And although van Veggel can't point to a single, defining moment, she thinks growing up with horses probably had something to do with her choice of veterinary medicine as a career.
It was a good decision for van Veggel, who graduated with great distinction from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) in June. In addition to receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree, she took home five awards including the college's most prestigious honour — the WCVM Faculty Gold Medal. This annual award is presented to the graduating student who has displayed the highest general proficiency in the four-year veterinary program.
Van Veggel also received the 2015 Evelyn Margaret Manfield Scholarship, the Dr. Alexander Janisz Memorial Award, the American College of Veterinary Surgeons Award (Large Animal Surgery) and the Dr. F.W. Schofield Prize in Veterinary Pathology.
Van Veggel has a well-earned reputation for academic success. During her Bachelor of Science degree program at the University of Victoria, she earned President's Scholarships as well as a berth on the Dean's List four years in a row. At veterinary school, she received the Evelyn Margaret Manfield Scholarship in 2014 as well as the Mary Ellen Tait Scholarships in 2012 and 2013. Both awards honour the top veterinary student in his or her class during the college's four-year DVM program.
Throughout her years at UVic and the U of S, she was also a member of the Golden Key International Honour Society — a collegiate honour organization for top-performing students around the world. Van Veggel also received an Interprovincial Undergraduate Student Summer Research Scholarship in 2012.
After moving to Saskatoon in 2011, she immensely enjoyed her four years at the veterinary college. Not only was the program as fascinating and educational as she had hoped, "but the friendship and support of classmates was amazing," says van Veggel.
"We joked that 2015 was the best class to go through WCVM, but I think it's true. I will definitely have lifelong friends from that group. I already miss them and it's only been a few months since I've seen them."
She also credits her parents and her brother for their amazing support throughout her academic career.
Van Veggel says the fourth year of veterinary school was the best because she finally had the opportunity to put all the knowledge she had acquired to practical use. Not surprisingly, her idea of the most "fun stuff" was working with horses.
Overall, van Veggel says veterinary school was even better than she thought it would be — plenty of studying but time for fun, too. For example, van Veggel and four of her classmates travelled to Lexington, Ky., to volunteer at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event — an international eventing competition that features dressage, cross country and show jumping phases.
"It was amazing to see all those beautiful [equine] athletes competing," she says.
For van Veggel, her focus is on horses; they helped bring her to veterinary school and now they're part of her future career plans. She enjoys equine medicine and surgery — but her absolute favourite is diagnostic imaging and sports medicine with the challenges of equine lameness and performance-limiting problems.
In September, van Veggel returned to the Netherlands to do a year-long equine sports medicine internship in the city of Heesch at Sporthorse Medical Diagnostic Centre (SMDC) with Drs. Erik Bergman and Frans van Toor. Most of the equine athletes seen by the clinic's veterinary team are involved in the disciplines of dressage and show jumping, so van Veggel will be working with horses that are lame or not performing as well in the show ring.
Van Veggel likes the challenge of diagnosing a lame horse and determining the cause of the lameness.
"It's like a big puzzle. It's fun," she says.
Van Veggel's long-term goal is to complete a residency in equine sports medicine or in large animal diagnostic imaging. She will also be doing lots of continuing education and hopes to gain extra training in equine medicine by becoming certified with the International Society of Equine Locomotor Pathology ISELP). She has already attended two of the ISELP modules since graduating from veterinary school.
What is van Veggel's advice to pre-veterinary students or new students at the WCVM?
"Have fun, work hard and don't panic; these will be some of the most memorable years of your life. In addition, don't be afraid to talk to your professors. They're there to help you and trust me — they aren't as scary as they seem to be," says van Veggel.
"Finally, it's important to keep your options open and try everything that comes your way."
Shirley Byers is a writer and editor from Kelvington, Sask. She freelances for a variety of North American magazines and newspapers.