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Veterinary student leans on military experience

Tovah Yenna leaning against an X-ray table in WSU's Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
Tovah Yenna, a second-year veterinary student, in the X-ray department of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital in the College of Veterinary Medicine at WSU Pullman. (photo by College of Veterinary Medicine/Ted S. Warren)

In the middle of the Persian Gulf, aboard the nearly 1,100-foot-long USS Carl Vinson, it wasn’t clear Tovah Yenna was preparing for her lifelong dream of becoming a veterinarian.

Now a second-year veterinary student at Washington State University, she’s using the persistence the military instilled in her to accept failure when it happens and to not look back.

“I’ve always been kind of a stubborn, tenacious sort of person, but the military taught me you are stronger than what you think you are,” Yenna said. “It taught me that you can’t allow a bad day to set you back; you can’t allow a failed test or bad lab day or patient to turn you around and not let you get back up.”

Crediting much of her resiliency to her time as an aviation structural mechanic (AME 2) in the U.S. Navy during the Iraq War, Yenna often worked 16-hour days ensuring the ejection seats among the fleet of twin-engine EA-6B Prowler aircraft used to jam enemy radar were operable in an emergency.

Nearly two decades later and following four years of active duty, two years of reserve and two deployments as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, Yenna, 41, feels well-prepared for the academic ebbs and flows of WSU’s competitive Doctor of Veterinary Medicine curriculum.

Yenna holds a picture of herself in uniform taken when she was serving in the U.S. Navy. (College of Veterinary Medicine/Ted S. Warren)

“When you find that wall, no matter what it is, you just have to push through it; that’s the way the military works,” Yenna said. “At times it’s going to be tough, but you’re going to have to push through that and know that this one moment is not going to define the rest of my life or my career.”

Academically, Yenna is looking to channel that resiliency even after her time at WSU is up. The president of the veterinary class of 2025 plans to pursue a three-year residency in radiology after graduation.

“I fell in love with radiology back in the ‘90s at my first veterinary hospital, back when we had dark rooms and you had to wait while your films developed,” Yenna said. “I loved getting to see what was going on inside. Radiographs seemed so mysterious, and I wanted to learn to interpret them.”

Yenna said the relationships with students, faculty and staff at WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine are reminiscent of the close bonds she formed in the military.

Even when she hasn’t spoken with one of her military friends in years, she knows they will still answer her call and lend an ear or a hand when the phone does ring.

“I know that that’s the case in the veterinary world because I’ve seen it,” Yenna said.

Yenna said no matter what you’re doing in life, she’s learned it’s important to find the bright spots.

Military coins and awards given to Yenna when she served in the U.S. Navy. (College of Veterinary Medicine/Ted S. Warren)

On the aircraft carrier, Yenna found those to be sunrise, sunset, flying fish and breakfast with friends – easily the best meal served on the ship.

On the Palouse, those bright spots would still include sunrise and sunset, as well as her husband, Brian; her three children, Gavri’el, Levi and Temperance; and her alpine goats, which she raises on the family farm just outside Pullman.

Like the military, her children have also helped her become more resilient.

“My kids have prepared me by teaching me patience and the benefits of clear communication,” Yenna said. “They have seasoned me and taught me to slow down and accept that some chaos is inevitable.

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