Each week, SFRC highlights a fantastic student or alumnus for #FeaturedStudentFriday. Today’s alum is Larissa Menke, DVM. Larissa graduated from SFRC in 2014 with a BS in Marine Sciences and minor in Zoology. She completed her doctorate of veterinary medicine at Ross University in 2019.
What’s the best thing about your current position?
I recently accepted my first “big girl” job as an Associate Mixed Animal Veterinarian at a rural veterinary clinic in Central Florida. I’m so excited to begin working with all kinds of animals: cats, dogs, horses, cows, goats, sheep, etc. It’s been a long road and whirlwind adventure to get to where I am but I’ve finally arrived. It’s time to get to work and put my knowledge and skills to good use! One of the best things I discovered during my interview at this clinic was the support coming from the senior vets to practice any kind of medicine I want to practice…That even means, FISH MEDICINE! I am working towards gaining my Certified Aquatic Veterinarian (CertAqV) certificate through the World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association (WAVMA). This program will give me the credentials needed to properly and safely care for aquatic patients, a dream I have had for a very long time. This dream, becoming an Aquatic Veterinarian, became realized in pieces during my time at UF in the SFRC Marine Sciences program. I knew I loved the ocean, I knew I loved animals, and I knew I wanted to help care for and save them. All of the pieces of the puzzle came together and voila I was headed to vet school!
My marine sciences degree was unique. It made me a strong candidate for vet school because I went against the norm of wanting to be a small or large animal vet (all I remember during my interview for Ross University was talking about manatees!) And my passion for the ocean would be right at home at Ross, a school located on the small Caribbean island of St. Kitts. It was a marine science lover’s paradise.
The opportunities available with my veterinary degree are endless. There are so many different directions I can go in! As I begin working as a new grad in this field and get my foundations set with our large and small animals, I know my purpose to serve the aquatic animals will become exposed. And with the support of my colleagues at my new clinic, I’m confident all of the finned and scaled creatures will be swimming through the door in the future!
Was there any key thing that set you on the path towards SFRC?
When the marine sciences degree was created in 2012 it was a no brainer, I changed my major from animal biology to marine sciences and never looked back. Right before I switched I asked for advice from my undergrad animal science advisor and he gave me a pearl of wisdom: have your major be your back up if vet school doesn’t work out… I went to the Registrar that same day! I feel lucky to have been at UF at that time, to be one of the first grads of the degree.
What drives you?
During my years in St. Kitts I never let my aquatic dreams drown in the day-to-day domestic animal knowledge. I was a member of our WAVMA Student Chapter and served as President. We hosted lunch lectures to discuss aquatic related topics, conducted wet labs to learn about fish dissections, went on field trips to the local aquaculture farm, and held fish fry fundraisers to raise money for hosting guest lecturers. And when I wasn’t studying, I was in the water: snorkeling, SCUBA diving, conducting coral reef research. All of this drove me to keep chugging along the vet school journey. The nights were long, the tears were frequent, but I kept my dreams alive and I always found peace in the ocean. For when you don’t know what your purpose is, follow your passion. Often times your passion will lead you right to your purpose.
What were your struggles to get where you are today?
I struggled (and still struggle) with something called “imposter syndrome.” It’s something you feel when you’re so full of doubt about yourself that you are in denial of where you are and where you are headed. Deep down you don’t feel deserving of the success you have achieved. Over the last 4 years I’ve had thoughts like “why would anyone trust me with their dog when I can’t even pass this little pathology exam?” or “I don’t deserve to be a vet, I failed xyz.” Even more recently while being on the job hunt I was in disbelief that clinics were reaching out and calling ME, wanting me to join their team. Doubt filled my head, “there must be some mistake.” It’s when you weigh your failures more than your triumphs. And the pressure and weight of those failures is unbearable, you just want to quit. It’s comparing your weaknesses to others’ strengths and believing they are going to be better than you, but forgetting that you have other talents and valuable qualities to offer that they might not have. At times when I felt (and feel) lowest, I lean on my support system, my cheerleaders. I WOULD NOT be where I am today without them. When the doubt and fear of failure was all consuming, I would Skype my parents. And they would answer even if it was midnight the night before a final or practical. They would let me fall apart but then talk me through it and help pick me back up again. They believed in me when I didn’t have an ounce of faith left. The (frequent) moments of doubt were part of the journey, just as the moments of feeling “doctor vibes” were. We lived for those moments: learning how to do a physical exam on a horse, successfully placing an IV catheter, our first dog spay (real life surgery!!!) Those doctor moments were worth it… when the imposter syndrome was at bay.
What advice would you give to a younger you?
Don’t be so scared. Fear held me back in college. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of the unknown. Fear of what was beyond my comfort zone. Somehow I mustered up the courage to move to a different country for vet school. And then I moved even further away to Ireland for the most challenging year of vet school, clinical year. I grew, discovered, and developed an insane amount of grit and persistence. But when it comes down to it, I had that courage in me all along. I was a risk taker, an explorer, a dreamer. I could have done so much more with my time at UF and with the opportunities SFRC had to offer if I hadn’t been so scared. If I hadn’t played it “safe,” stuck to the plan, and just checked off the minimal requirements my story would have been an even grander one. I am the strongest person I know having been through the rigorous veterinary school curriculum and traveling solo around the world. But I wish I had discovered my potential even sooner.
Do you have a favorite memory of your time at SFRC?
My favorite moments of my time at SFRC were all of the memories I made with my marine science family. There were about 6 of us that bonded instantly and the good times started rolling. From day 1 back in Intro to Oceanography to NATL field days in Natural Resource Sampling and all of the scuba trips and beach days in between. We were a tight group with the same passions and interests. I’m so lucky to have made lifelong friendships through SFRC! And that goes for the professors and staff of SFRC as well. The small, quaint department made for a friendly and caring atmosphere. The bonds I made with my advisors and mentors continue to this day!
On a different note, one thing I thank SFRC for was the opportunity to study abroad. My first international travel experience to Mo’orea, French Polynesia set the bar extremely high for my travel bug! I’ll never forget the 16 days spent in paradise conducting our research projects on the coral reefs.
Are you working on anything exciting you’d like to share?
Currently the most exciting thing I’m doing is enjoying some much needed relaxation in my hometown of Tampa, Florida before moving and starting work this summer. I’ve been away for 8 years and have been traveling the world for half of that so it’s nice to slow down a bit. But the travel bug never stops biting. I’ve been to 19 countries in 5 years and I’m hoping to hit 20 by the end of this year. I keep my Wander Woman Bucket List close; letting it guide me (many items include the ocean): Dive the Great Barrier Reef, see the Great White sharks in South Africa, Swim in every sea. I’ll never be able to stop exploring.