Work-study program hopes to recruit future veterinarians of color

The future of the veterinarian medicine is an energetic bi-lingual teenager barely old enough to drive.

His name is Diego, a sophomore at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis, and it just so happens he’s found his dream job at Mission Animal Hospital.

"It was something like I’ve always been interested in," said Diego. "I would be so caring and compassionate for animals, and so that just kind of applied to what I wanted to do."

Diego is part of a unique work-study program that places him one day a week at Mission Animal Hospital, a non-profit organization that provides pet care to families who might not be able to afford many other animal clinics. Three of his classmates also perform work-study at Mission throughout the rest of the week.  

The program was made possible by the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association in hopes of introducing high school students to careers in vet med. It sponsors the students to intern at Mission Animal Hospital in exchange for paying a portion of their tuition at Cristo Rey.

"We are super excited to do this so that we can inspire high school kids and younger kids to have a career in vet med and get some hands-on experience," said Dr. Katherine Nielsen, Mission Animal Hospital’s Veterinarian’s Manager.

Work-study is part of the curriculum at Cristo Rey. All of its students have access to work in a professional setting from law to human resources at companies that sponsor them.

"We’re the only high school in the Twin Cities that offers four years of professional work experience," said Kesiah Kolbow, Cristo Rey’s work-study program director. "And all 432 of our students have a corporate work-study program job all four years that they are in high school."

At Mission Animal Hospital, it’s a natural fit, especially to involve students such as Diego to come from underrepresented communities.

"We would love to be able to make this profession more diversified and be inclusive," said Dr. Nielsen. "And Cristo Rey has been an awesome opportunity for us to explore."

And there’s a payoff for Diego, too.

"Every day I walk into the animal hospital and feeling a part of the team and feeling I’m actually working at the animal hospital because of how much I want to do this for a career," said Diego.

And if he keeps at it, Dr. Nielsen thinks he would make a welcome addition to the vet med profession.  

"We would love for him to become a doctor, and he will be an amazing doctor," said Kolbow.