October 28, 2009
Blame it on rain, ice and snow.
Sharon Hunt Gerardo was days away from accepting an offer to enroll in Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, her impending announcement doubling the excitement level at the family’s Easter gathering.
Daughter Angelina also was heading to veterinary school. Angelina planned to stay in her home state and attend the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis, on an Army scholarship.
Everyone loved the novelty of mother and daughter venturing into veterinary medicine and appreciated that it was a legacy of Michael Gerardo, DVM, Sharon’s late husband and Angelina’s father, who died in 2000.
Then Sharon, curious, hit the weather websites to get a glimmer of what she might see during a typical school year in Massachusetts. Rain. Snow. Ice. More rain.
“You grow up in Southern California like me and you face those harsh winters, and you think, ‘Oh, just suck it up.’ But then I really thought about it and I knew I couldn’t do it,” Sharon recalls.
So, like her daughter, Sharon chose Davis.
Mom and daughter fretted a bit about being classmates, but the worries were for naught. Each had separate areas of emphasis, made different friends, lived apart and asked administrators to create opposite class schedules whenever possible. When it was all over they made one last request: to walk together across the graduation stage to accept their doctorates in veterinary medicine.
“Everyone cried,” Angelina says.
Daunting weather aside, the Davis choice worked for Sharon, 51, on many counts. She and her late husband attended Davis decades ago, she graduating with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and he his DVM. The Davis vet school had been her goal as an undergrad, but she was rejected. She went on to earn a doctorate in immunology from UCLA and built a career as a medical researcher while her husband established his small-animal practice in Simi Valley, Calif.
About the time her husband died, Sharon’s UCLA grant funding ran out, forcing her to “make a decision about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” she says.
Her research career had been terrific, but it was a second choice. She always felt connected to veterinary medicine through her husband and his practice, but now that was gone, too.
“I was looking for something in veterinary medicine that could bridge my research in infectious disease,” Sharon says. Davis’ programs and research were ideal. This time around, Davis accepted her.
For her part, Angelina, 27, wanted a comprehensive program that would allow her to focus on small animals, most likely leading to the type of pet practice she had grown up watching her father create.
“I saw how much he enjoyed it,” she says. “He was always learning new things and going to conferences. All his clients loved him, and he couldn’t go anywhere in town without running into people who knew him.”
At Davis, both women found what they were looking for. And to the surprise of each, they worked at it together more than they expected. The two discovered that they were compatible study buddies.
“I honestly think it’s genetics,” says Angelina, who completed her undergraduate work at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “We each had studied in other big study groups and they were either moving way too fast or moving way too slow, and when I studied with her he were really on the same track.”
The like-minded study style was a boon, Sharon says. But as a mother there was a downside. She always knew when her daughter felt anxious or swamped by the academic crush. “Nobody likes to see their kids stressed out. You know college is stressful, but you don’t always see it up close,” she says.
Happily, Sharon had remarried and her new husband would whip up dinner for the vet students on their heaviest study nights. “It was a nice feeling to know that we could do something supportive to take some of the pressure off for her,” she says.
The schooling isn’t over for either woman. In September Sharon returned to UC Davis to pursue a master’s degree in preventive veterinary medicine. She hopes to make her new career in herd health, disease, research, animal food supply and related global issues. Twenty-five years ago she might never have given that path a thought.
“I’ve got a real different perspective (now) and probably a wider view, and I can see more applications for veterinary medicine than I might have before,” she says.
Meanwhile, Angelina has begun a three-year stint in the Army Veterinary Corps with the rank of captain. She is being trained to tend military dogs that will be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as run clinics where the pets of military personnel are seen for routine care and processed for overseas shipping.
Angelina often wonders what her father would think of all the vets in the family.
“I think he would be surprised,” she says. “He passed away before 9/11, so things were a lot different then. But I definitely think he would be proud. And we’re all different types of vets.”
Indeed, the late Michael Gerardo developed a particular talent for treating pocket pets. Angelina almost certainly will care for animals in far-flung corners of the world. Her mother most likely will work in some capacity with large herd animals. If ever they need a family motto, that old poetic line “All creatures great and small” just might cover the bases.
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