Caring for the vulnerable is among the most honorable and rewarding professions. Sadly, animals tend to be the most vulnerable in our society. So when Kristen Halbritter-Marciniak (Wolf Clan) began looking at graduate schools to become a veterinarian, she knew it would be more than a job – it was a calling.

Helping and caring for animals has always been a part of Kristen ever since she was little.

“As far back as I can remember,” Kristen said when asked when she knew she wanted to be a veterinarian. “I just love animals and I would always want to pet them or interact with them. But I started working and I realized it was just something I really enjoyed and wanted to pursue.”

Kristen graduated from Andrews University in the spring of 2017 and was still deciding on where to go for her veterinary program. There are only 33 accredited doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) programs in the country, which means admission is very competitive. This high level of competition added to the difficulty of finding and getting into a school she would feel comfortable attending. The place she chose would become her home for at least the next four years so she wanted to make sure she was making the best choice.

Of the twelve schools Kristen applied to, she was accepted to two prestigious universities: Mississippi State University and Iowa State University. It was a difficult decision, but after consulting with a few of her mentors, Kristen ultimately chose Iowa State and moved to Ames shortly thereafter in the fall of 2019.

The program at Iowa State consisted of three years of coursework and classes, while the fourth was mainly clinic rotations. That fourth year is critical because students need to pick a specialized track of study.

“With rotations, you can pick between four tracks,” Kristen explained. “Some want to do just small animals, which would be dogs and cats, and some choose to do just horses and track equine, and others want to do just food animals, which includes herd health for dairy cattle, beef cattle, pork production, and also backyard pets like goats, pigs, sheep. But you can also get a mix of all of those, and I wanted to learn about everything, so I chose the mixed track.”

Kristen noted that there are almost as many specialties to study in veterinary medicine as there are in a regular medical school. She would constantly compare notes with her twin sister, Kathryn, who is enrolled in medical school at Loma Linda University in southern California, and they would both be surprised at how closely everything aligned.

After completing her fourth year in the spring of 2023, Kristen graduated with a year-long internship already lined up at Iowa State University’s Lloyd Veterinary Medical Center. It would be an opportunity to put into practice everything she learned while having seasoned professionals at her disposal to ask any questions that came up. She also gets to teach rising fourth year students in addition to her case load at the medical center

“I want to learn as much as I can,” she added. “As a doctor, I take my own cases, but I also have that safety net of having specialists behind me so I know I am doing everything correctly.”

The internship also gives Kristen the flexibility to decide where she wants to go next. She’s leaning toward focusing on general practice, which will give her the ability to move almost anywhere.

“It’s a bit limited where you can live and work as a specialist,” she said. “We love hiking, so we’d love to move out west for a little while.”

Kristen and her husband, David, have lived in Iowa the past four years and are excited to begin a new chapter, wherever that may be.

With so many options now available to her, Kristen is grateful for the Oneida Indian Nation’s Scholarship Program, which enabled her to graduate debt-free. She credits her mom, Karen Halbritter, for instilling her with the self-confidence and a strong work ethic to achieve her dream.

“She’s always encouraged us to get our education and has always been super supportive,” Kristen said. “I know she is very proud of our accomplishments and she comes out to visit me as much as she’s able to, which means the world to me.”

Now, Kristen is looking for the best place to start her next adventure, but she knows wherever that is, she’ll have the support of her family.

“I wouldn’t be where I am, or have the drive to complete school or go to college in the first place, without her mentorship, advice and support,” she added.