August Spotlight: Hannah Lehmann, DVM, MPH

This month, Dr. Hannah Lehmann shares about her journey to veterinary medicine, her experience in AHS 3002: Global Health in Thailand, and her insights for pre-health students. 

Dr. Hannah Lehmann with a cat and a dog

Hello! My name is Hannah Lehmann, and I am a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. After graduating high school, I left home for military basic training. I was away for about six months at training and began school at the University of Minnesota thereafter. I attended the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) for my undergraduate degree in animal science. Along the way, I became curious about careers in animal and human medicine outside of a traditional path into veterinary medicine. Namely, I wanted to explore careers in human medicine to help decide if veterinary medicine was really the right choice for me. I participated in Global Health in Thailand during the second half of my sophomore year of college to better explore these options. It was during this experience that I decided veterinary medicine was the right career for me and was then able to pursue it with fewer doubts. I graduated in 2019 with my degree in animal science and began veterinary school at the University of Minnesota the same year. I also began a Master of Public Health program through the University’s dual DVM/MPH program. 

I graduated from veterinary school this past spring (2023), and am now stationed at Joint-Base Lewis McChord, Washington, as a veterinary corps officer with Public Health Activity Fort Lewis. My primary responsibility is to care for the military working dog population, as well as family pets on base. My responsibilities also include performing health inspections of department of defense food vendors and facilities. In my free time, I enjoy exploring the Pacific Northwest through hiking, biking, and checking out local food options. I love talking with students who are questioning their paths, as mine has been anything but traditional.

Can you describe your journey to veterinary medicine? Why did you want to pursue this career?

I suppose I’m like a lot of people who go into veterinary medicine – it’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was five years old. I was a member of 4-H as a kid and into high school, which helped shape my leadership skills and solidify my passion for how animals enhance the human experience. I did a lot of shadowing at a local veterinary clinic during high school and chose animal science as my undergraduate major with acceptance into vet school as the end goal. About halfway through college, I started questioning if veterinary medicine was right for me. It was a lot of expensive schooling, and I was beginning to have interests in other fields of health. I wanted to take the time to really investigate what career options were out there, and that’s when I discovered Global Health in Thailand.

You were a former student in AHS 3002: Global Health in Thailand! What was your experience like in the course and traveling to Thailand? Did the course change your perspectives on health or veterinary medicine?

I went into the program fairly convinced that I wanted to change course away from veterinary medicine. I was afraid that I had been pursuing a career field blindly my entire life without ever exploring the other options, and I was concerned that I had ultimately lost my passion for veterinary medicine. As intriguing as it was to learn about human medicine and visit human hospitals during the experience, it was my time spent at the elephant conservation/rehabilitation sites and in seeing the ongoing need for animal health professionals that ultimately made me sure I was meant to become a veterinarian after all. I learned during this experience, though, that human and animal medicine are not separate islands at all – they are quite interconnected. Public health is an area of study that I had not given much attention prior, and my experience in Thailand broadened my future studies to include a masters in public health. I find that, despite being a doctor who treats animals, offering the best care to my patients involves a strong foundation in public health concepts as well as an understanding of the humans that come attached to my patients every day.

Is there any one memory, moment, or experience from the course or trip that stands out for you?

I was (perhaps ironically) the only animal science major attending Global Health in Thailand the year that I went. The majority of my fellow classmates were pre-nursing or pre-med students applying to medical schools in the upcoming year. Understandably, they were content to get their selfies with the elephants, but they were primarily interested in learning about the human medicine side of things. I wanted to know more about the elephants, such as their health and their anatomy. Animal anatomy had been of particular interest to me up to that point in my education. There was one day on the program dedicated to touring the veterinary college in Chiang Mai, and I found myself elated to be discussing a real-life elephant skeleton with one of the veterinary students there. I told her all about my favorite bone (the atlas) and that I had never seen one so large in my life. She told me about her favorite bone (the femur), and I never thought I’d be chatting like old friends with a veterinary student in another culture about the beauty of elephant bones. I think I knew at that moment that my passion for vet med hadn’t entirely disappeared.  

What advice do you have for pre-health students considering taking a learning abroad course like AHS 3002?

I think regardless of how certain you feel about your path forward in life, you can always learn more about yourself along the way. Taking on a learning abroad course such as this is an impactful way to go outside of your comfort zone without leaving for an entire semester and having a lifetime of memories in return. You’ll meet students studying the same and different things as you as well as professionals leading the course who are interested in helping you become the best version of yourself. It might just change your trajectory for the better, or if you’re like me, make you realize that you were on the right path all along.

Anything else you'd like to share?

I really enjoy talking with students who are questioning their paths like I did. It can be a scary and somewhat lonely thing, especially when you’ve had a specific idea about how your life might go and now it suddenly feels unclear. There are a ton of options out there, which is fantastic but also terrifying. Exploring your options now is the best thing you can do for your future self, financially and for your own career satisfaction. I discovered this program sort of accidentally, and it changed the course of my career entirely for the better. I’d love to be part of that journey for someone else who is unsure what comes next. 

Congratulations, Dr. Lehmann, and thank you for sharing your story and perspectives with PHSRC Pulse readers!