Alumni Words of Wisdom: Erik Olstad, ‘08
After graduating in 2008 with a degree in Biological Sciences, Erik Olstad went on to become the first alum of UC Merced’s School of Natural Sciences to attend veterinary school. Erik was featured in the UC Merced Alumni Association’s “Alumni Highlights” in 2010. At the time, he had just begun veterinary school after volunteering at an equine hospital. Fast-forward 8 years, and now Erik is a full-fledged veterinarian working in a hybrid emergency clinic. We connected with Erik in order to share his experiences with fellow alumni and students.
What were some of the challenges you faced early in your career? How did you resolve or overcome them?
“I started practicing vet medicine in Lansing, Michigan. My wife (girlfriend at the time) started a residency in veterinary pathology at Michigan State University. Starting off in a new state without your friends and family was an incredible challenge for us, but we found the things we liked about Michigan, like the great hiking and beautiful landscape, and great fried fish!
I started at a small practice shortly after graduation and was immediately thrown into veterinary medicine. I didn’t sleep much the first 6 months of practice due to stress. I started to balance work and life and work out, and things got so much better.
I practiced in a hospital where I was the only doctor on staff during my shift, so I didn’t have many people to ask questions, which was incredibly challenging as a new doctor. I can remember an arterial bleed during surgery in my first few months that hit the ceiling, and the stress involved. I had no one to help and no other senior doctor to guide me through this incident, but I was able to suture the source of the bleeding and move on through the surgery using the training I received at UC Davis.”
Why do you work in an emergency clinic and what do you love most about it?
“I work ER because I like it! I love how different the day is, and the types of things we see. I will see cases ranging from simple scrapes and cuts to emergency C-sections to gunshots. Our ER department is one of the busiest in the region and that allows us to see a wide range of cases.”
What are some of the pearls of wisdom that you pass on to your veterinary interns?
“My number one issued discussed [with our interns] is work life balance. Being a vet is fun and exciting, but you can spend every waking minute working, and that is something I am always trying to combat. I try to provide advice on how to write your records efficiently, and how to move from case to case without wasting too much time. I also am available at any time to answer any question. I want to be that helpful phone call and surgical assistant that I did not have when I started.”
Do you have any advice you wish a veterinarian had given to you when you were an undergrad thinking about going to vet school?
“I wish I knew that vet school was not the hardest part about being a vet! It’s practicing! I've learned more just being out in practice than any class or book could have given me. I am constantly looking up stuff and fighting to stay current with the standards of vet medicine.”