WSU Diagnostic Challenges forge lifelong bonds and career opportunities

Diagnostic Challenge participants discuss veterinary care in a circle.
Elizabeth Herman, second from upper right, a veterinarian with VCA Murrayhill Veterinary Hospital in Portland, Ore., works with Chelsea Larson, upper right, a vet in the same clinic, on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, as they serve as facilitators for WSU College of Veterinary Medicine students taking part in a session of the Diagnostic Challenge in Pullman. Herman hired Larson to work with her based in part on her experience facilitating DC when Larson was a student (photo by College of Veterinary Medicine/Ted S. Warren).

Washington State University alumnae Dr. Elizabeth Herman (‘04 DVM) got her first job right out of college thanks in part to the Diagnostic Challenges, an annual event being held this week that connects second-year veterinary students with practicing veterinarians.

During the week-long training, students work with practicing veterinarians, many of them WSU alumni, to diagnose and treat cases featuring volunteer clients and stuffed animal patients. The event not only led to Herman’s first job but also a career-long mentorship with Dr. Kyle Frandle (’80 DVM), the veterinarian who oversaw her case at the Diagnostic Challenges almost 20 years ago.

“He just had this charisma and energy about him that he was still really excited about being a veterinarian. I just remember thinking to myself, that person really enjoys this career and loves what he does. I want to work for this guy,” Herman said. 

After Herman graduated, she went to work alongside Frandle for six years at the Los Gatos Dog and Cat Hospital Los Gatos, California.

“The Diagnostic Challenge wasn’t easy, and I remember it being pretty intense. As a facilitator, Dr. Frandle did a good job putting me at ease and calming me down. As a new grad in practice, you also need that, and he was that for me,” Herman said.

As of this year, Herman has returned to WSU 10 different times in 19 years to oversee students at the Diagnostic Challenges. She’s one of dozens of alumni who return to WSU Pullman each fall to make the program possible.

Like Frandle who hired her, Herman went on to hire her own WSU alumnus she met while overseeing students at the Diagnostic Challenges.

Veterinarian Dr. Chelsea Larson (‘18 DVM) and Herman met at the Diagnostic Challenges in 2015. Larson also worked a stint under Frandle but went to work for Herman at Veterinary Centers of America Murrayhill Veterinary Hospital in Portland, Oregon, shortly thereafter.

Alumni of Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine who are taking part as facilitators for the college’s Diagnostic Challenge pose for a photo on Monday, Oct. 9, 2023, in Pullman with the Caring Call statue on campus. (College of Veterinary Medicine/Ted S. Warren)

“(Elizabeth) was my facilitator and she was someone that I quickly looked up to as a doctor and a person. We had a lot of similarities, and she practiced medicine the way I wanted to practice medicine,” Larson said. She still does relief work for the Portland practice.

This year is Larson’s second year returning to the Diagnostic Challenges since she graduated in 2018. Her husband, Joel, also a WSU alumnus and veterinarian, is returning this year as well.

Larson said she returns to campus because she personally knows the opportunity the Diagnostic Challenges presents.

“I just remember as a student not having confidence. That’s what is so great about the Diagnostic Challenges — it’s the first chance for them to apply all they have learned in a clinical setting. It’s really their first experience that allows them to step into the role as a veterinarian,” she said.

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