From Graduate to Veterinary Assistant

Nicole M. Garren’s passion for animals is personal.


The University of Montana Western Research Symposium is a way for upper-division students to share their scientific findings or internship experiences with classmates, professors, and the general public.

At the 11th Annual Symposium, Garren presented on the internship she did at the Beaverhead Veterinary Clinic in Dillon, Mont..

“My presentation went well. I was very nervous, but once I started, my love and interest for my internship took over, and I was able to just enjoy sharing my experience,” Garren said.

Although her goal is to become a veterinarian, she will be graduating with a degree in biology in the fall. However, she says she may return to enroll in the program before applying for veterinary school.

Garren first came to Montana Western to study art education. After shadowing a teacher in Wisdom, Mont., she decided that teaching was not her passion. Veterinary work was an easy second choice; she has lived around animals her whole life.

“I really became interested in veterinary medicine when I was 12. I got to view my first colic surgery; unfortunately, it was on my own horse.”

Colic is a catch-all term for abdominal pain in horses. To find the source of discomfort, vets have to go through an uncomfortably invasive process with the animal.

“They pass a big hose into the horse’s nose which goes down into their esophagus. They put the tube down into their stomach, and they’ll blow on it, or they’ll add mineral oil. It’s gross, but you’ll smell it and depending on the smell, it can tell you if they’re blocked,” Garren said.

After the examination, her horse had to be put down, but Garren was able to take this tragic experience and turn it into something positive, a lifelong dedication to animal care.

“He didn’t have a tech there that night, so he let me be a helping hand. From then on I was hooked,” she said.

“I was fascinated by the whole thing. He actually knew the lady we bought this horse from. It’s sad when he has to see them go, but everything in-between… it’s awesome to watch them grow up.”

Working at the Beaverhead Veterinary Clinic was perfect for Garren due to her preference for large animal care: “I did get to do quite a bit of small animal work, but I really enjoy doing the horses and cows. You get out of the office a lot more. I’m a very outdoorsy person, so being in the office is really hard.”

She talked about the individuality each animal showcases, and how that fascinates her: “With it being a mixed practice, it’s so funny to see the differences in personalities. Even between cows, you get to know them when you see them more than once.”

“They move their ears, so you can tell when they’re cranky because their ears are straight-forward, and their eyes are really wide. Some of them have a sweet personality; their ears get a little droopy and you can pet them.”

I asked her what her greatest challenge was during the internship. She said: “My height, that would be my greatest challenge. I never let that get the best of me, but it did pose a bit of a problem. I’m five-foot-three. Palpating an 1100 pound pregnant heifer is difficult when your arms aren’t very long. And of course I say that with a laugh.”

Garren was actually hired as a veterinary assistant at the clinic before her internship ever began. Assistant Professor of Equine Studies Megan Kelly, who works at the facility, acted as her liaison.

“I took a class from Dr. Kelly, and from there I asked if I could shadow her out at the clinic. The head vet who owns the practice, Dr. Abbey, saw how dedicated I was and hired me. I’ve been out there for a year this summer.”

The passion Dr. Abbey saw in Garren is hard to miss. After speaking to her briefly, it is easy to see that her affection for animals is very genuine. It’s always wonderful to see someone end up where they truly belong. Thanks to her hard work, Garren will get to spend this summer doing what she loves best, caring for the animals that have enchanted her all these years.