Marisa LaBarca ’21 always knew she wanted to be a veterinarian. As a kid, she was drawn to animals—family pets, animals in the zoo, and doctors’ office fish tanks. Her first experience with animal health was taking care of her dog Louie’s nutrition, aging, and illnesses.
But, says LaBarca, she wasn’t just taking care of Louie—who, unfortunately, recently passed away—he was also taking care of her.
“That’s one thing I hope to foster as a vet,” she said. “The power of animals in supporting emotional and mental health is something I witnessed firsthand through my volunteer experiences at Horseability, a therapeutic riding facility for disabled children. Veterinarians serve not only the animal community by promoting healthy lives, but also, indirectly, society by securing the health and safety of these animals so they can continue to do valuable work.”
The chemistry major with a biochemistry concentration and music minor is attending veterinary school at Tufts University in the fall to pursue this goal. She is particularly interested in veterinary surgery and exotic/wildlife. She is drawn to the meticulous handiwork of surgical procedures and working with wildlife would allow her to give back to the environment.
“My volunteering experience in South Africa reaffirmed my commitment to becoming an exotic/wildlife veterinarian,” said LaBarca. “I was able to care for, prepare feeds for, and create enrichment for many wild animals, such as elephants, cheetahs and bat-eared foxes. I also really enjoyed watching cheetahs train by chasing a dragline, feeding lions, and setting up a new pen for an expecting mother. After all, treating and returning animals to their natural habitats both revitalizes and remedies the damaged ecosystems worldwide.”
She chose Tufts because the program prioritizes exotic animal education and includes visits to wildlife centers and opportunities to learn about conservation medicine. The Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program at Tufts is four years of teaching, lab research, and clinical experience. During her first year, LaBarca will get a foundation in biomedical science and learn the basics of how to handle large and small animals.
“Tufts’ program is exciting to me because they have a strong wildlife medicine rotation, and there is a lot of work with large animals in addition to the more typical cats and dogs,” she said.
“Where They’re Headed” is a blog series chronicling the post-collegiate plans of recent Haverford graduates.