While some students travel across the country to pursue a career as a veterinarian, Riley Ellis-Reis only had to travel an hour away from her home in Sonoma to attend the largest veterinary school in the United States.
She is currently in her first year of veterinary school at UC Davis, the No. 1 veterinary school in the United States ranked by a U.S. News and World Report. Although she is only a few weeks in, Ellis-Reis already appreciates the close bonds the program allows its students to form. The first week is called “Prologue,” and it takes its class of 150 students through various team building exercises, including a ropes course.
“It really breaks the ice and forms relationships before even having to think about studying,” said Ellis-Reis.
She has since then started her actual curriculum. The program is structured in blocks, with the first and current block called “Basic Foundation.” The students review the biochemistry and physiology they will need to know for upper division classes.
“It kind of gets everyone up to speed on all that stuff they should’ve learned in undergrad,” said Ellis-Reis.
At first, all students are learning the same material on normal and abnormal body processes across various species. Then, they pick tracks to specialize in. Ellis-Reis wants to pursue the small-animal track, although others pick large, mixed or exotic animals to focus on.
“Then you start to kind of hone in on those special species on your own track and they have a specific curriculum that you start to make your own path with,” she said.
At the end of her third year and during her fourth year at Davis, Ellis-Reis will begin clinic, radiology and neurology rotations. She is scheduled to graduate in 2022.
“Your whole fourth year you’re in the clinics applying what you’ve learned in the classroom on actual animals,” she explained.
Ellis-Reis’s passion has come a long way since before her current education at Davis. It began during a school career day at Sonoma Valley High School when she heard vet Rhonda Stallings from Arroyo Veterinary Hospital speak. From then on, Ellis-Reis began to shadow Dr. Stallings every other weekend and, by the end of middle school, she was working as a kennel assistant. Through high school, she became a vet assistant and began to learn more technical skills that carried her into her undergraduate education at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.
She attended Cal Poly as a biology major with an anatomy and physiology concentration.
“I was always heavier on enjoying the actual – it sounds nerdy – but the actual science side of it,” said Ellis-Reis “And I knew that I was interested in possibly doing some more deeper physiology after vet school.”
While at Cal Poly, Ellis-Reis was a teacher assistant for the Vet Technician Enterprise, giving her more experience in the veterinary field. She also volunteered through the Cal Poly Cat Program and Doggy Days, a program dedicated to helping the animals owned by the homeless in the San Luis Obispo community.
She also went on a trip to Nicaragua through World Vets, which gave her a week-long hands-on experience through community outreach.
“I was just thrown in there to learn, and that was a great experience for me,” she said.