Volleyball and Vet Med

June 2020
Erica Moscoso with bear

Hello everyone! My name is Erica Moscoso and I am a rising second year veterinary student. I am from southern California and grew up partly in a beach city in Los Angeles, and partly in a suburb of Orange County. I attended Utah State University where I earned my Bachelor of Science in ADVS (animal, dairy and veterinary science) with an emphasis in bio-veterinary science. I was also a 4-year letter winner and team captain of their Division 1 Women’s Volleyball team.

The sport of volleyball has played an enormous role in my life. It taught me to be a good teammate to those around me, the importance of persistence and dedication, how to be a leader, and how to work hard day in and day out. Volleyball gave me a college education, allowed me to travel all around the country and through Europe, and has brought so many amazing relationships into my life that I will forever be grateful for. I look back on my career as a student athlete with the knees and back of an 80-year-old and feel so fortunate for everything the sport has given me.

Unlike a lot of my peers, I took time off between earning my bachelor’s degree and starting veterinary school. And by “time off” I mean that the first time that I applied to veterinary school, I didn’t get in anywhere. I am a huge planner and always need to know my next step. There were two constants in my life up to this point: school and volleyball. For as long as I can remember I have always been “Erica the volleyball player” and at that point, I felt that I had no identity. I was discouraged and had no direction. I was lost and had no plan.

A few weeks before graduation I interviewed for and was offered a position as an exotic animal care intern at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge in Eureka Spring, Arkansas. The majority of my time during my undergrad was either spent in the classroom or on a volleyball court, and as a result I had very minimal “animal experience” to show for it. I ecstatically accepted the position and moved from Utah to Arkansas after graduation.

I spent 6 months working at the wildlife refuge, taking care of over 100 exotic mammals including lions, tigers, bears (… you see where this is going), bobcats, cougars, leopards, servals, a coatimundi and a rhesus macaque. (Would you believe me if I said I am also extremely allergic to cats?)

Turpentine Creek is a true sanctuary, which means they do not buy, sell, trade or breed any of their animals. They are also a no-contact facility, so the staff and guests never touch/pet/hold any of the animals and they never enter their enclosures with the animals at the same time.

Before my internship I knew nothing about the exotic pet trade. During my time at Turpentine Creek I learned the stories of all of the animals who called the refuge their forever home. Many of the animals were a part of pay-to-play programs, where facilities bred the big cats for the sole purpose of cub petting and photo-ops. Many (if not all) of the white tigers at the refuge were a part of breeding programs where they continually inbred to produce more white tigers. Others came from private ownership where the owners neglected them or were unable to properly care for them. (Which should really go without saying… They’re called wild animals for a reason. Anyway, I digress.)

Working at the refuge sparked my enthusiasm for being an advocate for these animals and educating others about the exotic pet trade every chance I can get. My experience at Turpentine Creek continues to drive my interest in zoo medicine. My career goal after veterinary school is to work in a zoo or wildlife refuge setting. That being said, I also have a love for small animal medicine. After completing my internship, I moved back to Utah and worked as a veterinary technician a small animal clinic for a year and a half before moving to Ames. My favorite part about small animal practice is making those connections with clients and patients, and I loved every minute of it. Working at a clinic really opened my eyes to what veterinary medicine is really like, and it solidified the fact that I knew I was pursuing a career in the right profession.

My first year of veterinary school was definitely memorable. I have made great friends, pushed myself harder academically than I ever have before, and can successfully say that I stayed on top of my course work despite the difficulties social distancing posed to all of us last semester.

This summer I am working as an intern for the Dean, Dr. Dan Grooms, in his summer Leadership Internship. The initiative we chose for this summer is improving diversity, equity and inclusion within the College of Veterinary Medicine. All of my leadership experience has been within the realm of sports, so I am excited to continue to hone my skills in a completely different environment. We are about one month into the internship and have a lot of projects that are in the works. I am excited to share more about this experience as the summer comes to a close in August. For now, stay safe and stay healthy!


Erica Moscoso