Kristie Coley, a local veterinarian and program director of the Veterinary Technology Program at Arkansas State University-Beebe, never wanted to be an astronaut or a ballerina. Animals are her thing, and she has never considered an alternative.
“I always wanted to be a veterinarian,” Coley said. “I’ve said that since the second grade.”
Growing up in McCrory, Coley’s family farmed for a living. At one point, five generations worked on the farm, and Coley said she lived a “basic, country life.”
Coley was allowed to have any animals she wanted, but they had to stay outside. As soon as she moved out, Coley got a cocker spaniel named Colin, who lived to be 18 years old and had been with Coley throughout her academic career.
“When I went to college, I had the dog,” she said. “When I went to vet school, I had the dog.”
Coley did her undergraduate work at ASU-Beebe and ASU-Jonesboro, where she earned a degree in animal science. She went on to Louisiana State University for veterinary school, but before she was accepted into the program, she was faced with a word of caution from her parents.
Coley’s parents visited her at college when she was filling out her application for veterinary school. She had just gone through a breakup, and when her dad said he needed to talk with her, she thought he was going to tell her not to feel sad about the breakup.
“He said, ‘We need to kind of have a backup plan in case [veterinary school] doesn’t work out. We believe in you, but there are tons of people who want to go to vet school every year, and we need to be thinking about that,’” Coley recalled. “I just looked at him and said, ‘I guess I’m going to be the most educated tractor driver you have ever hired on your farm because being a vet is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do.’”
Driving a tractor for a living was not in her future. Coley went to veterinary school, moved back to Beebe and has worked as a vet ever since. Coley works part time at All For Pets Veterinary Clinic in Cabot while acting as program director for ASU-Beebe’s Veterinary Technology Program.
The program recently earned a five-year full accreditation from the American Veterinary Medical Association Committee on Veterinary Technician
Education and Activities. The program began in fall 2007 and has been operating under a provisional accreditation since June 2009 to allow time for outcome assessments to be gathered.
Students in the program have four semesters of training, followed by one semester of in-clinic work, during which they have a chance to apply what they have learned.
Graduates of the program earn an Associate of Applied Science in veterinary technology and are eligible to take the Veterinary Technician National Examination. After passing the exam, the graduates will be classified as Certified Veterinary Technicians, allowing them to work in a vet’s clinic in a role similar to that of a nurse.
Coley started as director of the Veterinary Technology Program in spring 2009. She was there when the first class graduated and has seen the program through its provisional accreditation and recent full accreditation.
There have been about 50 graduates of the program. Graduates have been successful so far, Coley said, and the school gets calls from area veterinary clinics around graduation time looking for qualified vet techs.
“So far, we have had 100 percent job placement with our graduates,” she said. “Hopefully, that continues.”
Coley’s personal development has not waned, even as she has been director of the program. She still works at All For Pets because she likes the patient interaction, and she pursues new certifications that can help her patients and help her students stay up to date on new treatments available.
“I just finished a Canine Rehabilitation Therapist Certificate,” she said. “I had to go to school in Denver and Florida, and I did an internship in Chicago. I think there’s only four other vets in the state who have that right now.”
Coley identifies with a lot of her students who come from small high schools and communities, and she wants them to realize that hard work and determination are two things that turn dreams into reality.
“A lot of times when students come from a small school, they might think their dreams or goals they have are not attainable,” she said. “My graduating class had 63 people in it. If you work hard and stay focused, it is possible to accomplish your goals.”
Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.