Trading Muck Boots for a Clean, White Lab Coat

Squatting beside a 1,500-pound dairy cow, Jaime Ueda reaches for the udder and pulls tentatively on one of the teats. The thin stream of milk that squirts out misses the plastic sample tray Ueda is aiming for, instead dousing the face of fellow student Dana Hoyt. “Oops! Welcome to Dairy 101!” Ueda jokes. The fourth-year vet-med student soon catches on to the art of milking, getting a sample from each of the cow’s four “quarters” to test for infection.

The journey that brought 25-year-old Ueda to this farm in rural Oregon began 2,500 miles away on the island of Hawaii. She grew up in Waimea near the sprawling Parker Ranch, where 30,000 cattle graze across 175,000 sun-bathed acres. As a little girl, she often clambered onto the white wooden fences bordering the ranch to watch the veterinarians at work. “Ever since I was six or seven,” Ueda reports, “I’ve wanted to be a vet.”

She doesn’t envision a career wading through manure in drafty barns, however. She wants to work with laboratory animals in an academic research setting, probably a medical school, where she would monitor the health of such creatures as rats, mice, rabbits and monkeys and ensure proper treatment under federal regulations.

Even though her professional goal is a sterile workplace glinting with stainless steel, on this winter morning she gamely wraps a tool belt around her waist, loads it up with syringes and blood-collection tubes, and tramps through the dimly lit barn with her team. As she gives vaccinations, takes blood and milk samples, and treats abscesses, the cows’ steamy breath billows in the frigid air — which, at 35 degrees Fahrenheit, is a sharp reminder of how far from home Ueda has come.

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