SAVMA president leads with passion

Published on April 26, 2017
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Jeff Olivarez is all ears and all smiles. His insightful observations and friendly demeanor got him elected as the 2017-18 Student AVMA president and will continue to serve him well in his term, which began this March during the Student AVMA Symposium.

“I feel like I’m fortunate to be in this position and veterinary school in general. Sometimes, students get caught up in all the negative messages surrounding financial debt and stress and forget the awesome opportunity we have and how fortunate we are to be here. It’s a fun and unique position, and I want to remind people of that,” he said.

He’s dedicated himself to “bringing the fun back to the profession” and better serving students. Olivarez says that SAVMA has been focusing a lot on wellness and educational debt, “and I think we do a good job of that, and I want to continue that work; still, I think we can do even better in being there for students.”

If he had his way, there would be even further collaboration among veterinary colleges, industry, and associations.

“There’s all these subgroups of the profession, and there’s a disconnect between them. Sometimes, I feel like we’re working against each other, when really, everyone wants the same thing,” Olivarez said.

As an example, students often blame rising tuition rates on their veterinary college’s administration. The recent Associ­ation of American Veterinary Medical Colleges meeting helped Olivarez see the deans’ perspective and some of their efforts to lower the debt for their students.

“But their hands are tied in some areas,” he said. “It’s nice to know that they are fighting for us.”

Olivarez, a third-year student at Oklahoma State University Center for Veterinary Health Sciences, grew up in Yukon, Oklahoma. 

Jeff Olivarez
Jeff Olivarez (Photo by R. Scott Nolen)

He has always been surrounded by animals, be it the family dog or his aunt’s rescued Greyhounds. Following his parents’ divorce, his mom rescued a Boxer named Max. “He was like our support dog; he got us through hard times. That was my first time witnessing the human-animal bond and seeing the benefits it can provide,” he said. Olivarez wanted to be a veterinarian at a young age, but his mom talked him out of it, citing the high cost of education.

“Little did she know how bad it would get,” he said, with a laugh.

Olivarez attended the University of Oklahoma for undergraduate studies, intending to be a human doctor. But he lacked passion for what he was pursuing and knew something needed to change. He remembered his dream to study veterinary medicine, leading him to change his major to zoology.

“Once I made the decision to pursue veterinary college, everything clicked and started making sense. I had a goal to work toward and started doing better in class,” he said.

After applying three times and taking a year hiatus, Olivarez started veterinary college in fall 2014. At Oklahoma State, he felt compelled to give back and quickly immersed himself in student organizations. At the encouragement of his former roommate, Stasia Sullivan, who was president of the college’s student chapter of the AVMA, he become a SAVMA delegate for his college.

Initially, he thought he wasn’t outgoing or qualified enough to run for SAVMA president.

“But I wanted to give back to students as much as I could, and I thought the president was the best position for that,” he said. So, Olivarez put his name in for consideration, and at the 2016 SAVMA Symposium, he was voted president-elect of SAVMA.

“I love that I get the opportunity to serve the students and really find out what they need to be done and what they want out of their vet school experience, and trying to help them with that,” he said.

Meanwhile, Olivarez will also be busy with clinical rotations. He plans to serve an externship with Dr. Karen Bradley, AVMA Board of Directors member from District I, then an AVMA headquarters externship this fall.

When asked what kind of veterinarian he wants to be, Olivarez says his plan is to not have a plan.

“It’s a double-edged sword with the profession because you have so many options, so it makes it hard to decide,” he said. “It’s good not to have a plan, to be flexible and be adaptable and go with the flow. You find yourself with really interesting opportunities that you never knew existed unless you just put yourself out there.”