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Healing Animals Is in Her Genes

L.A Watts Times, Profile, Erika A. McCarden Posted: Mar 22, 2009

Dr. Melissa Tyson was four years old when she discovered her special flair for helping animals.

"We bred German shepherds and I'd get up every morning to milk the dog because I didn't think she was feeding her puppies enough," Tyson said.

After her father explained the process of weaning, he inquired about her interest in working with animals. It was then that Tyson knew she wanted to become a veterinarian but it wasn't quite communicated in those exact terms.

"I told my dad I wanted to be a doggy doctor, just like him," Tyson said.

At the time she didn't understand that her father was actually a physician whose main office was in the very home where she now works as a large, small and exotic animal practitioner.

Dr. Melissa Tyson of the Crown City Veterinary Medical Group in Pasadena, is one of a few African-American female veterinarians in a field dominated by white and Middle Eastern professionals. At the age of four, Dr. Tyson wanted to be "a doggy doctor" like her father. She balances her practice with motherhood (two children) and caring for several domestic and exotic pets. Her husband helps by picking up truckloads of vegetation to feed their extended family.

A native of Pasadena, Tyson attended the College of Veterinary Medicine at Oregon State University, and completed an internship in equine medicine and surgery at Equine Veterinary Associates in Yorba Linda. She spent five years working with veterinarians before her mother surprised her in 2003 with a special building to house a private veterinarian practice. It was latest in a renovation of the family's property in the foothills of the Sierra Madres that came after her father had passed away. The place is now host to a medical campus that includes facilites for Tyson's three siblings, all physicians, and her verterinary center.

Tyson's part of the complex is the Crown City Veterinary Medical Group Inc., where she offers offers preventative healthcare, internal medicine, surgery, dentistry, and emergency services.

With 5,600 clients, Tyson has secured a successful, profitable place within elite profession practiced by very few African Americans.

This year the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges reported receiving only 121 applications from African Americans, compared to the 4,437 it received from Caucasian and Middle Eastern students for participating VMC Application Services schools.

"African Americans make up about 2.2 percent in the current matriculation numbers for active veterinarian students," according to Lisa M. Greenhill, the organization's associate executive director for diversity. "The larger question is 'how do we get more ethnic students to apply?'"

The AAVMC is developing outreach initiatives for people of color through its DiVersity Matters program, Greenhill said, adding that current plans call for the launch next year of a recruitment strategy to help colleges reach across ethnic lines.

"To accomplish this we need to find out what is motivating and resonates for those races," Greenhill said.

The sheer difficulty of the curriculum makes a tough task even tougher.

"The process of becoming a veterinarian is so stringent that many give up," said Tyson. "I am one of few strong black women in a profession long dominated by males. It can be very competitive and difficult to get into veterinarian schools, which tend to mostly cater to race and philanthropic experience."

Schedules that can include 16-hour work days can be very demanding on a household, she added, noting that she manages her practice while balancing motherhood she has two children and caring for a host of domestic and exotic pets at home. She credits her husband with helping out by picking up truckloads of vegetation to feed their extended family members.

"I have horses, two primates, four cats, four tortoises, a guinea pig, five birds, and eight dogs," Tyson said. "My husband is pretty much on primate duty most of the time."

Although Tyson's schedule is demanding, she still manages to make time for herself by riding and maintaining her horses, swimming, volunteering, and walking to work with her dogs. She said that all of them are important aspects to maintaining her career and healthy lifestyle.

"For those interested in becoming a veterinarian, it's really important to be well-rounded, confident and love yourself," Tyson said.

"Knowing that in my care animals are healed," Tyson said, "and seeing them leave in a better form of satisfaction and condition pain free is a rewarding feeling."

Erika A. McCarden is a writer for the L.A. Watts Times.

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