Dream It, Be It: Dr. Mary Beth Davis’ Story
Many kids have an unwavering goal of achieving their dream job, and that seems especially true of aspiring veterinarians. As these goal-oriented youths reach high school and college, their dreams begin to take shape, as they slowly work toward getting accepted into a College of Veterinary Medicine. It is a dream that Mary Beth Davis had and achieved when she was accepted into Oklahoma State University’s Center for Veterinary Health Sciences. It may not seem all that newsworthy until you know that while most veterinary students struggle through organic chemistry and clinicals, Davis had to cope with a sudden spinal cord injury that left her wheelchair-bound with other physical limitations.
“Like many of us in vet med, my dreams of becoming a veterinarian began during childhood,” says Davis. “Every toy I ever asked for had to be a stuffed animal; every birthday party ever held was animal-themed. Animals have always been my comfort zone — a sort of security blanket that I could always turn to whenever I felt troubled or even when I was my happiest. The human-animal bond is something I’ve always known to be special and that I knew I would be a part of growing up.”
It seems Davis’s dedication to and wise awareness of herself and animals is part of what helped her through her struggles. When asked what else helped her in those first few days, weeks, and months after the accident, Davis said, “Absolutely my family. No way would I be here today without them. They made tremendous sacrifices and spent countless hours by my side during the very early and toughest parts of my injury. I also have a very close and personal relationship with Christ that has seen me through some of the darkest times in my life.”
Most people who suffer from any serious, traumatic accident would let it stand in their way of their goals, especially ones as daunting as college and vet school. But Davis wouldn’t let it derail her dream. She says there was no specific moment she determined to make it through vet school, but instead “I do often mention to people a certain personality trait I have which has carried me far in reaching my dream, and that is my stubbornness. I usually say it with a smile on my face, because I know how often it can lead to trouble. But honestly, being stubborn and challenging myself has kept the fire fueled for this incredible passion that I have for animals. It’s also what I would attribute my resiliency to over these last nine years of being injured.”
As resilient as Davis has proven herself to be, she didn’t make it through alone. In anticipation for her third- and fourth-year clinicals at the Veterinary Medical Hospital, the center made alterations everywhere to make it as easy as possible for David to learn and practice. Pushbuttons on all the doors were added, as well as wheelchair-accessible surgery tables. Her professors and classmates supported her and taught her more than just a subject. Dr. Ritchey, a professor and head of the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, says he learned just as much from Davis as she learned from him. “Mary Beth was very open, honest and held back nothing about her day to day,” he says. “You can look at somebody in a wheelchair and think they cannot walk, but unless you take the time to parcel out every small thing you do every day, you really do not have an understanding of the challenges. Mary Beth taught me most about what I take for granted each day. There was a time when we were early in our discussions that I would go through my day thinking, now how would I do that if I was in Mary Beth’s situation.”
When asked what was the moment that made him realize Mary Beth would succeed, Dr. Ritchey said, “There was no ‘moment’ that I knew Mary Beth would succeed. A way I would look at it is ‘how’ Mary Beth succeeded. I never saw her feel sorry for herself. I never heard her ask to be treated any differently or ask for a special favor or use her disability as an excuse for an easier route. As I said before, she is just a regular person. I don’t see a person in a wheelchair; I just see Mary Beth.”
Davis graduated as Dr. Mary Beth Davis, DVM, from Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Health Sciences on May 10, 2019. She was hooded by a local veterinarian and OSU veterinary medicine graduate, class of 1981, Dr. Rocky Bigbie. Dr. Bigbie and Mary Beth met shortly after her accident and he was one of the people to give her the push she needed to keep pursuing her dream.
When asked what message she would like to give others with spinal cord injuries — especially those who have recently suffered them — she said, “I promise it gets better. I remember hearing those exact words in my first year of injury and rolling my eyes at the thought that things would get any better from how drastically horrible they were. But the truth is, that things do improve whether you believe it right now or not. You will get stronger, you will get faster, you will adapt, and you will overcome. Believe in yourself and don’t you dare ever give up.”
What’s next for Davis? “Now that school is finally over and I have my big ticket to the real world, I’m ready to start my career and see what this next, new chapter in life brings,” she says. “I haven’t officially accepted a job yet, but I’m keeping an open mind to whatever opportunities present themselves. I’m also looking forward to spending some quality time with my family and fiancé as they’ve had to take a bit of a backseat during my time in vet school. To whatever lies ahead, I welcome it with open arms and an open heart. How fortunate I am to finally have my dream turn into reality despite having faced a traumatic and life-changing accident.”