SAVMA president leads with attitude of gratitude

Inspired by her support system, Tara Fellows Barron succeeds by encouraging others
Tara Fellows Barron
“I’ve been called the Elle Woods of veterinary medicine,” says Tara Fellows Barron, referring to the main character of “Legally Blonde.” “I love wearing pink.” She documents her bright outfits, shares her adventures in veterinary school, and offers advice to students on her Instagram account, “Secret Life of a Vet Student.” (Photos courtesy of Barron)

Tara Fellows Barron always wanted to be a veterinarian but didn’t think she could make it.

But then halfway through attending business school, Barron reevaluated her occupation working in operations for a large corporate retailer. She was doing well at the company but felt unfulfilled.

 Seeing how successful she was in business gave her the confidence to pursue her passion.

“That’s when I was like, ‘You know what, I'm smart enough. I can do this,’” Barron said. At age 28, she was accepted at Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) Richard A. Gillespie College of Veterinary Medicine in Harrogate, Tennessee.

Now in her third year of veterinary college, Barron was recently installed as the 2024-25 Student AVMA (SAVMA) president at the 2024 SAVMA Symposium, held March 14-17. The event was hosted jointly by LMU and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee.

She acknowledges her path to becoming SAVMA president wouldn’t have been possible without the backing of her family, friends, school, and peers. Barron says that’s why she intends to spend her year in the position leading veterinary students with a focus on teamwork and gratitude.

Support system

A young blonde woman wearing a white maxi dress hugs a white dog with black facial markings
Barron has three dogs: George, Rosie, and Oreo. “She knows when I’m having a bad day,” Barron says about her dog Oreo. “You can’t be upset when a dog is in your lap, showing you how much you mean to them.”

Because Barron was so capable in the corporate world, her family was surprised when she decided to go to veterinary school, but they always supported her.

Barron’s mom, Gina Fellows, who lived in Canton, Georgia, was delighted her daughter would be attending school in a nearby state. She was diagnosed with stage four small-cell carcinoma during Barron’s first month of veterinary school. She died in November 2023.   

“It was definitely a difficult time, but it gave me a deeper understanding of compassion and love,” Barron said.

Between her husband, James Barron, and family, Barron has received a lot of encouragement, not to mention from her group of friends who never miss an event and the veterinary faculty at LMU who have championed her since day one.

When Barron struggled with her first anatomy examination, she found mentorship from Dr. Ismael Concha, an associate professor of veterinary anatomy. With Dr. Concha’s help, Barron improved her grades in the course and even served as an anatomy teaching and research assistant for multiple semesters.

Dr. Lucinda Dixon, a former assistant professor of veterinary anatomy, and Dr. Michael Center, a clinical skills and anatomy assistant professor, were two other mentors for Barron.

She says they have made her feel at home and gave her guidance academically on her journey to becoming SAVMA president.

“I feel really blessed to have the amount of support I do, because I feel like it's like an astronomical amount,” Barron said. “I couldn’t do any of this without that support.”

SAVMA involvement

Barron was encouraged by an older student mentor to become a SAVMA delegate. Two years later, Barron helped coordinate the 40 veterinary students who attended the 2023 AVMA legislative fly-in. This made her realize she had a gift for advocating for her peers. So, she ran for the president-elect position.  

“I'm so happy I did, because I love being able to meet other students and hear perspectives from different schools,” Barron said, adding that her peers are enthusiastic and never fail to reignite her passion for veterinary medicine.

When she campaigned for SAVMA president-elect, one of her platforms was amending the SAVMA Duty Hours Guidelines, which were last revised in 2019. She hopes an updated version of the guidelines will give veterinary students a more balanced schedule and include guidance for a those at veterinary schools with distributive learning model such as LMU.

Barron aims to have a tangible impact on the happiness and wellbeing of students during her tenure as SAVMA president.

“I would like to set the future generations up for success,” she said. “At the end of the day, we're here because we love it and we should be happy when we go to sleep at night, not stressed.”

Barron wants veterinary students to know that building connections with classmates in veterinary school and supporting one another is crucial. She said her class at LMU is great at helping each other out. Barron recalled her classmates sending her course materials and study guides when her mom was sick.

“Don't be afraid to ask for help,” she said. “Your classmates are there for a reason. You’re all going to get through this together.”

A version of this story appears in the May 2024 print issue of JAVMA