puts soon-to-be Dr. Craig Barnett a professional degree closer to that goal.

However, he may not be the last family member to pass through the college’s doors. Eli Barnett hopes to follow his father and older sister into veterinary school and plans to apply to NC State’s DVM program in the next admissions cycle.

“He figured that out on his own,” Craig Barnett says. “NC State is the No. 1  school on his list.”